Newswise — PHILADELPHIA— Benjamin L. Prosser, PhD, an assistant professor of Physiology, in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has received the Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award from the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences, one of its scientific divisions.


Prosser’s award was based on his research to date and the “originality, quality and impact” of an oral abstract he presented at the Council’s 2017 Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS) meeting, held earlier this month in Portland, Oregon. The presentation focused on the Prosser lab discovery that clinicians and researchers, working together, might improve the beating strength of heart cells from patients with heart failure by "softening" the internal cytoskeleton (the network of protein filaments and microtubules) of those cells.


Last year, in a paper published in Science, Prosser and his colleagues described advanced imaging techniques to explore microtubule behavior in beating heart-muscle cells from rodents. They discovered that healthy microtubules — long believed to be stiff — instead “buckle” with each contraction and then return to their original configuration. This process provides mechanical resistance for the beating of the heart, enabling the microtubules to serve as what Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, called “molecular shock absorbers” in a blog about the findings. But, Prosser and his colleagues found that manipulating heart cells to increase microtubule stiffness impeded contraction, impairing cardiac function. A tentative conclusion is that microtubules provide sufficient, but not excessive resistance in healthy heart muscle.


The visual evidence produced by the Prosser team was a major advance, since it is technically difficult to see parts of heart muscle in operation in real time. Together, the findings and visual documentation have potentially powerful implications for better understanding how microtubules affect the mechanics of the beating heart and what happens when the process goes wrong. Prosser is now examining whether specific drugs can make diseased heart cells isolated from patients with heart failure beat stronger by enabling the microtubules to slide back and forth more smoothly. This would allow the heart to pump blood more efficiently with each contraction. Promising early studies from patient cells were presented at this year’s BCVS meeting.


Prosser received his BS degree in health and exercise science from Wake Forest University and his PhD in molecular medicine from the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


Under the AHA’s criteria, “early career investigators are PhDs and/or MDs who are still in training (e.g., residency, fellowship) or have completed training within the last four years; or PhDs and/or MDs who are within in the first four years after their first faculty appointment as of the award application date.”

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $6.7 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2016 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2016, Penn Medicine provided $393 million to benefit our community.