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Belfort and Hannan Named Distinguished Professors
by Lisa James Goldsberry

Marlene Belfort and Edward Hannan, both from the School of Public Health, are UAlbany’s newest Distinguished Professors.

Appointment to the rank of Distinguished Professor, the highest academic rank in the State University of New York system, is conferred upon individuals who have achieved national or international prominence and a distinguished reputation within a chosen field. This distinction is attained through significant contributions to the research literature, or through artistic performance or achievement, in the case of the arts.

The candidate’s work must be of such character that the individual’s presence will tend to elevate the standards of scholarship of colleagues both within and beyond the person’s academic field.

“Our Distinguished Professors serve as models of excellence for the entire University community,” said Chancellor Robert L. King. “Their accomplishments in mathematics, anthropology, learning theory, molecular biology, economics, and medicine enhance the reputation of the entire University. I am very pleased to congratulate our faculty for earning our most prestigious award.”

Belfort, who joined the University in 1985, is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. She is world renowned for her path-breaking contributions to the field of molecular biology. Her pioneering work reinforced how science views the basic unit of heredity, the gene, and was key to her election to membership in the National Academy of Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of California at Irvine. Belfort has an exceptional record of research funding.

In his letter of nomination, School of Public Health Dean Peter J. Levin wrote, “By combining elegant genetic techniques with meticulous biochemical and structural studies, Dr. Belfort has cleverly dissected the properties of mobile introns. Furthermore, she has applied the knowledge gained from these studies to develop introns and the proteins they encode as novel genetic tools that have and will continue to enhance molecular analysis of genomes from bacteria to humans.”

Joan A. Steitz, now Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at the Yale University School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, noted: “I had not known Marlene prior to the moment in 1984 that she burst upon the RNA processing community with her amazing announcement of self-splicing introns in T4 phage transcripts. From the very first, it was clear that anything we would hear from Marlene would be based on immaculate data (whether genetic or biochemical) and eloquently presented. Indeed, each new chapter in the story has been even more fascinating than the last. Marlene’s original proposal that these introns are mobile was borne out by her own (and others’) later studies. Comparison of the endonuclease encoded by and involved in intron movement has provoked debate over their evolutionary origins. But most recently, Marlene’s insights have led to the development of a very compelling model for the mechanism of intron evolution that is applicable not only to prokaryotes but might explain these enigmatic features of vertebrate genes as well. Whatever aspect of the structure, function, or phylogeny of mobile introns is under consideration, Marlene is sure to have made pivotal contributions…”

Steitz also noted, “Most remarkable is her record of teaching and training. Despite her primary appointment with the New York State Health Department, Marlene’s lab has always bustled with aspiring young scientists, even as young as high school students. Because I have known several of them personally before their time in Marlene’s lab, I can attest to the inspiration that her own dedication and enthusiasm have provided, motivating these younger colleagues to achieve their fullest potential in scientific careers.”

Hannan chairs the Department of Health Policy, Management and Behavior in the School of Public Health, and is a member of the Department of Public Administration and Policy in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs. He is acclaimed nationally and internationally for bringing evidence-based medicine to the attention of practicing clinicians, and as a leading expert in the country on health care quality and outcomes.

In his letter of nomination, Levin wrote: “[Dr. Edward Hannan] was one of the first investigators to demonstrate the inverse relationship that exists between volume and outcome as they relate to specific surgical procedures, both cardiac and non-cardiac, as well as to cardiac interventions. Thus, he proved that safer surgery and fewer complications from high-risk cardiovascular procedures occur in those institutions where physicians perform a higher volume of these complex procedures. More recently, he designed the methodology for and co-authored a Journal of the American Medical Association article, ‘Mortality in Medicare Beneficiaries Following Coronary Artery By-Pass Graft Surgery in States with and without Certificate of Need Regulation.’ His discovery documents, for the first time, that states which regulate the number of hospitals allowed to perform cardiac surgery, and thus have greater numbers of cases per hospital, also have better outcomes.”

Hannan earned his Ph.D. in industrial engineering and operations research from the University of Massachusetts. He has been appointed a full fellow of the American College of Cardiology, a rare honor for a non-physician.

He is a nationally renowned researcher whose work has led to tangibly better outcomes of care for those undergoing cardiovascular diagnosis and treatment because of his unique mathematical and methodological skills. While attracting annual external funding that exceeds $2.6 million, he is at the same time an excellent teacher with a strong service record. His courses are highly sought after by graduate students. Hannan is also known for mentoring graduate students, and teaching them how to read the literature in medicine and healthcare delivery. An excellent department chair, he is greatly valued by young faculty members as a mentor who can assist them in strategies to design their own research agendas.


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