Robert Dirksen to Head Department of Pharmacology and Physiology

Mar. 29, 2015

Robert T. Dirksen, Ph.D. will serve as chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry effective July 1, 2015, pending approval by the University Board of Trustees. Dirksen, who has conducted research and taught medical and graduate students at the University since 1998, is known for his superb track record of federal funding, his collaborative nature and his ability to inspire and engage trainees and colleagues alike.

“Bob recognizes the central role that Pharmacology and Physiology plays in much of the research that is conducted at the Medical Center and has a very clear and compelling vision for the future of the department,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry and CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center. “He is the perfect person to lead a group that bridges multiple scientific fields and clinical areas and we’re very excited for him to take the reins.”

The Department of Pharmacology and Physiology is the focal point for helping scientists and clinicians uncover the molecular mechanisms that drive disease and using this information to identify potential drug targets. As head of the department, Dirksen plans to grow and promote connections between his faculty and trainees and experts in neurology, cardiology and other areas to speed the development of new therapies to improve health.

Dirksen has spent his career studying the mechanisms of muscle diseases, including muscular dystrophy and muscular fatigue and atrophy, which are very common in the elderly. He is a principal investigator on three NIH grants, as well as a research grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Two of his NIH grants are collaborative, multiple-principal-investigator or Center grants, meaning that Dirksen teamed up with other scientists whose work complements his own to study a particular problem.

In today’s extremely competitive funding environment, Dirksen plans to encourage his faculty and trainees to apply for more multiple-principal-investigator grants as part of his strategy to increase the department’s funding. He says these grants bring two people with common interests but different backgrounds together, creating a synergy that leads to fantastic grant proposals and more creative ways to address evolving health challenges.  

“Our department is very interactive and a lot of people already work together on grants and other projects,” noted Dirksen. “My job is to make us think bigger – bigger ideas, bigger grants, and more impactful science – and to recognize and reward teamwork.”  

Training the next generation of physicians and scientists is one of Dirksen’s passions and will remain a top priority when he is Chair. Since 2009, he has directed a course on ethics and professional integrity that is required for all students, post-doctoral fellows and new faculty members who will conduct research at the Medical Center. He also teaches physiology to first-year medical students and pharmacology and physiology to graduate students.

“We conducted a national search and considered a lot of terrific candidates, but Bob emerged as an outstanding leader,” said search committee chair Jeffrey Lyness, M.D., professor of Psychiatry and Neurology, and senior associate dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “He is a great scientist, a highly regarded teacher and understands how critical mentoring is in helping people find success both in and outside an academic environment.”   

“I look forward to recruiting junior faculty members and working with our tremendous, well-established senior faculty to mentor them and help them grow into leaders in their field,” said Dirksen.

Dirksen received an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Notre Dame, his masters and Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Rochester and conducted his post-doctoral fellowship at Colorado State University. He is currently president of the Society of General Physiologists and serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of General Physiology, Skeletal Muscle and Frontiers in Skeletal Muscle Physiology.

In addition to Lyness, Stephen Hammes, Lisa Beck, Gregory DeAngelis, Minsoo Kim, Catherine Ovitt and Chen Yan served on the search committee.