Drs. Gerald DiBona and John Hall receive American Heart Association/Novartis award

September 18, 2002

ORLANDO, Sept. 18 - Gerald DiBona, M.D., and John Hall, Ph.D., the winners of this year's Novartis Award for Hypertension Research, discovered two important mechanisms that link hypertension and subtle abnormalities of kidney function. Their work demonstrated that malfunctioning kidneys are important in causing hypertension, rather than occurring as a result of hypertension-induced damage. The award is given each year at the American Heart Association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research meeting to recognize major research advances.

DiBona, a researcher and clinician at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and a professor at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, investigates how nerves control kidney function. He discovered that increased nerve activity to the kidney causes the body to react in certain ways that contribute to increased blood pressure.

His research turned the medical arena's understating of kidney function upside down; until now, the scientific community had not recognized the full role of the nerves in the kidney. "Our work was challenging and it reversed many years of prevailing opinion. Rather than a blast of light or a big bang, it was more a slow accumulation of evidence that nerve activity was significant in kidney function." says DiBona, who is also foreign adjunct professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

DiBona has also received VA's prestigious William Middleton Award for his work at the Iowa City VA Medical Center, where he has served as chief of medical services and staff physician for 33 years.

Hall, while serving as the chairman of the department of physiology and director of the Center for Excellence in Cardiovascular-Renal Research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, has focused his work on kidney function and hypertension. His research explores pressure-natriuresis in the long-term regulation of blood pressure, or how high blood pressure relates to the kidney's ability to excrete water and salt. When they began their research, Hall says there were two competing ideas about the role of the kidney in high blood pressure: one idea held that high blood pressure occurs and the kidneys adjust their function accordingly, the other idea is that abnormal kidney function leads to hypertension.

"In the short-term, when blood pressure goes up, the kidney puts out more urine," explains Hall. "That mechanism is upset in people with hypertension - increased excretion of salt and water doesn't occur."

Hall and DiBona's research has shown that high blood pressure is a result of the kidney's inability to excrete salt and water at a normal blood pressure.

"High blood pressure is a compensatory response to abnormal kidney function," says Hall. "Something in the kidney causes impairment in excretion. Higher blood pressure returns salt and water excretion back to normal. Effective antihypertensive therapy must be aimed at restoring the kidney's ability to excrete salt at a normal blood pressure."

Hall has received several awards and held many leadership positions in the field of hypertension research. The American Society of Hypertension presented him with the 2000 Richard Bright Award for his research, and he is the past president of the American Physiological Society. Hall is also a Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Discoveries from scientists like DiBona and Hall, make new treatments possible for hypertension - known as the "silent" killer - which affects about 50 million Americans each year.
The Novartis Award for Hypertension Research is supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.

About the American Heart Association
The American Heart Association spent about $382 million during fiscal year 2000-2001 on research support, public and professional education, and community programs. Nationwide, the organization has grown to include more than 22.5 million volunteers and supporters who carry out our mission in communities across the country. The association is the largest voluntary health organization fighting heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases, which annually kill about 960,000 Americans.

American Heart Association

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