Class Notes

Spring 2021


Pediatrician Bernie Putter (MD ’59) saw salt-like spots on the patient’s cheek, confirming what a younger physician suspected but hadn’t witnessed before—measles. “You see it once, you’ll never forget,” says Putter of the telltale Koplik spots. Putter was practicing in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in 2015 when he helped diagnose the state’s first locally acquired measles case in some time. By working in Florida after practicing on Long Island for 36 years, Putter says he was following advice from his late mentor Paul Caplan (see obituary, Fall 2020), who told Putter over one of their supper breaks in the St. Margaret cafeteria to practice medicine where he wanted to live. 


Wayne Teris (MD ’79) is chief medical officer of Care Compass Network (CCN), a nonprofit organization in Binghamton, New York. Originally funded by New York Medicaid, CCN connects hospital systems, nursing homes, social service agencies and higher education systems to “improve the health and well-being of community members,” Teris says. In March 2020, he helped establish CCN’s COVID-19 Telehealth Assistance Program, allowing social care organizations, behavioral health providers, substance-use disorder providers and private primary care practices in the network to deliver care safely during the pandemic. “Most of our partners,” says Teris, “indicated that this program was critical to their survival during lockdown.”


Antonio Hardan (Psychiatry Fellow ’96) is professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, where he also directs the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic and the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Hardan’s autism research uses neuroimaging and biologic markers to assess “who benefits most from a specific intervention,” he says. He’s also researching the efficacy of parental intervention: “There are not enough resources out there to deliver treatment,” Hardan notes. So “one approach we’ve been examining is training parents to help their children learn new skills,” allowing them to deliver crucial interventions at home when professionals may not be available.


Kamal Khanna (PhD ’04) is associate professor of microbiology at New York University. His research focuses on understanding how the immune system, via a close study of macrophages, responds to respiratory infections; that research focus narrowed last spring. “Once the pandemic hit,” Khanna says, “half my lab switched to studying SARS-CoV-2.” Just prior to the pandemic, Khanna says, his lab discovered a macrophage responsible for “revving things back down” in response to infection-related inflammation. These findings were featured in the March 2020 issue of Science Immunology. 

When Natalie Gentile (MD ’14), shown left, and Kirsten Lin (MD ’06, Family Medicine Resident ’09)—both independent-practice physicians in the Pittsburgh area unaffiliated with

a large health system—first learned how the COVID-19 vaccine would be distributed, they recognized immediately the disparate access that their fellow unaffiliated providers would face. “We had a need and recognized that need in others,” Gentile says, “so we created the opportunity for us all to get taken care of.” After registering with Pennsylvania’s Department of Health as a providerand smoothing some bumps in the road—like delayed shipments and logistical hurdles—their clinic has vaccinated more than 1,000 frontline workers. It’s largely staffed by volunteers, including Pitt Med students. 

Robert Tomko (PhD ’08) is assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Florida State University, where he received the University Teaching Award in 2019. Tomko’s lab currently researches the 26S proteasome: “a protein recycling center inside our cells,” he says, “that breaks down damaged, defective or otherwise unneeded proteins into building blocks that can be used to make new proteins.” Tomko aims to “reverse engineer” the proteasome in order to understand its functional mechanisms more intimately. “These advances,” he says, “will help us to discover new and interesting chemicals that could potentially be developed into drugs” for proteasome-dysfunction-linked cancers and neurodegenerative disorders.


“Teaching can be chaotic in a clinical setting,” says Michael Cosimini (MD ’11), assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Keck School of Medicine of USC. To keep students and trainees engaged, he created Empiric, a 15-minute card game. It teaches evidence-informed prescribing practices for antibiotics, incentivizing conservative use of the drugs to discourage fueling the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance. Cosimini has also published on podcasting in medical education and is a frequent contributor to the pediatric CME podcast Peds RAP. In fact, after reading about allergist Dave Stukus’ (MD ’02) work in Pitt Med, Cosimini interviewed him for a two-part segment, “Allergy Myths.”

Laura Vella (MD, PhD ’10) is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The COVID-19 pandemic’s onset has “added an entire new component to my work,” she says, both as a researcher and a clinician. Her primary research area focuses on the immune response to infections and vaccinations. In July 2020, Vella’s research on pediatric COVID-19 cases presenting with multisystem inflammatory syndrome was published in Science Immunology, confirming that critical illness after SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with marked activation of the immune system.

Kelly Quesnelle (PhD ’12, Postdoc ’14) is associate professor of biomedical sciences at Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine. There, she codirects the hematology and oncology course and serves as the pharmacology discipline director for the medical curriculum. She received the International Association of Medical Science Educators’ Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching and Innovation in 2019. Her recent research considers responsible social media use in the classroom: “[These] platforms,” she says, “are a wonderful way to be accessible to students and faculty peers—always very important, but especially in the midst of a pandemic.”   —Cara Masset, Rachel Mennies, Elaine Vitone