One of the first researchers to study the deadly link between cardiovascular disease and diabetes will receive an American Heart Association lifetime achievement award today at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The award presented to University of Missouri endocrinologist James Sowers, MD, recognizes his more than 30 years of accomplishments as a physician, scientist and educator.
The Irvine Page-Alva Bradley Lifetime Achievement Award in Hypertension from the association's Council for High Blood Pressure Research recognizes efforts that Sowers began as a student at MU. Today, scientists like him have helped explain why high blood pressure and other complications of diabetes often lead to cardiovascular disease, the nation's No. 1 killer.
"The fact that my colleagues recognize my research and education in hypertension is truly an honor for me," Sowers said. "It is also a tribute to the University of Missouri as I received my undergraduate, graduate and medical school training here."
A native of Waverly, Mo., Sowers studied physiology and biochemistry at MU before entering the university's medical school. He has since examined the cellular mechanisms of insulin action for more than three decades, focusing primarily on in vitro research and ex-vivo analysis of animal models. His research has also led him to examine vascular biology as it relates to metabolic disorders.
"My major research has always been in diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but I started some of that work at MU when I was in medical school," said Sowers, noting his research then focused on insulin resistance and propensity to diabetes in pigs. "The pig studies probably had the biggest impact on my career. I was utilizing pigs in research before it became fashionable. Now, pig research continues to play an ever-important role in how we study these diseases."
A 1971 graduate of MU's School of Medicine, Sowers returned to MU in 2003 as one of the nation's leading endocrinologists. He spent the early years of his career at the University of California, Los Angeles for six years where he was faculty and chief of the neuroendocrine labs for the San Fernando Valley program. He would move on to Wayne State University in Detroit, serving 15 years as the director of endocrinology, metabolism and hypertension. Beginning in 1999, he became chief of endocrinology, diabetes and hypertension at the State University of New York (SUNY) Health Science Center in Brooklyn.
Sowers is now MU's Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Missouri Chair in Diabetology, as well as director of the Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research. He also directs the endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism division in the Department of Internal Medicine, where he serves as vice chair for research. He holds a joint appointment as a professor in the Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology, where he trained as a student under James O. Davis, MD, PhD, a National Academy of Sciences member who helped build MU's international reputation in cardiovascular research.
Physiology department chair Ronald Korthuis, PhD, said Sowers' training and experience allows him to combine the best qualities of a physician-scientist.
"Dr. Sowers is a 'triple threat' because he is a clinician who is also a superb researcher and educator," said Korthuis, MU's George L. and Melna A. Bolm Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Health. "He sees connections in research and clinical disease few of us can. He then takes those discoveries and is able to translate them from bench to bedside."
Sowers' studies have been supported by such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Diabetes Association. He serves as associate editor for the journals Diabetes and Hypertension, and is editor-in-chief of CardioRenal Medicine, a journal he founded in 2011.
Sowers also has served as a member of many NIH study sections, VA research review panels and professional societies, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He has served on the data and safety monitoring committee for the NIH ACCORD study as well as several VA cooperative studies.
"Dr. Sowers is one of our most accomplished graduates and faculty members, and we are proud that he has received this award from the American Heart Association," said Robert Churchill, MD, Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson Dean of the MU School of Medicine. "Few physician-scientists have contributed so much to the field of cardiovascular disease and diabetes research."