UT faculty members win American Heart Association awards for advancing research

December 23, 2008

Faculty members at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHSC-Houston) were honored for their work in the fight against heart disease at the 2008 American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in New Orleans. Heart disease is the nation's No. 1 killer.

UT faculty members recognized were: Nobel Laureate Ferid Murad, M.D., Ph.D., director emeritus of The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM), a part of the UTHSC-Houston; John Holcomb, M.D., director of the Center for Translational Injury Research at the UTHSC-Houston; and Raffaella Lombardi, M.D., Ph.D., IMM postdoctoral fellow. The AHA scientific sessions were Nov. 8 -12.

Murad was named one of 13 Distinguished Scientists for 2008 by the American Heart Association. The prestigious award was created to honor researchers whose work has advanced the understanding of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Murad found that nitroglycerin and several related heart drugs induce the formation of nitric oxide and that this gas acts to increase the diameter of blood vessels in the body, according to the American Heart Association. He shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Robert Furchgott and Louis Ignarro for their major discoveries involving nitric oxide as a unique signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

"Nitric oxide is one of the most important signaling molecules produced within our body. Dr. Murad's contributions to the field have revolutionized the concept of cell signaling by a gaseous molecule. Potential applications are far-reaching across multiple organ systems. Discovery of this pathway has allowed new therapeutic strategies to control blood pressure, correct conditions of endothelial dysfunction and even treat erectile dysfunction," said Nathan Bryan, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine at the IMM.

Murad completed his undergraduate work at DePauw University and received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He completed a medical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and a fellowship at NIH in the Heart Institute.

Holcomb received the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award in Trauma Resuscitation Science, which was established in 2003 to recognize leaders in this field. Holcomb's contributions to trauma medicine include increased hemorrhage control through dressings, tourniquets and intravenous methods, as well as trauma informatics and systems.

"Each year the American Heart Association selects one surgeon to receive a Lifetime Achievement award for their contributions to the resuscitation of critically ill or injured patients. Dr. Holcomb, while serving in the U.S. Army (now retired) made significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of injured patients in war zones as well as civilian trauma. His contributions have led to a new paradigm in transfusion of patients sustaining blood loss. He well deserves this recognition," said Richard Andrassy, M.D., professor and chairman, the Denton A. Cooley, M.D., Chair in Surgery and the Jack H. Mayfield, M.D. Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Holcomb is past commander of the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He finished his undergraduate work at Centenary College and received his degree of medicine at the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock. He completed an internship and residency in general surgery at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso.

Lombardi won the 2008 Louis N. and Arnold M. Katz Basic Science Research Award Prize for Young Investigators, which is given to the best scientific presentation at the annual scientific sessions of the American Heart Association.

Lombardi presented a manuscript describing the origin of the fat cells in the heart in a disease condition referred to as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which is an important cause of sudden cardiac death in the young, especially athletes. In this disease, which is a genetic disorder, excessive fat cells replace cardiac myocytes in the heart, particularly the right side of the heart. She and her colleagues showed that fat cells originate from the stem cells in the heart that through a unique mechanism convert to fat cells in the presence of genetic mutations.

" The Katz Award is the most prestigious award given to young investigators in basic cardiovascular research by the American Heart Association," said Ali Marian, M.D., professor and director of the Center for Cardiovascular Genetic Research at the IMM. "The work (of Lombardi) could lead to the development of new therapies aimed at preventing the cardiac stem cells from switching a muscle fate to a fat cell fate and therefore, prevention of this potentially deadly disease."

Lombardi received her medical degree and clinical training in internal medicine and cardiology at Federico II University of Naples, Italy. She joined Marian's research group in the IMM three years ago and earned a doctorate in clinical physiopathology and experimental medicine from Federico II University of Naples during this period.
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Founded in 1924, the American Heart Association is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke. To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases - America's No. 1 and No. 3 killers - the American Heart Association funds cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health.

University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

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