PHILADELPHIA -- Garret FitzGerald, MD, FRS, a professor of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and an international leader in cardiovascular disease research, has been elected to the Leopoldina, the German National Academy of Sciences, the oldest continuously existing academy of medicine and the natural sciences in the world. The award recognizes FitzGerald's "scientific achievements and ... personal standing." He has been selected for membership in the Academy's section on physiology and pharmacology/toxicology. FitzGerald is also the director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at Penn.
The Academy, which was founded in 1652, is under the patronage of the President of Germany. It provides policy makers and society at large with scientific guidance on topics of significance to the public; it also promotes global exchange and cooperation between researchers. Its past members include Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie. Today it has over 1,500 elected members in more than 30 countries worldwide.
FitzGerald, whose research interests include the mechanisms of drug action, has been described by CNN as a "pain medicine visionary." He is internationally recognized for helping show how low-dose aspirin can ward off cardiovascular disease by blocking the clustering of blood cells, which can result in clots and lead to heart attacks. (Low-dose aspirin also minimizes the risk of damage to the stomach, a common complication of the higher doses used in arthritis.) In addition, his basic research showed that combining aspirin with a clot-busting drug called streptokinase is twice as effective as either medication alone. Millions of patients worldwide have benefitted from this work, with uncountable lives having been saved.
In 1999, FitzGerald and his colleagues warned that anti-inflammatory drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors (such as Celebrex and Vioxx) could pose a cardiovascular threat in some patients. After an ensuing study found an explicit link between the medication and heart attack and stroke, Vioxx was removed from the market. These findings have been borne out in a number of subsequent studies.
Additionally, FitzGerald's team was the first to discover the presence of a molecular clock in the cardiovascular system. Molecular clocks are internal "timers" found in most cells and tissues of the body; they help control circadian rhythms. This includes regulating sleep/wake cycles, metabolism, body temperature, and blood pressure, which normally dips at night and peaks in the middle of the afternoon.
Circadian rhythms also contribute to variation throughout the day in absorption rates of medications--affecting both their potential effectiveness and side effects. To better understand this phenomenon in terms of cardiovascular health, FitzGerald and associates are investigating how the suprachiasmatic nucleus--the body's master clock (located in the hypothalamus in the brain)--regulates and interacts with molecular clocks in the vascular system. One potential application of this work could entail manipulating molecular clocks to slow down the progress of Alzheimer's and other diseases while maintaining normal metabolism.
FitzGerald's lab also found that in healthy people, vitamins C and E have no effect on normal levels of free radicals--atoms and molecules that harm cell membranes and DNA; but they may benefit certain groups of people with heart disease.
Among his many awards and recognitions, FitzGerald has received the Boyle, Coakley, Harvey, and St. Patrick's Day medals; the American Heart Association's Distinguished Scientist Award, the Phillips, Lucian, Scheele, PhRMA Foundation, and Hunter awards; the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad; and the Cameron, Taylor, Herz, Lefoulon-Delalande, and Schottenstein prizes. He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, a fellow of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society.
He earned his medical and undergraduate degree from University College, Dublin and a master of science degree in statistics from the University of London. He has been awarded honorary doctorates by the National University of Ireland, the University of Edinburgh, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Germany, and King's College, London.
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