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UM Taubman Institute rewards new medical treatments

Johns Hopkins University publicity photo
Dr. Hal Dietz

The University of Michigan Taubman Institute is rewarding doctors who turn lab discoveries into medical treatments.

The first winner may have found a cure for aneurysms in people with Marfan Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. That could, in turn, unlock treatments for more common diseases. 

Dr. Hal Dietz  of Johns Hopkins University used to work with kids with Marfan Syndrome and other inherited diseases that damage blood vessels. But he got so frustrated with how poor the available medications were, he set out to find better ones himself. 

Twenty years later, he may have done just that. First, he discovered which genes were causing the problems. Then, he genetically engineered mice to exhibit Marfan Syndrome. Finally, he figured out those mice stopped having aneurysms when he gave them a blood pressure drug.

"The drug that we're most excited about, called losartan, is now in a clinical trial for people with Marfan Syndrome," says Dietz. "We hope that it could then be made generally available to people with Marfan Syndrome and perhaps other conditions."

There are many causes for aneurysms, and not all of them are genetic. But Dietz is optimistic that this research could mean new treatments for illnesses with similar causes, including pulmonary emphysema, fibrosis, and heart valve diseases.  

Dr. Dietz says his $100,000 prize will help fund new experiments.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.