Some Research Highlights at PENN Medicine
Alfred Newton Richards, Ph.D. His exhaustive and pioneering research on the kidney provided a basic understanding of renal function for the study of normal physiology and disease. As Chairman of the Committee on Medical Research and Development during the Second World War, Richards engineered the mass production of penicillin which revolutionized military and civilian medicine. During peace time, Richards pioneered the formation of partnerships among academic institutions, industry and the government: Partnerships that have significantly impacted the history of science and medicine.
Penn medical student William Inouye devised a dialysis machine out of a pressure cooker. His device later was adopted for worldwide use.
Robert E. Forster II, M.D. ’43D, working with Ward Fowler and D. V. Bates, devised a rapid and clinically useful single-breath technique for measuring pulmonary diffusion capacity. It became the world standard for the clinical evaluation of this important parameter of lung function.
Peter C. Nowell, M.D. ’52, in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, collaborated with David Hungerford, Ph.D., of the Institute for Cancer Research in Fox Chase, to produce the first evidence that abnormal chromosomes can cause cancer. They observed that patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia have an abnormally small chromosome – dubbed the “Philadelphia chromosome” – in all their cancerous white blood cells. The discovery shattered the widespread belief that cancer had no genetic basis. (Today, Nowell is the Gaylord P. and Mary Louise Harnwell Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.)
Aaron T. Beck, M.D., of the Department of Psychiatry, designed a revolutionary form of psychotherapy, called “cognitive therapy,” as a short-term (12 to 16 sessions) method of correcting depressive patients’ erroneous thinking and helping them to perceive their situations more realistically and positively. He later created the Center for Cognitive Therapy at Penn.
HUP’s first transplantation surgery (a kidney) was performed by Clyde F. Barker, M.D., G.M.E. ’59, beginning HUP’s growth into one of the nation’s largest transplant programs. (Today, Barker is the John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery and the Donald Guthrie Professor of Surgery as well as chair of the department.)
Jonathan E. Rhoads, M.D., G.M.E. ’40, and his colleagues developed total parenteral nutrition, demonstrating that puppies given nothing but intravenous nourishment could grow normally in every way. The procedure has since saved the lives of thousands of patients who were temporarily or permanently unable to eat. One of Penn’s long-time faculty members, Rhoads came to HUP as in intern in 1932 and served as the John Rhea Barton Professor of Surgery from 1959 to 1972.
Research by Joseph Stokes, M.D., led to the development of the rubella (German measles) vaccine. Stokes was chair of the Department of Pediatrics from 1939 to 1963.
Clay M. Armstrong, M.D., professor of physiology, who discovered the fundamental properties of ion channels, detailed the substructures in the channels, describing the “ball-and-chain” model for activation and deactivation of the inner “gate,” as well as the virtual “zipper” in the channel’s gate. For his pioneer work in elucidating the physical processes underlying electrical signaling between cells, he received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1999.
Building on the work of former Radiology resident David A. Kuhl, M.D. ’55, G.M. ’59, Kuhl, Abass Alavi, and Martin Reivich administered the first doses of fluorine-18 fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) to health volunteers at Penn and acquired images of the human brain through positron emission tomography (PET). During the 1960s, Kuhl conceived of and constructed a device that represented the first true computed axial tomographic (CAT) imaging system. With other members of the faculty, Kuhl went on to develop the procedure known as single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) as well as the principles of PET.
Albert M. Kligman, M.D. ’47, Ph.D., now emeritus professor of dermatology, developed Retin-A, a “miracle” cream used to treat acne and superficial wrinkles.
Luigi Mastroianni Jr., M.D., now the William Goodell Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, performed the first successful human in vitro fertilization in the Philadelphia region. His groundbreaking animal research in the mid-to-late 1970s paved the way for IVF.
John A. Detre, M.D., assistant professor of neurology, and John S. Leigh, Ph.D., professor of radiology, developed a novel application of magnetic resonance imaging that assesses tissue perfusion – the actual delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.
Penn researchers discovered the genes for fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation; Kennedy’s disease, a disorder marked by progressive muscle and bulbar atrophy; and Charcot-Tooth-Marie disorder, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the hands, feet, and limbs. Kenneth H. Fischbeck, M.D., G.M.E. ’82, then a HUP neurologist, was an author of the latter two studies.
Two members of the Department of Surgery, Clyde F. Barker, M.D., and Ali Naji, M.D., Ph.D., discovered a transplant process in animal models that has the potential to prevent the development of diabetes in humans. (Today, Naji is the J. William White Professor of Surgical Research and Barker is the Donald Guthrie Professor of Surgery.)
Working with a rodent model, Penn researchers succeeded in transplanting livers without the need for immunosuppressive drugs. In a scientific first, a gene-therapy strategy was used to alter the donor liver before surgery so that the immune system of the recipient became permanently tolerant of the new organ. Kim M. Olthoff, M.D., was lead author of the study.
H. Lee Sweeney, Ph.D., the William Maul Measey Professor of Physiology, developed a gene-therapy treatment that blocks age-related loss of muscle size and strength in mice. The technique suggests therapies for humans that could reverse the feebleness associated with old age or counter the muscle-wasting effects of muscular dystrophies and related diseases.
Penn researcher led by Katherine A. High, M.D., professor of pediatrics, successfully treated dogs with hemophilia by using gene therapy to encourage the product of Factor IX, a protein involved in blood clotting. They later duplicated the dog trial in humans with similar results; patients were able to control their disease with fewer doses of injectable factor.
A research team led by Mitchell Lazar, M.D., director of the Penn Diabetes Center, discovered a hormone produced by fat cells (named resistin, as in resistance to insulin) that impairs the actions of insulin on peripheral tissues. The discovery may provide a long-sought explanation for how obesity triggers insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Resistin circulates in the blood of normal mice, falling after a fast and rising after feeding, and it rises dramatically in mouse models with genetic and diet-induced obesity.
Researchers at Penn’s Scheie Eye Institute, working with scientists at Cornell University and the University of Florida) developed a gene-therapy protocol that successfully restored sight in dogs afflicted with a variation of Leber congenital amaurosis, a severe form of retinal degeneration that, in humans, renders infants permanently blind. One of the senior authors of the study is Jean Bennett, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology.
Researchers led by Francis E. Marchlinski, M.D., director of Penn’s cardiac electrophysiology program, documented the effectiveness of a new technique to cure atrial fibrillation. The technique targets and isolates the triggers (or “hot spots”) on pulmonary veins leading to the heart, preserving the heart’s natural electrical circuitry and eliminating the need for a pacemaker or medication.
© 2004 The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania