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October 14, 2008, Volume 55, No. 8

Dr. Finkel, Bioengineering


Dr. Leif Finkel, professor of bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, passed away October 7 at the age of 54, following a long illness.

With expertise in neuroscience and neuroengineering, Dr. Finkel focused his attention on the computational mechanisms underlying visual perception, trying to understand how visual processes can be integrated based on cortical connectivity. He also worked on the applications of neuroengineering to disease, starting from the cellular and molecular levels to develop models of the hippocampus, striatrum and prefrontal cortex with applications to epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia.

Dr. Finkel majored in physics at the University of Maryland, graduating summa cum laude in 1976. His two graduate degrees were from Penn: an MD in 1981 and a PhD in biophysics in 1985. His advisor was Nobel Laureate and Penn graduate Dr. Gerald Edelman, who was then at the Rockefeller University and later became the founding director of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla.

Dr. Finkel joined Rockefeller University as an assistant professor in 1985, was recruited back to Penn in 1989, tenured in 1995 and promoted to professor in 1998. At Penn, he became a strong link between engineering and numerous neuroscience researchers in the School of Medicine, with whom he collaborated widely. He built a world-class laboratory in neuroengineering, published more than 90 papers, proceedings and book chapters, gave countless lectures, mentored 17 doctoral students, 5 masters students and 6 post-doctoral fellows, and raised a large amount of grant support. SEAS Dean Eduardo Glandt said, “we have lost an extraordinary scientist, teacher and friend.”

Among Dr. Finkel’s many honors was the 1996 Faculty Recognition Award of the Institute of Neurological Sciences, which was only presented several times in the 40-year history of the Institute. It was given to him in recognition of “Contributions to developing computational neuroscience at Penn, talent and contagious enthusiasm for science, extraordinary efforts and skills as a teacher, generosity in the services of the Institute and the neuroscience community at Penn and for the overall high regard in which he is held by his colleagues.”

In 2006, he was awarded SEAS’s highest teaching honor, the S. Reid Warren, Jr. Award. Last spring, he was their recipient of the Award for Faculty Advising.

Dr. Finkel is survived by his wife, Gloria; and three sons, Jacob, Daniel and Benjamin.

A campus memorial service is being planned.

Dr. Samaha, Medicine


Dr. Frederick (Rick) Samaha, associate professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, died from brain cancer on August 26; he was 47.

In the ten years since he joined the Penn faculty in 1998, Dr. Samaha transformed the division of cardiology at the VA Hospital. Under his leadership, the cardiology division established nationally-recognized programs in cardiovascular medicine and clinical research. Dr. Samaha was recognized for these achievements, receiving the Scissor Award in 2000, the highest award from the national Veterans Administration.

Dr. Samaha was a leader in academic cardiology. His research studies examined the effect of diet and metabolic status on heart disease. His study comparing low fat and low carbohydrate diets was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003. This important study influenced dietary recommendations of cardiologists and nutritionists across the US. For the past several years, Dr. Samaha had been examining the interplay of diet, diabetes and heart disease. Earlier this year, Dr. Samaha was first author of a manuscript in Nature Clinical Practice Cardiovascular Medicine comparing inhibition of microsomal triglyceride transfer protein alone or with ezetimibe in patients with moderate hypercholesterolemia.

“In the 20 months since Rick was first diagnosed with cancer, he continued to oversee the activities of the division of cardiology at the Philadelphia VA Hospital, write manuscripts and apply for (and receive) grants from the NIH. Remarkably, in 2007 and 2008, Rick was author or co-author of 12 manuscripts,” said Dr. Michael S. Parmacek, Herbert C. Rorer Professor of Medical Sciences and chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine.

Dr. Samaha earned his undergraduate degree from Kenyon College in 1983 and his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1987, where he was honored with its Distinguished Alumni Award last year.

Dr. Samaha is survived by his wife, Dr. Carol Chou, clinical assistant professor of medicine in the division of general medicine; children, Alexander and Sophie; parents, Frederick and Claire; sister, Dr. Michelle Kennedy; and brother, James.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Friends School of Haverford, 851 Buck Lane, Haverford, PA 19041; The Radnor Monthly Meeting, Conestoga Road & Route 320, Radnor, PA 19087; or the Brain Tumor Society’s Race for Hope under Team Rick Samaha, www.tbts.org

To Report A Death

Almanac appreciates being informed of the deaths of current and former faculty and staff members, students, and other members of the University community.

However, notices of alumni deaths should be directed to the Alumni Records Office at Room 545, Franklin Building, (215) 898-8136 or e-mail record@ben.dev.upenn.edu.

Almanac - October 14, 2008, Volume 55, No. 8