Back in 1949, when the Graduate School of Public Health was founded, we were known as the Department of Microbiology and Epidemiology, and our first chair was epidemiologist and virologist William Hammon.
Hammon had several notable accomplishments during his tenure, including demonstrating that the Philippine and Thai hemorrhagic fevers were caused by dengue viruses (he later isolated the DEN-3 and DEN-4 strains) and purifying the gamma globulin component of the blood plasma of poliomyelitis survivors. He conducted clinical field trials in the early 1950s of more than 50,000 children that showed the injection of gamma globulin was effective in preventing polio. This laid the groundwork for the development of the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk and a team of Pitt researchers in the mid ’50s.
Monto Ho came on board as chair in 1959. A world-renowned infectious disease specialist who would serve Pitt Public Health for nearly 40 years, Ho was a professor of medicine, microbiology, and pathology. He pioneered investigations of interferons, proteins produced by cells in the body in response to an attack by a virus, and his lab identified the source of viral infections that were occurring following organ transplantation—especially cytomegalovirus and herpes—which were major complications of early organ transplants.
Shortly after the arrival of Lewis H. Kuller in 1972, the department split in two, with Kuller taking over epidemiology and Ho the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. Kuller, who would serve as chair for 30 years, immediately shifted the focus of the department to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, aging, and cancer and the relationship of lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and smoking to susceptibility. This would lead to, during the subsequent three decades, the establishment of the following long-term, large-scale clinical trials:
Our department has produced far too many other important findings over the years to list here, but they include the following (in the order in which they occurred):
The Department of Epidemiology strives to improve local, national and global public health through the generation of knowledge which can be used to prevent and reduce disease, infection and injury. This is accomplished through high quality, interdisciplinary research, hands-on training of the next generation of epidemiologists, and providing a broad range of expertise to organizations that promote public health. Our work is based on the belief that all people are entitled to a healthy life.