Dr. Michael Blackburn
Dr. Michael Blackburn

Two noted leaders in science and medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have been chosen as the 2013 President’s Scholars, one for teaching and one for research.

Dr. Michael Blackburn, dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and professor of biochemistry, is the recipient of the President’s Scholar Award for Research. Dr. Philip Orlander, professor and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism in the Department of Internal Medicine, has been awarded the President’s Scholar Award for Teaching.

“The strength of a university begins with the foundational elements of exceptional educators and peerless research. These two colleagues, both of them mentors, give future academicians examples of excellence to which they can aspire,” said UTHealth President Giuseppe Colasurdo.

Michael Blackburn, Ph.D.

Blackburn’s area of research expertise involves the detrimental role of adenosine signaling in chronic lung disease. Adenosine is a cellular regulator involved in a vast array of physiological functions throughout the body. Findings of Blackburn’s lab led to the hypothesis that excessive adenosine signaling contributed to the progression of pulmonary conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pulmonary fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension. This pre-clinical research has led to promising phase I and II trials now under way to treat chronic lung disease.

Blackburn’s efforts also led to the establishment of a tissue banking consortium in the Texas Medical Center to examine components of adenosine signaling in lungs obtained from patients receiving heart/lung transplants because of terminal pulmonary disease.

Citing the tangential benefits of Blackburn’s achievements, Dr. Rodney Kellems, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, wrote, “The impact of Dr. Blackburn’s research includes a multitude of successful collaborations with other individuals in our department, our school and with members of the international scientific community.”

The author of more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 25 invited reviews or book chapters, Blackburn also is noted for his success in recruiting and training outstanding students and fellows, and guiding MD/PhD candidates through completion of their doctoral degrees.

“Mike is the complete academic research faculty package,” said Dr. William Dowhan, professor and John S. Dunn Endowed Chair. “He excels through demonstrated contributions and accomplishments in his research program, his teaching commitment, administrative leadership, and young scientist mentoring.”

In July 2012, Blackburn was appointed dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences—a co-deanship shared with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Dr. Michelle Barton. Holder of the John P. McGovern Distinguished Professorship in Biomedical Sciences, he also is professor in and vice chair of the Medical School’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has been with the university since 1997.

“It is a great honor to be recognized by President Colasurdo and the leadership of our institution for my research accomplishments,” Blackburn said. “Research has always been a major passion of mine, and the receipt of this prestigious award is truly humbling. I am indebted to the tireless efforts of my trainees and research staff who have made the process of discovery fun and interesting. I would also like to recognize my chairman, Dr. Rodney Kellems, for his support and mentorship through the years.”

Dr. Philip Orlander
Dr. Philip Orlander

Philip Orlander, M.D.

Dr. Philip Orlander has been with the Medical School since 1983 and has a long and lauded history as an educator, mentor, and developer of innovative undergraduate curriculum.

“He is a dedicated, committed individual, and is one of the most active and progressive educators at the Medical School,” Dr. Patricia Butler, senior associate dean for educational programs, wrote in her  nomination letter.

A founding member of the Medical School’s Academy of Master Educators, Orlander has received the Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award, yearly; was the 2000 recipient of the Medical School’s Humanism in Medicine Award; and was the 2004 recipient of the prestigious Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Clinical Teaching Award.

His reputation as an educator attracted the attention of UT System. He was elected to The University of Texas Academy of Health Science Education whose members represent the most distinguished educators in all six UT System health institutions. In 2012, Orlander was honored again by being named a Distinguished Teaching Professor of UT System.

Orlander is one of the architects of Problem-Based Learning, was instrumental in developing the Standardized Patient Program and its attendant standardized patient examinations that assess basic clinical skills, has steered the school through three LCME accreditation site visits, and has served as chair of the Curriculum Committee three times as well, currently serving as chair once again.

As vice chair for Education in the Department of Internal Medicine, Orlander oversees the medical education of both the undergraduate and graduate students, mentoring “many junior faculty members as they develop their academic careers,” wrote Dr. Margaret Uthman, associate dean for graduate medical education. “In spite of his heavy clinical load, Dr. Orlander’s passion and enthusiasm for teaching never wane.”

Wrote Dr. Joanne Oakes, associate professor of emergency medicine and director of the pre-clinical skills curriculum, “He demonstrates total professionalism, unconditional collegiality, and a ready willingness to engage with all learners—qualities of an exemplary and committed lifelong educator.”

“Teaching is always the high point of my day,” Orlander said. “There are so many marvelous teachers at our school.  I am humbled by this honor.”

-Karen Kaplan, Office of Advancement