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Distinguished Researcher Named Director of Aging Institute and Beckwith Professor of Translational Medicine at UPMC and Pitt

September 18, 2017

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh today announced the appointment of Toren Finkel, MD, PhD, a world-renowned aging researcher, as director of the Aging Institute of UPMC and Pitt and the inaugural holder of the G. Nicholas Beckwith III and Dorothy B. Beckwith Chair in Translational Medicine.

The endowed chair, made possible through a $2.5 million gift by UPMC Chairman G. Nicholas Beckwith III and his wife, Dorothy, will fund a distinguished faculty member focusing on translational medicine and is being made in recognition of UPMC’s commitment to teaching, research, clinical care and community service.

“We are fortunate to have a physician-scientist of Dr. Finkel’s stature join UPMC and Pitt. His discoveries going forward will have a meaningful and favorable impact on the community, and Dotty and I are pleased to support his efforts in translational medicine through this gift,” said Beckwith.

Finkel most recently served as chief of the Center for Molecular Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and will succeed Charles F. Reynolds III, MD, at the helm of the Aging Institute.

A collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC, the Aging Institute brings together the expertise of clinical researchers, scholars and clinicians to identify and implement innovative care models for older adults and to support western Pennsylvania’s population with resources for seniors and their caregivers.

“We are delighted that Dr. Finkel, an exceptional clinician and researcher, has chosen to join our pursuits of advancing discovery and treatment,” said Steve Shapiro, MD, chief medical and scientific officer at UPMC. “His expertise will move us forward in transforming discoveries in the field of aging from the lab to patients.”

“Under Dr. Finkel’s innovative leadership, we will focus on fundamental research and therapies that target the aging process, with the ultimate goal of extending healthspan — essentially a long life free of disease,” said Arthur S. Levine, MD, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine.

Among his other research accomplishments, Finkel and colleagues provided the first demonstration that molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) –– originally thought to be damaging byproducts of chemical reactions in cells –– can act as molecular signals that control how cells and tissues function. An entirely new field of research known as redox signaling emerged from this discovery, which focused on the role of ROS signals in normal disease and aging.

His laboratory added major contributions to the understanding of aging over the past decade, including identifying how a specific class of enzymes known as sirtuins are key regulators of aging and how cellular energy pathways are involved in the maintenance of stem cells in the body. In the future, he plans to explore how the immune system and inflammation are connected to aging. His research over the years has involved both animal models and human participants, bridging clinical medicine and basic science.

“I am incredibly excited to lead the Aging Institute that was so ably directed by my predecessor, Chip Reynolds, and honored to be the inaugural holder of the Beckwith Chair in Translational Medicine. I firmly believe that understanding aging biology will alter how we approach a myriad of diseases and fundamentally change how we treat the vast majority of our patients,” said Finkel.

Finkel has published nearly 200 studies in high-impact journals, including Science, Nature, and The New England Journal of Medicine. According to Google Scholar, his work has been cited more than 48,000 times; he currently ranks as the 12th most highly cited author in aging and the 11th most highly cited author in cardiovascular disease. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Finkel has served on numerous editorial boards, including 10 years as an associate editor for Circulation Research and currently as a member of the board of reviewing editors for Science.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Maryland and his MD and PhD degrees from Harvard Medical School in 1986, Finkel completed a residency in internal medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a fellowship in cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1992, he joined the NIH as an investigator within the NHLBI intramural research program. He later served as chief of the Cardiology Branch and chief of the Translational Medicine Branch. In 2010, he assumed the position of chief of the Center for Molecular Medicine at NHLBI, which he held before joining Pitt and UPMC.