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SCIENCES DEAN BRINGS INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN IMMUNOLOGY RESEARCH TO ODU

Chris D. Platsoucas, an immunologist who is known throughout the world for his contributions to our understanding of how the human immune system functions in health and disease, is the new dean of the Old Dominion University College of Sciences. He is also director of the university's new Center for Molecular Medicine and professor of biological sciences.

Platsoucas came to Old Dominion in fall 2007 from Temple University, where he was since 1993 the L.H. Carnell Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Temple University School of Medicine.

At Temple, Platsoucas served as chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (1993-2006) and was founding dean of the College of Science and Technology (1998-2004). He was acting dean for two years and then was appointed dean of the college after two-thirds of the faculty wrote a letter to Temple's president requesting the appointment. The letter called Platsoucas "an academic star, well recognized internationally as being at the frontier of research in a very hot field."

Forty-six new faculty members in science and technology were recruited to Temple while Platsoucas was dean. Many are internationally known investigators with strong publication records and extensive peer-reviewed grant support that was transferred to Temple.

To facilitate interdisciplinary research and scholarship and to better achieve the educational objectives of the Temple college, Platsoucas was instrumental in the establishment of centers for advanced research and education in: biotechnology, neurovirology and cancer, biology, computer science and applied mathematics, information science and technology, advanced photonics research, bioengineering and biomaterials, and quantitative biology and biomedical mathematics. A Center for Science Education was also established.

Under Platsoucas' leadership, the Temple science and technology faculty's peer-reviewed research grant support jumped from $2.5 million in 1998 to approximately $18 million in 2004. "We were able to change the culture of the college with emphasis placed on research and research support in addition to educating undergraduate and graduate students," Platsoucas said. "Also, the culture of the main campus of Temple has been substantially affected by these changes."

Platsoucas designed and implemented specific strategies to increase the recruitment and improve the retention of undergraduate science students at Temple. Enrollment of majors increased by 86 percent to 2,419 undergraduates between 1998 and 2004. At the same time, enrollment at Temple as a whole was increased by 30 percent.

As chairman of microbiology and immunology in Temple's school of medicine (1993-2006), Platsoucas increased research and training grant awards from $86,600 per full-time faculty position in 1992 to $452,700 per full-time faculty position in 2006. He strengthened the graduate program, raising the number of doctoral students to 44 in 2006, and he won renewal three times on first submission the T32 Training Grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that supported the graduate program. Seven new faculty members joined the department while Platsoucas was chair, and all have developed strong independent research programs funded by the NIH.

An internationally recognized research investigator and scholar in the United States and abroad because of seminal research discoveries on the molecular and cellular immunology of human T cells, Platsoucas has authored or co-authored more than 160 research articles and reviews that are frequently cited in the scientific literature. He has been awarded $23.5 million in research grant support, about $18 million of which was for projects for which he has been or is principal investigator. Nearly $19 million of his total support has come from the NIH.

He has studied the way T cells cause and maintain chronic inflammation in humans. (T cells are white blood cells that typically protect against infection and disease and are essential to the human immune system. But in autoimmune responses, T cells can attack the body's healthy cells and trigger diseases.) The research lays the foundation for strategies against autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, abdominal aortic aneurisms, and against the human body's rejection of organ transplants.

Platsoucas also has done research in the immunity against tumors and toward the development of tumor vaccines and other immunotherapy approaches, which someday may have broad use in the fight against cancer. Vaccines are designed to induce the immune system of the body to detect and destroy the cancer cells.

He often collaborates in T cell research with his wife, Emilia Oleszak, a neurovirologist, who also has joined the faculty of ODU's Department of Biological Sciences. She had been an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology and assistant professor of neurology at Temple. She trained at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, at Yale University and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Oleszak, whose doctorate in virology is from the Polish Academy of Science, studies the role of T cells in inflammatory demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

ODU Provost Thomas Isenhour said of Dean Platsoucas: "He combines the best of administration and science. He is innovative and will help ODU achieve its goal of joining the top 100 public research universities. From his colleagues at Temple, we have heard nothing but rave reviews."

Isenhour noted that recent strengthened ties between ODU and Eastern Virginia Medical School should help to provide a sturdy research infrastructure for Platsoucas and enable the new dean to promote biomedical research by other ODU faculty members. ODU and EVMS signed a memorandum of understanding in August outlining new ways that the institutions will cooperate in degree programs and research.

In a letter to the faculty, students, staff and other members of the College of Sciences, Platsoucas said: "These are exciting times for me to assume the leadership of the College of Sciences at ODU. The university is on the move; major milestones have been achieved the last few years. These include the designation of ODU as a Research Extensive institution. My overall objective as the dean of the College of Sciences is to continue creating and maintaining a strong academic environment, where students can learn, faculty can further develop themselves as scholars, and faculty and students together can discover new horizons. I very much value both research and teaching and strongly favor the creation/development of such a culture. The strength and the future of the college depends on the strength of its faculty and students. We are embarking this year in a major expansion of the sciences in the college."

A native of Athens, Greece, Platsoucas received his Ph.D. degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before joining Temple he held faculty positions at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he served as Ashbel Smith Professor of Immunology and as Stringer Professor in Cancer Research. Also, he has held faculty appointments at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College.

Platsoucas serves on the editorial boards of a number of scientific journals. He has been a member of many national and international committees and review panels, including those of the NIH and the Department of Defense. He has been invited to present his work and to serve as chair of many scientific meetings in the U.S. and abroad, and is a member of numerous scientific societies. Platsoucas has trained or is training more than 50 post- or predoctoral fellows in his laboratory. The majority of them hold academic appointment in the U.S. and abroad, and they are investigating the molecular and cellular properties of the immune system.

ODU's Board of Visitors established the Center for Molecular Medicine on Oct. 1, 2007, six weeks after Platsoucas assumed his position as dean of the College of Sciences. A resolution adopted by the board stated that the center would allow ODU to take full advantage of Platsoucas' "proven record of scientific discovery," as well as help him recruit funded faculty and obtain peer-reviewed grant support for research.

This article was posted on: October 23, 2007

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