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Dr. Berk to Discuss His Cardiovascular Research

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bradford Berk, M.D., Ph.D.

Bradford Berk, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Rochester, will discuss his research on cardiovascular disease as part of a lecture series highlighting biological and biomedical research at the University of Rochester.

Berk will speak on “Atheroprotective Mechanisms of Blood Flow” at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, in the Class of ’62 Auditorium (Room G-9425) at the Medical Center. It’s the latest installment of the “Second Friday Science Social” lecture series geared mainly to faculty, staff and students at the University, though the general public is welcome as well. The lectures are free.

Berk’s laboratory has been prominent in characterizing the molecular signals that determine a person’s cardiovascular health – why, for instance, a person might have a stroke or heart attack, or why he or she may be prone to high blood pressure. Such cardiovascular diseases affect tens of millions of Americans.

Scientists’ understanding of these diseases has changed profoundly in the two decades that Berk has been doing research and seeing patients. A person’s cardiovascular health is determined by countless molecular players that carry out an array of activities in our arteries and veins. For instance, atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries – doesn’t simply come about when cholesterol builds up in arteries; rather, it’s a complex process involving inflammation within the blood vessels as the body’s immune system fights the fatty deposits. Many researchers consider the signals underlying these processes as the key to developing new treatments.

In his own work, Berk has shown how blood flow and the resulting physical force (shear stress) of blood as it travels through our blood vessels can help prevent atherosclerosis, thereby explaining why certain segments in our blood vessels are more likely to clog than others. He is studying inflammatory molecules that contribute to heart disease by increasing the adhesion of white blood cells to blood vessel walls, an early step in the formation of plaque. His laboratory has pioneered the investigation of mechanisms responsible for oxidative stress in the vasculature.

Over the last 20 years his group has shown that specific proteins such as thioredoxin, an endogenous antioxidant enzyme, regulate cellular processes that determine the relative balance of oxidation and reduction in the cell. In a recent paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Berk and colleagues found that steady blood flow diminishes the levels of a protein known as TXNIP, which inhibits the function of thioredoxin, and that blood flow could prevent inflammatory events by regulating the activity of TXNIP. It’s a novel mechanism linking the nature of blood flow with the chemical state of our blood vessels.

Berk received his medical and doctoral degrees from the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. He has also served as chief of Cardiology, director of Cardiovascular Research Institute, and chair of Medicine since joining the University in 1998. Previously he held academic posts at Harvard Medical School, Emory University, and the University of Washington. Berk serves on the editorial boards of several top journals in the field of cardiovascular research, vetting the new findings of researchers around the world. He became CEO of the Medical Center August 1, 2006.

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