This year, the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize was awarded to Dr. Helen Hobbs, a geneticist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. The prize distinguishes the research work of Dr. Hobbs in the field of heart disease and other serious conditions.
Dr. Hobbs is the Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher. Her work has been recognized as the main trigger for the development of novel drug agents to reduce LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Dr. Hobbs will receive the prize on 17th November in a ceremony taking place at The Rockefeller University.
The prize acknowledges the accomplishments of exceptional women in the field of biomedical sciences, and was first established by Dr. Paul Greengard, a biophysicist at The Rockefeller University, and his wife, Ursula von Rydingsvard. The annual prize, which sums $100,000, is named in honour of Dr. Greengard’s mother and is supported financially by Dr. Greengard through funds from his 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine award, and also by other Rockefeller supporters.
“Dr. Hobbs’ work is nothing short of inspirational – she is unraveling the genetic underpinnings of cardiovascular disease and changing the way we look at one of the most common, complex health issues of our time,” said Dr. Greengard in a news release.
Cardiovascular disease is the US leading cause of death. Dr. Hobbs has conducted the Dallas Heart Study since 1999, a multiethnic, longitudinal, population-based study of the risk factors linked to cardiovascular disease. The investigation comprises thousands of study participants, with a thorough data collection on the traits thought to be associated to genes that play a role in heart disease.
“Dr. Hobbs is an outstanding physician-scientist and a highly respected member of our faculty. Her insights as a clinician have guided the direction of expertise gained through rigorous basic science training to address truly important questions at the focal point of the most important medical challenges of our day,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “The Dallas Heart Study which she conceived and has led since its inception, encompassing a carefully characterized cohort of individuals that reflect the full diversity of our population followed over time, has proved to be a virtually unique and powerful resource to define the genetic basis of human biology and disease, including mechanisms controlling cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism. Through the application of the power of genetics, the Dallas Heart Study will undoubtedly continue to be an engine for discovery for decades to come,”
“This is a wonderful honor,” said Dr. Hobbs, also Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics. “This prize recognizes the work I have done with Professor of Internal Medicine, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, and the many terrific students and fellows in my laboratory. I also want to thank my colleagues and mentors for UT Southwestern’s collaborative, intellectually stimulating environment. Special thanks to Chairman Emeritus of Internal Medicine Dr. Donald Seldin, who single-handedly changed the course of my career by suggesting I try basic research, and Nobel Laureates Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Joseph Goldstein, for the tough, rigorous yet supportive environment in which I trained as a scientist,”. In 1985 her mentors, Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein, were honored with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their breakthrough research on the cholesterol metabolism underlying mechanisms. Their discovery led to the important development of statins.
Dr. Hobbs developed with Dr. Cohen the genetics segment of the Dallas Heart Study to investigate whether low-frequency or rare genetic variants could be targets for the study of heart disorders and other serious conditions. This rare variant method is now globally used, and has enabled researchers to identify a rare genetic variant (which inactivate the PCSK9 gene) present in a minor African-American percentage, offering them a 28% decrease in LDL cholesterol levels and a remarkable 88% reduction in heart disease in comparison with those who do not have such genetic variant. The findings led pharmaceuticals to develop PCSK9 inhibitors to lower cholesterol, and two of these drugs have been recently approved by the FDA.