Honored for Their Impact
Date: June 7, 2013
Election to the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is among the most prestigious honors in the fields of health and medicine. Last fall the IOM decided that not one but two Hopkins researchers merited the accolade, based on the extraordinary, groundbreaking discoveries they have made—all likely to have a profound impact on the treatment of heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, stroke, and other illnesses.
Lawrence Appel (HS, medicine, 1981-85; fellow, internal medicine, 1986-89), professor of medicine and director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, was honored for landmark studies that have set national standards for preventing heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease with both drug therapies and modification of lifestyle.
Appel’s highly innovative and influential studies have influenced health care policy nationwide, particularly by providing persuasive data to support current efforts designed to reduce racial disparities in cardiovascular health.
He also has been actively involved in formulating other health care policies, serving as a member of the 2005 and 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committees and as chair of the Nutrition Committee of the American Heart Association.
The IOM wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with Appel, since he also chaired its committee that set dietary reference intakes for sodium, potassium, and water.
Gregg Semenza (fellow, pediatrics, 1986-90), who holds professorships in medicine, pediatrics, oncology and radiation oncology and is founding director of the Vascular Biology Program in the Institute for Cell Engineering, is best known for his groundbreaking 1995 work, in which he purified and isolated the coding sequences of HIF-1 (hypoxia-inducible factor-1), the protein that switches genes on and off in cells in response to low oxygen levels.
Such low oxygen levels can be the result of cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and other conditions. HIF-1 plays a prominent role in allowing cancer cells to adapt and grow despite low oxygen levels, while also affecting how the body responds to low oxygen levels related to heart attacks, angina, and other cardiovascular problems.
Semenza’s research is paving the way to treatments that could yield drugs that kill cancer cells by cutting off the supply of oxygen a tumor needs to grow, or increase the ability of HIF-1 to ensure that tissues affected by such conditions as diabetes or arterial disease can survive on low oxygen levels.
In 2010, Semenza’s achievement in opening the field of oxygen biology to molecular analysis earned him Canada’s international prize for medical research, the Gairdner Award.
Appel and Semenza were among 70 scientists elected to the IOM’s class of 2012. They joined 60 other current members of the Johns Hopkins faculty who previously were elected to the IOM, which now has 1,732 active members. Neil A. Grauer