March 6, 2002
Researchers to Link Heart & Brain Puzzle Pieces
At UCSD, Salk and Nature Medicine Conference March 13-16
Topics include the convergence of heart and brain research, the critical shortage of physician-scientists, and award presentations to prominent scientists and organizations
Nearly 400 nationally prominent scientists converging on La Jolla in mid-March will be engrossed in a virtual crossword puzzle of the heart and brain – two different organ systems that appear to have more in common than previously thought.
The medical researchers will attend the 2nd Annual Days of Molecular Medicine symposium March 13-16, 2002, which is co-sponsored by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Institute of Molecular Medicine, The Salk Institute of Biological Studies, and the journal Nature Medicine.
Conference co-organizer Kenneth Chien, M.D., Ph.D., director of UCSD’s Institute of Molecular Medicine, notes that heart and brain research is like a crossword puzzle where letters in a vertical word help determine a horizontal word.
“We get insights into medical disease by looking at more than one organ,” Chien says. “As in a crossword puzzle, you can solve 27 down, but you need to look at 23 across to get a clue from the common letter in both words. In medical research, we’ve learned there are many common molecules and signaling pathways that the heart and brain share. In terms of disease pathways, these organs are more integrated than we had realized.”
At the Days of Molecular Medicine symposium, which is subtitled “Heart and Brain: Signaling Pathways in Complex Human Diseases,” attendees will learn about new discoveries in heart and brain research, including topics such as chronic degenerative diseases, plasticity, diseases of excitability, and signaling cascades.There will be keynote presentations by Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will discuss “NMDA Receptor Pathways in Learning and Memory,” and Leon Rosenberg, M.D., Princeton University, who will discuss the critical shortage of physician-scientists in the medical research community.
Co-organizer Ronald Evans, Ph.D., director of The Salk Institute Gene Expression Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said "with the completion of the Human Genome Project, a vocabulary list of some 35,000 genes has been revealed. Speakers at the conference will discuss their progress in linking these genes in meaningful patterns.”
The symposium also includes award presentations:
In addition to Chien and Evans, the symposium has been organized by Beatrice Renault, editor, Nature Medicine. Sessions will be held at The Salk Institute and UCSD’s Faculty Club.
Information on the program is available at the web site http://imm.ucsd.edu/dmm.
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Leon Rosenberg, M.D.
Physician-Scientists Presentation & Forum
12-4:30 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2002
In recent years, Rosenberg has written and spoken extensively on the physician-scientist as an “endangered species” in the medical research community. Physician-scientists are defined as individuals who hold joint MD/Ph.D. degrees and MDs who devote all or most of their professional effort to research. The advantage of the dual background – patient-oriented medicine combined with scientific lab experience – is a researcher who can better and faster translate what he or she has learned in the lab into targeted, meaningful medical applications for people.
Why should Americans be concerned about the shortage of physician-scientists? Rosenberg says these individuals are critical to the transfer of research information (such as the sequencing of the genome or new findings with molecules and genes) to treatment for human illness.
UCSD’s Kenneth Chien, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, adds that “in order to move discoveries quickly from the scientific laboratory to patient applications, we need researchers who understand the health needs of patients as well as the detail and discipline of scientific investigation.”
In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, Rosenberg notes that the number of physician-scientists has declined in the past 20 years for several reasons, but the most important involves the physician’s initial decision whether to pursue a research career. Many doctors are turned away from research by fear of long training periods, accumulated debt coupled with lower salaries, and the uncertainty of success in their research endeavors.
Physician-scientist advocates have seen encouraging signs in the past two years. The NIH has offered new grants, the 106th Congress passed several acts pertaining to clinical research, and several nonprofit organizations have developed initiatives to support physician-scientists. Rosenberg worries, however, that most of the recent initiatives support those doing patient-oriented clinical research, at the expense of those focusing on basic experiments in the laboratory.
Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Learning and Memory
Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine, 1987
Keynote Presentation “NMDA Receptor Pathways in Learning and Memory”
Approximately 8:30 or 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 13, 2002
The Salk Institute
Tonegawa notes that the hallmark of intelligent animals is their highly evolved cognitive functions such as learning, memory, attention, awareness, consciousness and thought. His research seeks to understand memory and related cognitive functions by combining genetic, physiological and behavioral methods.
Eli Lilly and Co., August Watanabe, M.D.
As executive vice president for science and technology, Wantanabe will accept the award for Lilly’s Xigris, the first biologically targeted recombinant protein therapy (activated protein C), for severe sepsis.
Every year, more than 750,000 people in the US develop severe sepsis, a syndrome characterized by an overwhelming systemic response to infection, which can rapidly lead to organ dysfunction and ultimately death. Severe sepsis strikes hard and takes lives quickly; approximately 215,000 Americans die annually from severe sepsis.
While the event that triggers an infection to develop sepsis is unknown, increasing evidence suggests that sepsis is associated with widespread inflammation, coagulation, and suppression of fibrinolysis, the body’s clot-busting system. The drug developed by Lilly – Xigris (a recombinant form of activated protein C) - modulates coagulation, controls inflammation and supports fibrinolysis. In clinical trials, the relative risk of death from severe sepsis was reduced by nearly 20 percent with the new drug, which was approved by the FDA in November 2001.
2002 Service Award
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Accepting the award on behalf of the Gates Foundation will be Sally Stansfield, M.D., acting director of the Infectious Disease and Vaccines Program and senior program officer of the Global Health Initiatives Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Gates Foundation is recognized for its commitment of more than $1 billion to vaccine development and equitable worldwide delivery. The real power behind these grants is not the shear magnitude of dollars, but the well-targeted grant recipients, who combine the public health experience, world-class science, business expertise, and compassion to narrow the vaccine gap. Among the projects funded by the Gates Foundation are programs to deliver the most basic vaccines to poorer nations where children now die of diseases the developed world considers almost obsolete. In addition, the Gates Foundation advances vaccine science by funding research on diseases for which no immunization now exists, such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.
2002 Mentorship Award
Stuart Kornfeld, M.D. and Phillip Majerus, M.D., Washington University, St. Louis
The award is presented in recognition of the physicians’ mentoring a generation of leading physician-scientists in blood diseases and related disorders in Washington University’s Molecular Cell Biology Program. In the award announcement letter, UCSD and Nature Medicine note that “each year, we recognize individuals and institutions that have made an outstanding contribution to the expanding field of molecular medicine that is based on biologically targeted therapy for human diseases. In this regard, the identification, recruitment and training of physician-scientists is central to the overall goal of advancing human health through scientific discovery at the intersection of basic science and clinical medicine.” The letter goes on to note that “your trainees and peers have noted that your mentoring was founded on the example of your own high-caliber contributions.”
Sue Pondrom, UCSD
Warren Froelich, Salk Institute
858-453-4100 ext. 1646 firstname.lastname@example.org
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