Graduate Spotlight

Alison Morris, MD, MS, an alumna (’03) of the ICRE’s Master of Science in Clinical Research Program, is a determined investigator conducting epidemiological and translational research on HIV-associated lung disease and the role of the microbiome in both lung- and gut-related diseases.

Now a Professor of Medicine, Immunology, and Clinical and Translational Science, Dr. Morris completed residency and a pulmonary/critical care fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. During her training she saw lots of cases of pulmonary disease, particularly in people with HIV and often in the intensive care unit setting, where patients would end up after developing pneumonia. After coming to the University of Pittsburgh, her interests shifted more to investigating chronic lung disease, particularly the role of pulmonary infections in HIV-associated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This led her to work more with the microbiome, which would turn out to be a very fruitful direction for her research.

At this time, several investigators at Pitt were studying the microbiome, albeit without much infrastructure to allow the kinds of collaborations that are crucial in this field. To fill this need, in 2016 Pitt and UPMC joined up to establish the Center for Medicine & the Microbiome, which she was tapped to lead. The Center was one of several organizations that participated in the National Microbiome Initiative, launched by the White House in May 2016. In addition to this role, Dr. Morris currently serves as the Vice Chair for Clinical Research in the Department of Medicine and holds the UPMC Chair in Translational Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Morris says that her time in the ICRE’s MS in Clinical Research Program, which she completed in 2003, helped sharpen her focus and prepared her to conduct rigorous research, like the translational studies her group carries out, which apply physiologic and molecular techniques to patient populations. The program also provided her with a solid knowledge base and the skillset to be able to work with statisticians and to carry out her own analyses. In the years since, she has recommended the program to several junior researchers with whom she works, many of whom have themselves gone on to complete the program.

Just this past May, Dr. Morris was the recipient of the ICRE Distinguished Alumnus Award in Clinical Research, given to her at our commencement ceremony. She attributes the success she has achieved in her career so far to the fact that she has the opportunity to collaborate and interact with lots of investigators in different fields—a particularly gratifying part of her current work—as well as the supportive atmosphere here at Pitt.

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