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Temple’s Dr. Walter Koch Receives Prestigious $1 Million AHA Merit Award to Investigate Molecular Signaling by the Heart

News April 03, 2018
Research Funded by Award Will Focus on the Heart as an Endocrine Organ that Regulates Body Fat

Walter J. Koch, PhD, William Wikoff Smith Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine, Professor and Chair of Pharmacology and Professor and Director of the Center for Translational Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, has been selected by the American Heart Association as one of only two innovative researchers to receive the organization’s prestigious Merit Award in 2018. The $1 million award, which will be distributed over five years, will fund translational research into how the heart directs body fat to respond to certain conditions.

“For me personally, this award means a lot in terms of being recognized by an organization I love and am committed to. Further, it provides critical support for an exciting project – it appears the heart is an endocrine organ secreting substances that can regulate distant tissues and organs,” said Dr. Koch. “We are finding that the heart can ‘talk’ to fat and alter pathways in heart muscle cells that change what is secreted and changes how fat responds to certain conditions. This funding will go a long way to further this research.”

“The goal of the merit award program is to support visionary leaders who are undertaking high-risk projects whose outcomes could revolutionize the treatment for cardiovascular disease in the era of precision medicine,” said Ivor Benjamin, MD, President-Elect of the American Heart Association and Professor and Director of the Cardiovascular Center at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin.

Dr. Koch is a nationally recognized leader in translational research. Over the last two decades, he has focused on an enzyme called GRK2, which stands for G protein-coupled receptor kinase-2. Levels of this enzyme rise when the heart is failing. Research by Dr. Koch and his colleagues has examined the role of GRK2 in heart failure, and that inhibiting GRK2 could reverse heart failure in various mouse models.  A recently published study by Dr. Koch’s team showed that paroxetine can reverse heart failure in mice due to GRK2 inhibition, and work is currently underway to develop chemical compounds that might become drugs targeting GRK2.

Dr. Koch earned his PhD in pharmacology and cell biophysics from the University of Cincinnati in 1990, and subsequently completed a Howard Hughes Postdoctoral Fellowship at Duke University Medical Center. While at Duke, he started a molecular cardiovascular biology laboratory and became a fully tenured professor of surgery. In 2003, Dr. Koch moved to Thomas Jefferson University to create and lead a Center for Translational Medicine. He joined Temple’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine in 2012. As principal investigator and project leader of several multi-million dollar NIH grants throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Koch has overseen numerous advances in cardiac research. 

The American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization devoted to fighting cardiovascular disease, has funded more than $4 billion in cardiovascular research since 1949.