SoM leadership at its finest: Robert Hitzemann, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2013 Dean’s Award

April 26, 2013

Dr. HitzemannUnder his chairmanship, Department of Behavioral Neuroscience evolves further as a "dynamic and growing" organization

Faculty members from other units at OHSU seek out appointments in his department. Potential recruits meet with him and want to join the faculty. Junior faculty members ask him for counsel on thorny career decisions. Senior investigators sleep better at night because they know he's working like heck to keep OHSU in the vanguard: imaging, genomics, bioinformatics and quantitative biology. His own faculty and staff appreciate him because he's one of them: he won't ask you to do something that he's not doing himself. And OHSU leaders tap him for committee after committee because when you have Bob Hitzemann pulling in your direction, you go places.

For the last 13 years, Robert (Bob) J. Hitzemann, Ph.D., has chaired OHSU's Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, strengthening it year over year against a complex backdrop of accelerating biomedical advances and shifting federal financial support for biomedical research.

"Bob has systematically fostered its continuing evolution as a dynamic and growing unit, adding two to five faculty members each year for the last several years while stabilizing the department's financial picture," said John Crabbe, Ph.D., Portland VA Medical Center senior research career scientist and professor of behavioral neuroscience. "Moreover, faculty in other basic science and clinical departments elect to gain appointments in behavioral neuroscience because they appreciate the collegiality and educational activities they see there. That also benefits us. The cross-fertilization between fields exposes our core faculty to new ideas and technologies which will pay off in future interdisciplinary research programs."

In recognition of his exceptional service to the department, the School of Medicine, the university and science as a whole, Dean Mark Richardson has selected Dr. Hitzemann as this year's Dean's Award recipient.The Dean's Award, among the highest honors given by the OHSU School of Medicine Alumni Association, recognizes an individual who has shown commitment to the school through their leadership, volunteerism, teaching and/or philanthropic support.

"While there were many deserving candidates this year, I selected Bob because he exemplifies leadership," said Dean Richardson. "He raises the level of thinking of any project he's involved in. He was one of the first at OHSU to recruit collaboratively. He is a well-regarded chair, whose commitment to career development and faculty involvement in departmental decision-making is exemplary. He is also a distinguished investigator and skilled educator. Please join me in congratulating Bob on this honor."

Dr. HitzemanDr. Hitzemann joins other annual Alumni Award winners announced earlier this year.

Dr. Hitzemann began his scientific career in the early '60s with baccalaureate study at Albion College in Michigan, and followed that with a master's degree from Wayne State in Detroit, and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of California, San Francisco. He went on to join the faculty at UCSF before taking up appointments at the University of Cincinnati and then at SUNY at Stony Brook, New York. He joined OHSU in 2000.

Dr. Hitzemann's research interests focus on behavioral genetics and genomics, drug abuse, neuroimaging and psychopharmacology. His work seeks to understand how genes regulate complex behaviors, particularly complex drug-induced behaviors.

Over a 40-year career, Dr. Hitzemann has become a recognized authority on understanding substance abuse. One of his most important studies looked at cocaine abusers among a population of veterans. The findings – reproduced many times – suggest permanent changes in the brains of cocaine addicts. Even four months after stopping cocaine use, dopamine receptors had not recovered as the researchers had predicted. Dr. Hitzemann's own brain was scanned and included as the normal control. (Read more about his contributions to substance abuse knowledge in our School of Medicine News article.)

Part of that success is due to Dr. Hitzemann's instinct for opportunity. "He started as a pharmacologist," said Dr. Crabbe. "Then he trained himself before coming to OHSU as a nuclear magnetic resonance lipid guy and collaborated extensively with Brookhaven scientists in doing important early PET studies in the addictions. Before he transitioned to OHSU, he reinvented himself again as a behavioral geneticist and completed that process once here. He didn't stop with the behavioral transition, but kept adopting each new cutting-edge genomic and bioinformatics approach as it became available. In short, his main strength is his astounding range of abilities, and his continued accumulation of new skills."

As well as maintaining a continuously-funded and productive research lab, Dr. Hitzemann has chaired numerous scientific and advisory boards and taught both medical and graduate research courses. He is currently principal investigator on four grants, scientific director of an NIH Comprehensive Research Center and has advised and mentored 17 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.

You're invited to toast Dr. Hitzemann and other recipients of the School of Medicine's alumni and volunteer clinical faculty awards at the School of Medicine Alumni Association Awards Banquet on Friday, May 10. The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Governor Hotel in Portland. Register here. Questions? Contact


  • Read more about the School of Medicine Alumni Awards and past winners.