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Kathy Wilets

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Jul 30, 2013 9:06 AM

Stavros Drakos, M.D., Ph.D.
Stavros Drakos, M.D., Ph.D.

For the second consecutive year, a University of Utah School of Medicine faculty member has been awarded a three-year $486,000 grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Stavros Drakos, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded the organization’s Clinical Scientist Development Award for his work studying heart disease.

The award is one of the country’s most prestigious honors for physician-scientists, according to cardiologist Dean Y. Li, M.D., Ph.D., University of Utah Health Sciences associate vice president and chief scientific officer. “Candidates from all fields of medicine compete every year for this award. Only 16 of these grants are awarded each year and we’re proud to have Dr. Drakos as one of this year’s distinguished recipients.”

Drakos, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine, is studying heart failure patients who have mechanical assist devices (commonly known as Ventricular Assist Devices) implanted in their hearts while waiting for heart transplants. The devices are designed to work as small artificial hearts and perfuse the patient’s body until a donor heart becomes available. At the same time, these devices unload, or de-stress, the failing heart and a small number of patients with the devices actually recover their heart function and no longer require a heart transplant. These observations directly challenge the classic view that the human heart has limited ability to recover and restore itself. Drakos is studying the unique biology of these humans with remarkable endogenous recovery capacities to understand the human heart’s potential to recover.

“If we find out about the mechanisms driving this phenomenon, then we can aid in recovery by giving drugs to help activate them,” Drakos said. “But first we need to uncover the secrets of cardiac recovery, and that’s what we’re doing here.” Drakos continued to explain that this research is being performed through a unique collaboration between University of Utah Health Sciences, Intermountain Healthcare and Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 

Drakos also serves as medical director of University of Utah Health Care’s Cardiac Mechanical Support Program and an investigator in the University of Utah Molecular Medicine Program at the Eccles Institute of Human Genetics.

The Doris Duke Foundation received 292 eligible proposals, which were reviewed by a panel of experts and narrowed down to the strongest 16 candidates for funding. Drakos was the only award recipient studying heart disease.

“For the clinical research workforce to remain strong, we must invest in the next generation of researchers,” said Sindy Escobar-Alvarez, program officer for the Medical Research Program at the Doris Duke Foundation. “Supporting young physician-scientists as they transition to independence is especially important as they must juggle the responsibilities of conducting research with seeing patients.”

Last year, Cammon Arrington, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric cardiologist and associate professor of pediatrics, at the University of Utah School of Medicine, was awarded a Clinical Scientist Development Award for his work on congenital heart disease.