Two JHU scientists elected to Institute of Medicine

Two pre-eminent researchers from Johns Hopkins have been recognized for outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service with election to membership in the Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. Lawrence J. Appel and Gregg Semenza were among 70 new members from the United States announced last month at the organization's 42nd annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Image caption: Gregg Smenza and Lawrence Appel

Appel, who directs the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, has led a series of landmark studies that have set national standards for preventing heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease, with both drug therapies and lifestyle modification. These highly influential and innovative studies also have provided persuasive evidence for current national efforts designed to reduce racial disparities in cardiovascular health.

Semenza, the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine, is best known for his groundbreaking discovery of hypoxia-inducible factor 1, or HIF-1, which helps cells cope with low oxygen levels. The discovery has far-reaching implications in understanding low-oxygen health conditions such as coronary artery disease and tumor growth.

Appel's internationally recognized body of work is responsible for helping us make better decisions in order to live healthier lives.

He had a leadership role in the DASH trial, a landmark study that documented the benefits of modifying whole dietary patterns. The DASH diet, now the benchmark diet recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, substantially lowered blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, particularly in African-Americans. He also chairs the African-American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension that documented the benefits of aggressive blood pressure control in African-Americans with hypertensive kidney disease. Other studies have focused on the health effects of salt, carbohydrates, and fats.

Appel and his team of investigators also have tested innovative strategies to accomplish adherence with lifestyle recommendations. In the POWER study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, he showed that a weight-loss program delivered over the phone by health coaches was as effective in helping obese patients lose weight and keep it off as one that involved in-person coaching.

In addition to leading a productive research program, he serves on many national committees that shape public policy.

Appel, who spent 30 years as a practicing internist, received his medical degree from New York University and his master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins. He is a professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and also a professor of epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Semenza, one of today's leading researchers working on the molecular mechanisms of oxygen regulation, is the director of the vascular program at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering and a member of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine. The hypoxia-inducible factor 1 protein that he identified controls genes in response to changes in oxygen availability. When oxygen levels are low, HIF-1 turns on genes to make new blood cells and blood vessels. By increasing HIF-1 levels, Semenza's research team hopes to develop treatments for stroke, circulation problems, and heart disease. Semenza's group also discovered that elevated HIF-1 levels can bring new blood vessels to a tumor, providing it with nutrients to grow and metastasize. The team has shown that drugs that lower HIF-1 levels have anti-cancer properties and may be used as cancer therapies.

Semenza received his medical degree and doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and did his residency in pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center and postdoctoral research in medical genetics at Johns Hopkins, where he joined the faculty in 1990. He has authored more than 250 research articles and several book chapters, and has been cited more than 30,000 times. He sits on the editorial boards of several scientific publications. Semenza has been elected to the Association of American Physicians and has received numerous awards, including the E. Mead Johnson Award in Pediatric Research, the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation's Jean and Nicholas Leone Award, the American Heart Association's National Established Investigator Award, the Lucille P. Markey Scholar Award in Biomedical Science, the Canada Gairdner Award, and the Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize.

The Institute of Medicine is unique in its structure as both an honorific membership organization and an advisory organization. Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, IoM has become recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues. With their election, members make a commitment to volunteer their service on IoM committees and boards and for other activities. Projects during the past year include studies of environmental factors in breast cancer, nutrition rating systems and graphics on food packaging, the scientific necessity of chimpanzees in research, and establishing crisis standards of care during catastrophic disasters.