August 14, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 31

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UTHSC researchers receive American Heart Association awards

Dr. Inmaculada del Rincon, medicine, and Dr. Zheng Dong, pathology, received the Lyndon Baines Johnson Research Award from the American Heart Association, Texas Affiliate, on July 21. The awards were presented at the annual awards dinner, held this year in Corpus Christi. Drs. del Rincon and Dong are two of only three Texas researchers to win the prestigious award.

In addition, Dr. Donald Gordon, emergency medical technology chairman, was awarded the Paul V. Ledbetter, M.D., Physician Volunteer of the Year Award, and Dr. Diane Solomon, neurology, received the Outstanding Stroke Volunteer of the Year Award. Both UTHSC physicians are highly regarded, longtime volunteers with the AHA, Texas Affiliate.

Photo of Dr. Del Rincon

Dr. Del Rincon

Dr. del Rincon is an assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology. She is the principal investigator for the project "Chronic Systemic Inflammation as a Risk Factor for Atherosclerosis." The objective of this study is to define the contribution of chronic systemic inflammation to the development of atherosclerosis, using rheumatoid arthritis as a model.

Current research shows that elevations in inflammatory markers in healthy people are associated with an increased risk of atherothrombotic events. Dr. del Rincon will use a novel approach to study the extent of atherosclerosis in a group of people with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease with intense chronic inflammation.

It would be expected that sustained, long-term, severe inflammation would lead to a marked increase in atherogenesis. The proposed study will be the first to compare directly the extent of atherosclerosis with the extent of damage induced by a chronic inflammatory disease, taking into consideration the simultaneous, competing influence of known cardiovascular risk factors.

These findings will significantly advance current knowledge on the role of inflammation in atherosclerosis. If indeed inflammation and atherosclerosis are associated, this may mean that atherosclerosis could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.

Photo of Dr. Dong

Dr. Dong

Dr. Dong, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, is studying "Hypoxic Regulation of Apoptosis Inhibitory Protein IAP-2." Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, is a key determinant of tissue pathology in ischemic diseases including stroke, myocardial infarction and acute renal failure.

In previous studies, Dr. Dong and his colleagues discovered the regulation of the cell death inhibitory gene IAP-2 by hypoxia.

In the current project, Dr. Dong proposes studies to pursue the molecular mechanisms responsible for IAP-2 regulation and to determine its role in hypoxic/ischemic injury.

Insights derived from these studies will enhance understanding of the molecular basis underlying ischemic diseases. In particular, IAP-2 has been shown to be cytoprotective against diverse forms of injury. Investigation of IAP-2 regulation by hypoxia/ischemia therefore may lead to new strategies to minimize cell injury during ischemic diseases including stroke, myocardial infarction and acute renal failure.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Award, established in 1976 to recognize "the outstanding research projects in Texas toward the eradication of cardiovascular disease," is named in honor of the former president. In a Jan. 7, 1965, message to Congress, Johnson stated: "Whatever we do or hope to do depends on the health of our people. We cannot be satisfied until all Americans have the best medical treatment that the best medical men and women can devise."

It was in the spirit of that call that the American Heart Association, Texas Affiliate, began to bestow the LBJ Research Award annually to the grant-in-aid applicants whose projects are deemed most meritorious by the AHA’s Central Research Review Committee. LBJ Research Awards are presented annually to only three researchers statewide.