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Aug 01, 2013 2:13 PM

Andrew S. Weyrich, Ph.D.
Andrew S. Weyrich, Ph.D.

(SALT LAKE CITY)—Citing his groundbreaking contributions to understanding the evolving role of platelets, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) has awarded University of Utah professor of medicine Andrew S. Weyrich, Ph.D., the 2013 Dameshek Prize. 

The annual prize, named in honor of William Dameshek, M.D., past president of ASH and first editor of the journal Blood, is given to investigators who make outstanding recent contributions to hematology research. Weyrich, the Attillio D. Renzetti, Jr., Presidential Endowed Chair of Respiratory, Critical Care, and Occupational Pulmonary Medicine, will receive the award at the ASH annual meeting in New Orleans on Dec. 10. 

“ASH is pleased to honor Dr. Weyrich for innovative, paradigm-shifting work that has placed him at the forefront of redefining platelet function,” said ASH President Janis L. Abkowitz, M.D., of the University of Washington. “His outstanding leadership has changed our understanding of the hemostatic functions of platelets, and more importantly, the role of platelets in inflammation, infection, and angiogenesis. We look forward to seeing how his work will continue to move the field of platelet biology forward.” 

Platelets are disk-shaped cells derived from bone marrow cells and are the body’s rapid-response team to stop bleeding by inducing clots. Platelets also can clot when it’s not needed (thrombosis), leading to stroke, heart attack or other life-threatening and fatal conditions. 

Scientists long thought clotting was the only function of platelets. Through his research on the cellular and molecular causes clots, Weyrich has shown that platelets, which lack a nucleus, surprisingly are involved in more than clotting. He, his lab team and longtime research collaborator Guy A. Zimmerman, M.D., professor and associate chair of research in the Department of Medicine, have shown that platelets also have the ability to carry messenger RNA and translate it into new proteins and that molecules on the surface of platelets induce gene expression pathways in white blood cells. 

“Dr. Weyrich’s discoveries have fundamentally rewritten basic college biology and medical school textbooks,” according to cardiologist Dean Y. Li, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and University of Utah Health Sciences associate vice president for research. “He and Dr. Zimmerman revealed how the genetic program of platelets, the workhorse cell that controls blood clotting, responds to its environment in the absence of DNA or a nucleus. This insight recasts how doctors and scientists should seek to understand, prevent and treat strokes and heart attacks.” 

Zimmerman says Weyrich’s research, conducted in both laboratory and clinical environments, has changed the field of hematology and how platelets are viewed. “He really has taken his research from the bench to the bedside,” Zimmerman says. “I continue to be extremely impressed with and proud of Andy’s accomplishments. He clearly deserves the Dameshek Prize and the recognition that it carries.” 

The Dameshek Prize follows two international awards Weyrich received in 2011: the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis chose him for a Biennial Award for Contributions to Haemostasis (BACH) and the American Heart Association’s Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) selected Weyrich for a 2011 ATVB Special Recognition Award in Thrombosis. 

Last August, Weyrich was named principal investigator on a $16 million National Institutes of Health Grant to set up a translational research center at the University of Utah to study the cellular and molecular causes of blood clots. Zimmerman is co-principal investigator on the award, which was issued through the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.