Hobbs awarded Institut de France Grand Prix for cholesterol work

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Credit: UT Southwestern

DALLAS – May 30, 2018 – UT Southwestern Medical Center geneticist Dr. Helen Hobbs is the 2018 recipient of the Institut de France Grand Prix Scientifique.

The Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize in Science, one of the largest awards for scientific achievement and considered one of the most prestigious prizes in the world in cardiovascular research, was awarded to Dr. Hobbs, an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for her role in the discovery of a novel way to reduce cholesterol.

Using a large gene and phenotype database she established with Drs. Ron Victor and Jonathan Cohen, Dr. Hobbs discovered that individuals with mutations in the PCSK9 gene have low blood cholesterol levels and also are protected from heart disease. Not only did Dr. Hobbs' discovery lead to the swift development of a drug to lower refractory high cholesterol and thus prevent heart disease, but her research also changed the methodology used by many genetic researchers.

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Hobbs-Cohen lab

The Breakthrough Prize

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, said the work of Dr. Hobbs, Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, is noteworthy both for its innovative methodology and its dramatic findings. "Pioneering research by Dr. Hobbs and her colleagues has provided novel insights into the genetic basis of cholesterol metabolism, which together with the work of other investigators, has led to the development of a new class of agents to treat hypercholesterolemia," said Dr. Podolsky, who holds the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Hobbs, Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics, made the startling discovery of the effect of PCSK9 mutations using data from the Dallas Heart Study, a population-based study of 3,500 residents of Dallas County. The Dallas Heart Study provided a large database of ethnically diverse individuals for whom researchers had both genetic information and data on physical traits. While genetic research previously had focused on the most common genetic alleles associated with disease, Drs. Hobbs and Cohen looked at rare mutations that protect from disease. Their discovery of a healthy individual who had mutations in the PCSK9 gene and also had hyper-low cholesterol levels prompted drug companies to quickly translate this research into a powerful cholesterol-fighting drug.

"Through the application of the power of genetics, the Dallas Heart Study, which Dr. Hobbs co-founded, will continue to be an engine for scientific discovery for decades to come," Dr. Podolsky said.

The Lefoulon-Delalande Grand Prize in Science was first awarded in 2002. Dr. Eric Olson, Chairman of Molecular Biology and Director of the Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine, was the 2009 recipient of the award for his discoveries about how heart muscle is formed. Dr. Hobbs shares the award, which carries a prize of €600,000, with two other scientists who made discoveries regarding the link between the PCSK9 gene and cholesterol metabolism, Dr. Catherine Boileau, Necker Hospital, Paris, and Dr. Nabil Seidah, IRCM Montreal Clinical Research Institute, Montreal.

"I am thrilled to receive this prize to honor the work performed with Professor of Internal Medicine Dr. Jonathan Cohen and my laboratory," Dr. Hobbs said. "I am honored to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Eric Olson, who received the same prize in 2009. Special thanks to Nobel Laureates Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Joseph Goldstein for the tough, rigorous yet supportive environment in which I trained as a scientist."

Dr. Hobbs holds the 1995 Dallas Heart Ball Chair in Cardiology Research, Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair for the Study of Human Growth and Development, and the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology. Dr. Olson holds the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research, the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects, and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Science. Dr. Cohen, Professor of Internal Medicine and with the Center for Human Nutrition and the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, holds the C. Vincent Prothro Distinguished Chair in Human Nutrition Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, which is recognizing its 75th year in 2018.

Dr. Brown, is Director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease, and Dr. Goldstein, is Chairman of Molecular Genetics. Their research led to the development of statins, one of the most widely prescribed medicines in the world. Dr. Brown, a Regental Professor, holds The W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine. Dr. Goldstein, a Regental Professor, holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research, and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine.

Previous awards recognizing Dr. Hobbs' genetics research include the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the 2015 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, the 2016 Passano Award, and the 2018 Harrington Prize.

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About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution's faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.

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