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[May 17, 2011]                                                  

Three SUNY Downstate Faculty Members Named Distinguished Professors

The State University of New York Board of Trustees has appointed three faculty physicians at SUNY Downstate Medical Center to distinguished ranks, the highest system honors conferred upon SUNY instructional faculty. Todd C. Sacktor, MD, has been named distinguished professor; Jack A. DeHovitz, MD, MPH, has been named distinguished service professor; and Lisa R. Merlin, MD, has been named distinguished teaching professor.

The Distinguished Professorship is conferred upon individuals at SUNY’s state-operated campuses who have achieved national or international prominence and a distinguished reputation within the individual’s chosen field. This year, the Board of Trustees approved the appointments of 25 faculty members to distinguished ranks.

“SUNY has now conferred its highest faculty honor upon more than 880 current and retired professors from across the system,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “In doing so, we proudly recognize the extraordinary achievements of our teachers, scholars, and mentors, all of whom serve as stellar examples of SUNY's commitment to excellence."
“It is with great pride that we recognize the brilliant scholars and teachers whose service merits one of the SUNY distinguished ranks,” said Board Chairman Carl T. Hayden. “The Board joins with the recipients’ families and campuses in celebrating their academic, service, research, and teaching accomplishments.”

“These three members of our faculty have distinguished themselves in the eyes of the State University and within their professions,” said Downstate President John C. LaRosa, MD. “They are role models for our students and an inspiration to us all.”

SUNY Downstate holds the distinction of having had the first distinguished service professor in the SUNY system. The late Jean Redman Oliver, MD, a former chair of pathology, was given the honor in 1953. 

Dr. Sacktor, a professor of physiology and pharmacology and of neurology, made headlines when his laboratory discovered a biological mechanism responsible for the persistence of long-term memory storage. He and his colleagues showed that the protein kinase Mzeta (PKMzeta) was necessary and sufficient for maintaining memories over time. They found that blocking this molecule could erase memories without damaging the brain’s ability to form new memories. This work was hailed by the editors of Science as one of the 10 leading scientific breakthroughs of the year in 2006. Dr. Sacktor’s work has important implications for neurology and psychiatry and may pave the way for new treatments for memory loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, phantom limb, and chronic pain. 


Dr. DeHovitz is a leader in the fight to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, both in this country and abroad. In addition to his academic role as professor of medicine, he is director of Downstate’s HIV Center for Women and Children, an interdepartmental program that focuses on HIV care, research, and education. He also directs the STAR Health Center, one of the largest HIV clinical care programs in the city, and is program director of the NIH Fogarty New York State AIDS International Training and Research Program, which provides advanced research training to academics and public health leaders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Dr. Merlin, a Downstate alumna, is professor of neurology and of physiology and pharmacology. As vice chair of education for neurology, she trains students at all levels, from first-year medical students through those doing their clinical rotations, as well as graduate students who earn their PhD working in her laboratory. Her research on the role of metabotropic glutamate receptors in epilepsy has enhanced her effectiveness as mentor and role model. In recognition of her unique teaching abilities, she received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2004 and teaching awards from the College of Medicine Alumni Association and the American Neurological Association. Dr. Merlin is director and founder of the College of Medicine's Clinical Neurosciences Pathway, a program of advanced studies in the neurosciences that has attracted numerous applicants to Downstate.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY Downstate ranks ninth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.