PHILADELPHIA—Garret A. FitzGerald, MD, FRS, director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has been awarded an honorary fellowship by the British Pharmacological Society. He is also chair of the department of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics.
FitzGerald was presented the fellowship, the Society’s highest honor, by its president, David Webb during the organization’s annual conference in London this month. The award recognizes FitzGerald’s “sustained leadership in translational medicine.” Translational medicine begins as basic research in the laboratory and is translated or applied to improving patients’ health.
Among his research efforts, FitzGerald seeks to understand the mechanisms of drug action. His work was pivotal in showing that low-dose aspirin can prevent cardiovascular disease by blocking the clumping of blood cells called platelets, which can result in clots and lead to heart attacks.
In 1999 he and colleagues found that anti-inflammatory drugs called COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex and Vioxx, could represent a cardiovascular risk in some patients. Vioxx was voluntarily removed from the market five years later, after a subsequent study found a clear link between it and heart attack and stroke. These findings have been corroborated in more than ten additional studies. FitzGerald continues to work in this area, including conducting research on prostanoids, fatty acids that regulate normal vascular function.
Another major research interest is molecular clocks. These internal “timers,” found in most cells and tissues, control circadian rhythms. Among many vital functions, they regulate sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, metabolism, and blood pressure, which are normally lower at night and peaks in the middle of the afternoon. FitzGerald's team was the first to discover a molecular clock in the cardiovascular system.
Circadian rhythms also result in variation throughout the day in the absorption, and hence efficacy and possible side effects, of medications. Drugs also affect circadian clock function. In efforts to better understand this phenomenon in terms of cardiovascular health, FitzGerald and others are uncovering how the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the body’s master clock regulates and interacts with clocks in the vascular system.
He has received the Boyle, Coakley, Harvey, and St. Patrick’s Day medals; the American Heart Association’s Distinguished Scientist, 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 was also awarded the 2013 Grand Prix Scientifique by the Institut de France, one of the largest prizes for scientific accomplishment and the world’s most prestigious prize for cardiovascular research.
He is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy, fellow of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, and fellow of the Royal Society.
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