Class Notes

Class Notes Roundup: Fall 2020

The following are reprinted from the Fall 2020 issue of Pitt Med, the School of Medicine’s flagship publication.


We’ve heard from a few members of the Class of 1970, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. (In September, the Class of ’70 had a group video chat with Emeritus Dean Arthur S. Levine. The in-person reunion has been rescheduled for fall 2021. Check @pittmedalum or for updates.) Daniel Hirsen (MD ’70), a rheumatologist and internal medicine specialist, retired in 2018 after working in private practice for 35 years and maintaining one of the last solo rheumatology practices in the Chicago area. Howard Grindlinger (MD ’70), a retired psychiatrist in Arizona, has fond memories of cowriting the 1970 Scope and Scalpel show “QUACK!” with the late James Kaskin (MD ’70), who was an emergency medicine physician in San Francisco before his death in 2015. Grindlinger says the show touched on everything from music to civil rights protests to the Vietnam War. It was “a wonderful melding of so many things that were going on in our lives,” he says. Classmate Michael Linver (MD ’70), director emeritus of the Breast Imaging Center of X-Ray Associates of New Mexico and clinical professor of radiology at the University of New Mexico, received the 2020 Gold Medal from the Society of Breast Imaging. He has advocated for fair breast cancer screening procedures for patients in New Mexico and nationally. He served on the National Mammography Quality Assurance Advisory Committee to the FDA and as president of the New Mexico chapters of the American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society. 


Louis Tripoli (MD ’84, Internal Medicine Resident ’88), rear admiral of the U.S. Navy and command surgeon general with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, is retiring in October after 24 years of service. He has been addressing coronavirus outbreaks in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Louis says his career was inspired by his father, Charles Tripoli (MD ’55), a retired family physician and lieutenant commander of the U.S. Navy Medical Corps Reserve who participated in 13 mission trips to Latin America as a volunteer with the Catholic Medical Association. Charles Tripoli celebrated his 90th birthday this year. Louis remembers going on house calls with his dad as a kid. Following residency, Louis worked in private practice with his dad for five years. “Being able to come back and practice with him was one of the greatest experiences a son could ever have,” he says. 


Mark McLaughlin (Neurosurgery Resident ’99) is the founder of the Princeton Brain, Spine and Sports Medicine neurosurgical practice in New Jersey. His first book, “Cognitive Dominance: A Brain Surgeon’s Quest to Outthink Fear,” was released in late 2019. “Neurosurgeons,” he says, “work in a ‘judgment jungle,’ where we constantly make so many life and death decisions.” McLaughlin wrote “Cognitive Dominance” to understand “the right amount” of fear, he says, that’s needed to excel not just in medical settings, but in business and beyond.

Siva Raja (MD ’04, PhD ’04) is the surgical director of the Center for Esophageal Diseases, an associate professor of thoracic surgery and a thoracic surgeon, all at the Cleveland Clinic. In addition to his focus on esophageal cancer, Raja is also frequently sought out to treat achalasia, a rare disease in which the sphincter at the esophagus’s base cannot regularly open and close. He credits inspiration for his career to his time at Pitt Med: “I was inspired by Jim Luketich,” an esophageal surgeon. “I met him as a third-year medical student. Twenty years later, that’s what I’m doing, too.”
Jonathan Shaffer (PhD ’08) works at biotechnology company QIAGEN, where he’s a director in research and development. He leads a team that develops genomic and transcriptomic solu­tions for cancer-related research that enable detection of DNA variants, RNA fusions and gene expression. “Challenges remain for cancer researchers,” he says, “because samples used in cancer research are often of poor quality or limited quantity.” Why biotechnology? For Shaffer, it’s all about effecting rapid change: “I love the pace of the work,” he says. “I love to see science moving almost faster than life itself.” 

“Metastasis is what kills cancer patients,” remarks Yvonne Chao (MD ’12, Internal Medicine Resident ’15), “but current treatments are not targeted toward metastatic biology.” A postdoctoral thoracic oncology fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chao is improving models of metastasis. She and her colleagues have implicated an epigenetic regulator, histone deacetylase 11 (HDAC11), as a promoter of breast cancer metastasis in mice. “We think there’s something special about the lymph-node environment that upregulates HDAC11, allowing cancer to survive and then leave lymph nodes for the lungs, liver, brain, wherever.” Chao hopes to develop future therapies aimed at this mechanism. 
Luke Johnson (MD ’13) serves as assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He’s also an enthusiastic podcaster: As cohost of the podcast Dermasphere, alongside dermatologist Michelle Tarbox, Johnson tackles “all aspects of dermatology,” he says. A podcast that’s “by dermatologists, for dermatologists,” he notes, as well as for “the dermatologically curious,” Dermasphere just recorded its 33rd episode. Johnson and Tarbox host ongoing literature reviews and discussions about professional best practices; the’ve also reported on the safety of tattoo ink and a melanoma-detecting dog.
Melanie Peffer (PhD ’14) is a research faculty member at the University of Colorado Boulder whose new book, “Biology Everywhere: How the Science of Life Matters to Everyday Life,” was published in February. The book covers topics from the ecological impact of reusable grocery bags to the interconnectedness between nature and the visual arts. “The unifying theme of my career,” Peffer says, “centers on empowering people to engage with biology content.”  

John Hansen, Maggie Medoff and Rachel Mennies