McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Barry London, MD, PhD (pictured), professor of medicine and chief, division of cardiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is a National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award recipient named at a symposium on the NIH’s Bethesda, MD, campus. Dr. London is the first academic medical researcher from the University to receive the distinction and is 1 of 16 national recipients in 2008.
The award gives Dr. London, who also is director of the UPMC Cardiovascular Institute, $2.5 million in direct costs from the NIH to conduct novel experiments to better identify patients at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest, for which no reliable drugs currently exist.
Dr. London and colleagues will develop two revolutionary techniques to image electrical activity in the heart. In the first project, Dr. London will adapt the most common clinical imaging technique, which is two-dimensional echocardiography (ultrasound imaging of the heart), to detect electrical activity of the heart in real time. In the second project, Dr. London and colleagues will develop a modified adult stem cell implant to detect nervous system activity affecting the heart.
He will be collaborating with McGowan Institute faculty member Flordeliza Villanueva, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of non-invasive cardiac imaging and the Center for Ultrasound Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics at the UPMC Cardiovascular Institute.
Dr. Villanueva and her colleagues at the Center will develop a novel electrically sensitive microbubble contrast agent, which is a tiny, inert gaseous bubble injected into the bloodstream, that when applied to ultrasound imaging, will visualize electrical activity within the heart muscle. “Dr. London’s concept of using microbubbles to non-invasively see pathways of electrical conduction in the beating heart is an ingenious idea which I found exciting from the moment he first discussed it with me,” she said. This project truly embodies the spirit of the Pioneer Award to support high impact, innovative work. I congratulate Dr. London on his receipt of this prestigious grant, and look forward to participating in this work.” If successful, the research will then be applied to humans.
“These programs are central elements of NIH efforts to encourage and fund especially novel investigator-initiated research, even if it might carry a greater-than usual degree of risk of not succeeding. These highly creative researchers are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and radically shift our understanding,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD.
“Highly creative biomedical research, such as Dr. London plans to conduct with his well-deserved Pioneer Award, not only exemplifies the kind of great science that we value so much here at the University of Pittsburgh but also, in this case, holds tremendous promise for clinical advances,” said Arthur S. Levine, MD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. “Developing novel and innovative tools to study arrhythmias and better identify those patients who are at risk of unexpected cardiac death holds the potential to save countless lives. I’m sure the entire University community joins me in congratulating Barry on receiving this outstanding recognition.”
Arrhythmias are a major cause of morbidity and mortality, with more than 250,000 people dying from sudden death each year in the United States. If successful, both techniques will increase understanding of arrhythmias, improve better identification of patients at risk for sudden death, and guide therapeutic interventions. Thus, identifying novel tools to study arrhythmias in vivo and stratify arrhythmic risk would represent a major advance in cardiovascular care.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations News Release (09/23/08)
NIH News (09/22/08)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (09/22/08)
Medical News Today (09/23/08)
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (09/28/08)
NIH Roadmap for Medical Research: NIH Director’s Pioneer Award
Bio: Barry London, MD, PhD
Bio: Flordeliza S. Villanueva, MD