Baltimore scientist receives AHA Research Achievement Award for life-saving findings related to cause, treatment of aortic aneurysm

November 09, 2015 Categories: Scientific Conferences & Meetings

ORLANDO, Florida, Nov. 9 – The American Heart Association presented its 2015 Research Achievement Award to Harry C. Dietz III, M.D., of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “for life-saving discoveries related to the cause and treatment of aortic aneurysm, a disorder that contributes to death in up to two percent of individuals in industrialized nations of the world.”

“In a significant series of revelations, Dr. Dietz’s laboratory has shown that, contrary to prevailing belief, aortic aneurysms are not caused by an inherent weakness of the aorta’s extra-cellular matrix but by a more complex combination of genetic and biochemical factors,” said AHA President Mark Creager, M.D., as he presented the award, a citation and $2,500 honorarium.

Dietz received the honor during opening ceremonies of the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2015 in Orlando, Florida. He is Victor A. McKusick Professor of Medicine and Genetics, Investigator, Howard Hughes Institute and Director of the William S. Smilow Center for Marfan Syndrome Research at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dietz’s studies of mice genetically engineered to have Marfan Syndrome, which brings a high risk of aortic aneurysm, showed that Marfan is initiated by a deficiency of a structural protein, fibrillin-1. This deficiency triggers cellular changes including excess growth factor activity, and further studies in humans showed that the drug losartin can reduce abnormal aortic growth in children with the most severe form of Marfan. Genetic testing can identify patients who can benefit from earlier aortic surgery to prevent life-threatening complications, the researchers found.  

“Dr. Dietz and his associates have played seminal roles in establishing individualized diagnostic practices and management protocols for the treatment of patients with diverse and devastating cardiovascular diseases involving aortic abnormalities,” AHA’s President said. “His discoveries and the medical practice-changing results of his research have led to greatly improved outcomes in patients with vascular disorders and are worthy of high recognition.”

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