Dr. Helen Hobbs receives Harrington Prize for Innovation for cholesterol discovery

Dr. Helen Hobbs will present the 2018 Harrington Prize Lecture at the Harrington Discovery Institute in Cleveland on April 20.

DALLAS – March 15, 2018 – UT Southwestern Medical Center geneticist Dr. Helen Hobbs is the 2018 recipient of the Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine for her discovery of a novel way to reduce cholesterol. Dr. Hobbs, Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics, is the fifth recipient of the Harrington Prize and the first woman to be honored.

The award is being presented to Dr. Hobbs, who is an Investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for her discovery of the link between a mutation in the PCSK9 gene and low levels of cholesterol. Not only did her discovery lead to the swift development of a drug to lower refractory high cholesterol and thus prevent heart disease, but her research also changed the methodology used by many genetic researchers.

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, said Dr. Hobbs’ work is noteworthy both for its innovative methodology and its dramatic findings.

“Pioneering research by Dr. Hobbs provided novel insights into the genetic basis of cholesterol metabolism, which led to the development of categorically new therapeutic agents for individuals with familial high cholesterolemia,” said Dr. Podolsky, who holds the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Hobbs made the startling discovery of the effect of PCSK9 mutation using data from the Dallas Heart Study, a population-based study of 3,500 residents of Dallas County. The Dallas Heart Study provided a large database of ethnically diverse individuals for whom researchers had both genetic information and data on physical traits. While genetic research previously had focused on the most common genetic alleles associated with disease, Dr. Hobbs looked at rare mutations. Her discovery of an individual who had mutations in the PCSK9 gene and also had hyper-low cholesterol levels prompted drug companies to quickly translate this research into a powerful cholesterol-fighting drug.

“Through the application of the power of genetics, the Dallas Heart Study, which Dr. Hobbs co-founded, will undoubtedly continue to be an engine for discovery for decades to come,” Dr. Podolsky said.

The Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine was established in 2014 by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland and the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI). It honors physician-scientists who have advanced science with achievements that are both innovative and have potential for clinical application.

“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,” said Dr. Hobbs, who holds the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology, Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair for the Study of Human Growth and Development, and the 1995 Dallas Heart Ball Chair in Cardiology Research. “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.”

Dr. Cohen holds the C. Vincent Prothro Distinguished Chair in Human Nutrition Research and Dr. Seldin holds the William Buchanan Chair in Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, which is recognizing its 75th anniversary this year.

The connection between genetics and atherosclerosis – a clogging of the arteries that is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes – was highlighted more than 30 years ago in the work by Dr. Brown, Director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease, and Dr. Goldstein, Chairman of Molecular Genetics. Their research led to the development of statins, one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the world. Dr. Brown, a Regental Professor, holds The W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine. Dr. Goldstein, a Regental Professor, holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine.

A committee of members of the ASCI Council and the Harrington Discovery Institute Scientific Advisory Board reviewed nominations from leading academic medical centers from three countries before selecting Dr. Hobbs as the 2018 recipient. The prize carries an honorarium of $20,000. As the winner, Dr. Hobbs will present the 2018 Harrington Prize Lecture at the Harrington Discovery Institute in Cleveland on April 20, and an essay composed by Dr. Hobbs will be published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Previous awards recognizing Dr. Hobbs’ research include the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the 2015 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, and the 2016 Passano Award.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.