Bennet van Houten and Deborah Polk
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Two Pitt Health Sciences researchers are 2023 AAAS fellows

  • Innovation and Research

Two University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences faculty members have been elected 2023 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society.

Deborah Polk, visiting associate professor of dental public health in the School of Dental Medicine, and Bennett Van Houten, Richard M. Cyert Professor of Molecular Oncology and professor of pharmacology and chemical biology in the School of Medicine, are among the 502 scientists, engineers and innovators recognized by AAAS for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements.

A tradition dating back to 1874, election as an AAAS fellow is a lifetime honor. Distinguished past honorees include W.E.B. DuBois, Ellen Ochoa, Steven Chu, Grace Hopper, Alan Alda, Mae Jemison and Ayanna Howard. Polk and Van Houten join 214 fellows from the University of Pittsburgh who have received the prestigious award since its inception.

“Pitt’s new AAAS fellows are a testament to the scope of research excellence across the fields of the health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh,” said Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. “This excellence is demonstrated every day in our labs and in our classrooms. Congratulations to Drs. Polk and Van Houten on this distinguished honor.”

Deborah Polk

AAAS noted Polk’s “distinguished contributions in the fields of clinical psychology and oral health sciences, particularly in deepening our understanding of behavioral factors of patients and practitioners in improving oral health.” Also a faculty member in the School of Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Polk and her lab members evaluate the effectiveness of interventions designed to help providers follow guidelines. Although there is no statutory requirement for dentists to follow evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, guidelines can be considered to reflect best practices. Despite this, studies have shown that providers, including dentists, pick and choose which guidelines to implement.

Bennett Van Houten

Van Houten was honored as a fellow for “outstanding contributions to the field of DNA damage and repair, particularly the development of several novel methods for understanding the choreography of the DNA repair processes.” Van Houten and his lab study the formation and repair of DNA damage in nuclear and mitochondrial genomes, paying particular interest to the structure and function of proteins that mediate nucleotide excision repair and the role of oxidative stress in human disease.


— Maureen Passmore