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Psychologist, Philosopher, and Physician-Researcher Recognized for Scholarly Activity

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From left, Mark Rowlands, professor of philosophy; Jochen Reiser, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension; Alexandra Quittner, professor of psychology; and Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost

A psychology professor renowned for her empirical research program focusing on the care and treatment regimens of children with chronic cystic fibrosis and asthma, a physician-researcher who is redefining our understanding of chronic kidney diseases, and a philosopher whose published works have had an international impact on his discipline are recipients of the 2012 Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity.

Alexandra L. Quittner, a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences; Jochen Reiser, professor of medicine, anatomy and cell biology, and chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at the Miller School of Medicine; and Mark Rowlands, professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences, were honored during a private ceremony at the Newman Alumni Center on April 2.

“It is a privilege to be able to recognize publicly the extraordinary scholarly achievements of these three distinguished University of Miami faculty,” said Thomas J. LeBlanc, executive vice president and provost. “Research is at the heart of what we do as an institution, and these awardees, through their original research and other scholarly activity, bring honor to our University and serve as wonderful role models for our students and faculty.”

Quittner is a pioneer in the application of psychological science to the care of children with cystic fibrosis and asthma, including research on the conceptualization, definition, and measurement of treatment adherence. Her Daily Phone Diary, first published in 1994 in Child Development, uses a 24-hour recall method to assess activities, mood, and companions as reported by adolescents or parents. It is considered the “gold standard” measurement strategy for assessing adherence to complex medical regimens and was recently evaluated as “well established” in a review article in Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Investigators across the country have adapted the method for children with asthma, diabetes, HIV, and more recently children with anxiety disorders. A recipient of several multimillion-dollar grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Quittner also conducts research on the impact of deafness on child development. She is a co-principal investigator on a multisite NIH study evaluating the effects of cochlear implants on deaf children’s cognitive, behavioral, and linguistic outcomes. Her recent co-authored publication in JAMA showed that severely and profoundly deaf children benefit more from a cochlear implant if the surgery is performed by 18 months of age.

Quittner plans to use her monetary award to support an NIH-funded study on improving the quality of life of children and adolescents with primary ciliary dyskinesia, a rare genetic lung disorder in which the tiny hair-like structures that are supposed to move mucus out of airways are abnormal or do not move. The mucus accumulates, causing blockage and infections. “Once we have our respiratory symptoms scale developed, we can test the efficacy of new medications for this chronic disease,” Quittner said.

Reiser, who is also vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine and director of the Peggy and Harold Katz Family Miami Drug Discovery Center, is a leader in the field of chronic kidney disease, studying cells called podocytes, which are critical elements of the kidney filter. His work has led to a better understanding of how these cells function and why they fail in native and grafted kidneys. Most notably, Reiser, along with Changli Wei, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension, led a team of international researchers and physicians in solving a decades-long search for the cause of a significant form of chronic kidney disease—focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Working with mouse models and a bank of patient samples, the team discovered the first circulating factor known to start the process leading to FSGS. They discovered that a soluble form of the urokinase plasminogen activator receptor (suPAR) is a factor in triggering glomerular kidney disease. The finding was published in the July 31 edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

“This is truly monumental and a great team effort that paid off, because we can measure the amount of suPAR, and develop targeted treatments for that factor or prevent what it does to the kidney,” Reiser said at the time.

Rowlands is the author of 15 books and more than 50 research papers. His publications focus on three main areas: philosophy of mind and cognitive science, applied ethics, and public understanding of philosophy.

In the first area, Rowlands is one of the main architects of a view known as the extended mind, vehicle externalism, or environmentalism. The central point is that some mental processes extend into the subject’s environment in that they are composed, in part, of manipulative, exploitative, and transformative operations performed by that subject on suitable environmental structures. In the second area, Rowlands’s work focuses on the moral status of nonhuman animals and the natural environment. Here he is known primarily for developing the idea that the moral claims of animals can be understood in terms of a contractualist moral theory, which extends, adjusts, and refines to the realm of nonhuman animals the work that John Rawls has developed with respect to human societies. And in the third area of his work, Rowlands has devoted a considerable amount of time to the public understanding of philosophy. He reaches audiences beyond the more restricted domain of academic philosophy, as his books have been translated into more than 15 languages. His memoir, The Philosopher and the Wolf, was published in 2008 and became an international best seller.


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