Cincinnati Children's scientist wins achievement award for advances in heart disease research

11/11/05

CINCINNATI Jeffrey Robbins, Ph.D., a molecular cardiovascular biologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, will be honored with one of the most prestigious awards given by the American Heart Association, the 2005 Research Achievement Award, which is presented annually for achievements in cardiovascular research.

Dr. Robbins is a specialist in molecular cardiology, a branch of medical research that focuses on understanding the cellular functions of the heart, including the identification of genes associated with heart disease.

"This award is being presented to Dr. Robbins for his seminal contributions to the field of cardiovascular biology that have profoundly changed the pace and direction of cardiac research. His discoveries placed a new set of genetic tools in the hands of investigators around the world, thus stimulating a dramatically accelerated worldwide effort to identify and subsequently modify inborn molecular flaws at work in heart and blood vessel diseases," according to a written statement by the AHA.

Dr. Robbins studies the cause-and-effect relationships between mutations in proteins and their connection to heart disease. To understand these relationships, and to establish models in which disease processes can be studied over a long period of time, Dr. Robbins and colleagues have created genetically modified laboratory models with human cardiovascular disorders. He and his team of researchers have identified specific protein mutations and alterations in protein levels that underlie basic disease processes. With this information, scientists can determine whether the protein directly or indirectly causes changes in the heart. By purposely creating the expression of an engineered protein in the heart, scientists can study the consequences of a single genetic manipulation at the molecular, biochemical, cytological and physiologic levels.

"In a remarkable series of experiments, Dr. Robbins has made monumental strides toward solving mysteries shrouding the intricate structure of the heart by unlocking the hidden genetic riddles that hold the key to creating valuable new therapies," the AHA stated.

Dr. Robbins' research is designed to lead to new therapeutic targets for treating heart disease.

"Although we understand the genetic basis of the disease, we do not fully comprehend how these mutations cause heart disease. As we begin to understand disease progression more clearly, we hope to identify legitimate therapeutic targets, that may delay or even prevent the development of cardiac pathology," Dr. Robbins said.

Dr. Robbins was the first scientist to define the critical components needed to drive high levels of gene expression in the heart. In addition, he has designed the tools necessary to conduct important studies that will provide new insights into heart disease that affects both children and adults.

"Using these tools, we've been able to determine what normal proteins do and what happens when a good protein goes bad. These studies, which built upon the rapidly evolving field of molecular genetics, enabled us to couple a test tube with cardiac physiology, giving us an opportunity to ask new questions and approach old ones with new tools," Dr. Robbins said.

"The most exciting aspect of our work is its broad applicability. Any investigator can use our tools and ask and answer their own questions. It is gratifying to know that our work has provided and provides a firm foundation for other people to build upon," he said.

Dr. Robbins was appointed professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and director of the Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology at Cincinnati Children's in 1993. In 1999 he was appointed associate chair for Core Research at Cincinnati Children's and in 2001 he was elected Fellow of the American Heart Association and the International Society for Heart Research. He began his career in 1978 with the University of Missouri-Columbia as assistant professor of biochemistry. Dr. Robbins serves on many federal government study sections and committees of the National Institutes of Health. He has also served on the editorial boards or as an editor of 14 journals since 1991. He is the author or co-author of more than 133 studies.

The Research Achievement Award has been granted annually since 1953. It will be presented on November 13 during the AHA's Scientific Sessions 2005 meeting in Dallas.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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