April 04, 2018

Temple doc receives $1 million grant to research how heart 'talks' to body fat

Research Cardiology
Stock_Carroll - Temple University Campus, Liacouras Walk Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Liacouras Walk at Temple University.

A $1 million grant from the American Heart Association will enable a Temple University medical researcher to investigate the role of the heart in directing body fat to respond to various physiological conditions.

With the grant, Dr. Walter J. Koch's research team will examine relationships between the cardiovascular and endocrine systems, potentially discovering new insight into conditions such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The university announced on Wednesday that the $1 million grant had been awarded to Koch, chair of cardiovascular medicine and a professor at the medical school who will lead the five-year long study.

“For me personally, this award means a lot in terms of being recognized by an organization I love and am committed to. Further, it provides critical support for an exciting project – it appears the heart is an endocrine organ secreting substances that can regulate distant tissues and organs,” said Dr. Koch. “We are finding that the heart can ‘talk’ to fat and alter pathways in heart muscle cells that change what is secreted and changes how fat responds to certain conditions. This funding will go a long way to further this research.”

The endocrine system consists of all the body's glands that produce hormones, the chemical messengers controlling metabolism, stress and the activity of their corresponding target cells. Fat regulation by the cardiovascular system, specifically through signals from the heart, could help researchers better understand the natural indicators of disease. 

Previous research by Koch has focused on the enzyme GRK2, whose levels rise when the heart fails. Studies by Dr. Koch and his colleagues have shown that inhibiting GRK2 could reverse heart failure in mice. Additional research aims to develop chemical compounds that could be effective in drugs targeting GRK2.

“The goal of the merit award program is to support visionary leaders who are undertaking high-risk projects whose outcomes could revolutionize the treatment for cardiovascular disease in the era of precision medicine,” Ivor Benjamin, president-elect of the American Heart Association, said.

The American Heart Association has funded more than $4 billion in cardiovascular research since 1949 and is the world's largest voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease.