Pathologist Investigator Residency / Research Training Program - PIRRT - News and Updates

Mission Statement
Program Overview
Program Requirements
Application Procedure
Phase I Application
Phase II Application
PIRRT Selection Committee
Current Trainees
Physician Scientist Graduates
Download PIRRT Flyer (PDF)
News and Updates
Contact Us

Pathologist Investigator Residency-Research Training (PIRRT) Program: Pioneering advances in molecular pathology - Basic and Applied

The PIRRT program allows Pathology residents, and now fellows, at the University of Pittsburgh to construct individualized research training experiences with the goal of "fast-tracking" to combined diagnostic and independent research faculty positions. Trainees are generally admitted to the program as first year residents, electing to take their research year after PGY1 or PGY2, or before continuing on to diagnostic fellowship training here. While most of our recruitment continues to be at the residency level, this year, we are pleased to announce two new PIRRT trainees, one joining as a PGY1 trainee and the other as a multi-year fellow.

Charleen T. Chu and Tim Oury
PIRRT Co-Directors
April 28, 2014

Please join us in welcoming our new PIRRT trainees in July!

Grzegorz (Greg) Gurda, MD, PhD (University of Michigan 2010) - AP/CP Resident, PGY4, at Johns Hopkins Hospital -
  • Greg plans to pursue fellowship training in Breast/Gyn pathology as a clinical instructor in 2014-15, followed by the Molecular Genetic Fellowship in 2015-2016, and the PIRRT research year in 2016-2017.
  • My interests lie at the intersection of endocrinology, metabolism and neoplasia. My work addresses diet and hormonal milieu as important components of diagnosis, prognosis and treatment/treatment-resistance within cancer subtypes specific to gastroenterology and women's health."

Thomas Pearce, MD, PhD (Washington University in St. Louis, expected 2014)

  • My scientific interests are centered around understanding how the brain processes information, which underlies many behaviors critical to every-day life such as learning, memory, perception, and control of movement. I study these processes using electrophysiological recordings of neural activity paired with concurrent measures of behavior.
  • Clinically, I find the diagnostic process of Pathology interesting; and given my love of the brain, I am unsurprisingly planning to specialize further with a fellowship in Neuropathology.
  • Outside of the lab/hospital, I love outdoor activities like hiking, biking, golf, tennis, and team sports of all varieties. My wife and I have two dogs that love to play outside; our yellow lab is truly OCD about his tennis balls. Computer programming, cooking and brewing beer are some of the other hobbies I enjoy pursuing.

Updates on current PIRRT trainees

Jason Cheng-Hsuan Chiang, MD (National Taiwan University 2003), PhD (Hopkins 2010)
  • Jason will graduate from AP training and take the board exam this June, followed by Neuropathology fellowship training.
  • His PIRRT Phase II proposal was approved by the steering committee this spring. He initiated the project using AP research elective time and will continue with his PIRRT research year in Dr. Charleen Chu's laboratory.
  • "My PIRRT research direction is focused on mitochondrial function and metabolism in human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons with a Parkinson disease associated LRRK2 G2019S mutation."

Rebecca Leeman-Neill, MD, PhD (University of Pittsburgh, 2010)

  • Rebecca will graduate from the AP-only track of the residency program this June.
  • She pursued her PIRRT research with Dr. Yuri Nikiforov, investigating the molecular genetic features of papillary thyroid carcinoma. Some of this work has recently been published (Leeman-Neill et al, Cancer, March 2014; Leeman-Neill et al, Cancer, May 2013).
  • She will be staying at UPMC for a two-year fellowship in hematopathology, the second year of which will be devoted to pursuing new research interests in mechanisms of lymphomagenesis in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Johnson.
  • Rebecca, her husband Daniel and son Adam recently welcomed a second son, Ari Evan Neill, born 9/8/13.

Alumni Updates

Our graduates have been successful at transitioning to faculty positions as board certified, practicing pathologists with independent lab space and start-up support, acquiring external grant funding at their new institutions.

Craig Horbinski, MD, PhD. Assistant Professor of Pathology, University of Kentucky

  • Named Director of Biospecimen and Tissue Procurement Shared Resource Facility at the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky in 2013
  • Named Director of Molecular Anatomic Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Kentucky in 2013
  • Recently reached 50 peer-reviewed papers in PubMed
  • Supported by six active grants, including an NCI K08 and an NCI P30
  • Mentored seven medical or pathology trainees on a variety of research projects
  • On the editorial board of Acta Neuropathologica, Brain Pathology, and Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology
  • Regular reviewer for multiple journals, including Clinical Cancer Research, Autophagy, Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, Neuro-Oncology, PLoS One, and Human Mutation
  • Became a member of the Judging Committee for the American Association of Neuropathologists Diagnostic Slide Session at their Annual Meeting
  • One of three central pathology reviewers for the national clinical trial ACNS1221, "A Phase II Study For The Treatment Of Non-Metastatic Desmoplastic Medulloblastoma In Children Less Than 4 Years Of Age"
  • Invited to deliver a platform presentation at the International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy, an invitation-only meeting of the world's top brain cancer scientists
  • Featured in the University of Kentucky Healthcare OnCall Magazine ("Bench to bedside: Translational science improves patient care, outcomes" April 2014, Issue 5, pages 16-22

Julia Kofler, MD, Assistant Professor of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh

  • Director, Neuropathology Core, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, University of Pittsburgh (supported by NIA P50)
  • Project Leader "Alterations in microglial phenotype and function in aging and Alzheimer's disease (Alzheimer's Disease Research Center NIA P50)
  • Elected member of National Alzheimer Disease Center Neuropathology Core Steering Committee
  • Assistant director, ALS Research Center, University of Pittsburgh
  • Neuropathologist for ALS Research Center, Movement Disorder Brain Bank and Late Life Mood Disorder Brain Bank
  • Grant review panel member for American Institute of Biological Sciences (FY12 Militarily Relevant Peer Reviewed Alzheimer's Disease Research Program)
  • "My research interests focus on the role of microglial cells and inflammatory processes in aging and Alzheimer's disease. I am also studying the impact of polymorphisms in Alzheimer's disease risk genes and inflammation-associated genes on the pathology of Alzheimer's disease"

Ed Plowey, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pathology, Stanford University School of Medicine

  • Associate Director of Neuropathology for Ophthalmic Pathology, 2012
  • Director of Stanford Hospital and Clinics Brain Bank, 2013
  • New Investigator in Alzheimer Disease Award from American Federation for Aging Research, 2012
  • 2013-14 publications in Autophagy, Human Pathology and Clinical Neuropathology