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Release: Nov. 8, 1999

Abboud receives American Heart Association's highest honor

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- François Abboud, M.D., professor and head of the University of Iowa department of internal medicine and director of the UI Cardiovascular Research Center, has received the American Heart Association's 1999 Research Achievement Award in recognition of his career-long accomplishments in cardiovascular science.

Abboud accepted the honor Nov. 7 at the opening session of the association's 72nd Scientific Sessions held in Atlanta, Ga. More than 20,000 registrants are expected to attend the sessions. In announcing the award, the association described him as a "consummate contributor to cardiovascular teaching and research."

The American Heart Association also noted that under Abboud's direction the UI Cardiovascular Research Center "has grown to a position of eminence as one of the most prestigious cardiovascular training facilities in the world."

Abboud, who is also a UI professor of physiology and biophysics and the Edith King Pearson Professor of Cardiovascular Research, has conducted cardiovascular research for more than 40 years and directed the UI Cardiovascular Research Center since 1974. He is known for discoveries about the circulatory system and problems such as hypertension, mechanisms of heart failure, diabetes and aging. The center promotes interdisciplinary research, with top investigators from six UI departments using approaches ranging from molecular biology to human clinical studies.

"We are deeply honored that the American Heart Association has chosen to recognize
Dr. Abboud's contributions to cardiovascular research," said Robert P. Kelch, M.D., dean of the UI College of Medicine. "All that Dr. Abboud has accomplished as a researcher and director of the UI Cardiovascular Research Center reflects the excellence and dedication for which this award was designed."

Five Nobel Prize laureates are among past recipients of the association's Research Achievement Award.

Abboud said he was "absolutely elated" by news that he had received the research award.

"My initial reaction was not to believe it," he said. "I think the award is a fantastic honor, but it is also a reflection of the reputation of the UI Cardiovascular Research Center. I accept the award with pride and the belief that it is also because of the work my colleagues have done. We have tremendous resources at the UI in terms of both people and facilities that allow us to be at the forefront of discoveries."

Since 1971, Abboud has been a principal investigator of a National Institutes of Health-funded investigation of circulation regulation in pathologic (diseased) states, with the aim of finding ways to control high blood pressure, heart failure and heart disease. His publications number more than 400, and his research group is known internationally for work on trying to understand how the nervous system regulates blood pressure by sending signals from nerves in the heart and arteries to the brain.

"Cardiovascular disease is associated with the highest mortality in our nation, and high blood pressure probably affects more than 60 million people," Abboud said. "So these are very important questions to pursue."

Abboud and his colleagues were the first to prove in the early 1960s that insulin activates the nervous system to cause high blood pressure in the absence of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). His team also discovered that salt intake constricts blood vessels in people who are susceptible to high blood pressure.

Future cardiovascular research must focus on understanding the fundamental way in which cells work, and gene regulation to control various diseases, Abboud said.

"With advances this past decade in technology and genetic understanding, we are making phenomenal progress in understanding cardiovascular disease," he said. "Research is focused on discovering new genes; how genes control, for example, the way the heart contracts; and how gene mutations caused by diet or environment can contribute to heart failure."

Abboud's previous American Heart Association awards include the Award of Merit; the Gold Heart Award; the Dickinson W. Richards Memorial Award of the Council on Pulmonary Disease; the George E. Brown Memorial Award of the Council on Circulation; and the CIBA Award and Medal for Hypertension Research of the Council on High Blood Pressure Research.

In addition, the association awarded Abboud his very first research grant in 1957, support which he credits for sparking his career as a cardiovascular specialist and researcher.

"That initial grant came at a critical time in my training," Abboud said. "Without the American Heart Association, I probably would not have become the academic physician and

researcher that I am. The association is one of the most amazing voluntary professional organizations. It has laypersons, physicians and scientists all working together to raise funds for scientific research and provide community education and health-related programs."

"I have spent a good deal of my life trying to support the association in return," he added.

In addition to his UI leadership roles, Abboud was president of the American Heart Association from 1990 to 1991. He also has presided over many other volunteer and professional organizations, including: the Association of American Physicians, the Central Society for Clinical Research, and the American Federation for Clinical Research. He is editor-in-chief of Circulation Research and of the new Proceedings of the Association of American Physicians.

His extensive research has also been recognized by the Award for Experimental Therapeutics of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; the Wiggers Award and Medal of the American Physiological Society's Cardiovascular Section; and the Merck Sharp and Dohme International Award for Research Hypertension. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997.

A native of Egypt, Abboud received his medical degree in 1955 from Ains Chams University in Cairo. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Milwaukee County Hospital and fellowships in cardiology at Marquette University and the University of Iowa. He joined the UI faculty in 1960.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: University of Iowa Health Care physician-researchers Harold Adams, M.D., and Donald Heistad, M.D., have also received American Heart Association awards. A separate news release dated Nov. 8, 1999, details their awards.)

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