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23 October 2007
Heart Association Awards Research Prize to Emory Pathologist Kenneth Bernstein
The American Heart Association (AHA) has awarded Emory scientist Kenneth E. Bernstein, MD, its 2007 Basic Research Prize. The AHA Basic Research Prize recognizes and rewards an individual who is making outstanding contributions to the advancement of cardiovascular science and who currently leads an outstanding cardiovascular basic research laboratory.

Dr. Bernstein is Distinguished Service Professor of Pathology at Emory University School of Medicine. He is world renowned for groundbreaking discoveries that have transformed scientific knowledge about the link between kidneys, blood pressure and cardiovascular function.

In 2005 Dr. Bernstein received the AHA Novartis Award in hypertension research. He is one of only four individuals to win both the Novartis and Basic Research Awards. The presentation will be made Nov. 4 in Orlando, Fla. at the opening ceremony of the AHA Annual Scientific Sessions.

"Winning both of these prestigious awards is an extraordinary accomplishment for any scientist, but particularly for a non-cardiologist," says Thomas J. Lawley, MD, dean of the Emory University School of Medicine. "We are extremely proud of Dr. Bernstein's accomplishments and the vast improvements in patient care they have made possible."

Over the past two decades Dr. Bernstein and his colleagues have been responsible for a number of key discoveries that have transformed scientific knowledge about the link between the kidneys, blood pressure, and cardiovascular function. In 1989 his laboratory was one of two in the world to clone and characterize angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), which controls the production of angiotensin II, the link between the kidneys and blood pressure control.

His most significant discovery followed, when he cloned and characterized the gene for the angiotensin II receptor, which has become known as the AT1 receptor (Nature, 1991). This receptor has since been shown to be responsible for virtually all of the physiologic and cardiovascular effects of angiotensin II.

"Angiotensin II is the central component of the complex and multifactorial process of blood pressure control," Dr. Bernstein said, "and in the middle is the angiotensin II receptor, with its many effects on smooth muscle, the heart, the kidney, the adrenal glands, the brain, and the gut, all of which work coordinately to maintain blood pressure. By understanding and cloning this receptor we uncovered a powerful tool for studying the multisystem process of blood pressure regulation."

In research published in Nature in 1994, Dr. Bernstein found that a special messaging pathway, called the Jak-STAT pathway, is used by the AT1 receptor to send messages from the cell surface to the cell nucleus. Over the past ten years he and his colleagues have continued to make important new discoveries about the biochemical reactions involved in intracellular signaling by AT1 and the class of receptors called "seven transmembrane receptors."

"Dr. Bernstein has been a vital and productive contributor to cardiovascular and hypertension research for many years," says Tristram Parslow, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Emory School of Medicine. "His discoveries have improved and saved numerous lives, and he is highly deserving of these awards. We are proud to have him as a member of our experimental pathology faculty at Emory."

Dr. Bernstein's group was the first to coin the terms for the two different manifestations, or isozymes, of the ACE enzyme. Somatic ACE, found in the lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels throughout the body, is the form commonly associated with the control of blood pressure, while testis ACE is manufactured exclusively by developing sperm cells. Dr. Bernstein's work led to fundamental insights about organ production of each of the two ACE isozymes.

By developing lines of transgenic mice bearing a genetic modification of ACE, Dr. Bernstein and his colleagues have also made many important discoveries about the critical role played by ACE in male fertility, the specific roles of somatic ACE and angiotensin II in the proper development of the kidney and its ability to concentrate urine, the role of ACE in red blood cell production, and the function of ACE in normal cardiovascular function.

Dr. Bernstein received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and his medical degree in 1978 from New York University Medical School. He completed a pathology residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, and in 1980 worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Immunology at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He completed his residency training in anatomic pathology in the NIH Laboratory of Pathology and was board certified in pathology in 1985. After two additional years at the NIH, Dr. Bernstein joined the Emory University School of Medicine faculty in 1987.

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