Newswise — PHILADELPHIA— Garret FitzGerald, MD, FRS, director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics in  the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, has received a $1 million Merit Award from the American Heart Association (AHA) to help the millions of patients with high blood pressure improve their condition. FitzGerald is also a professor of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics.


FitzGerald’s five-year award, one of two nationally, aims to help “non-dippers,” the approximately 35 percent of high blood pressure patients whose pressure generally does not fall at night. This anomaly increases their risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. This elevated risk is linked to non-dippers encountering a longer period of exposure to high blood pressure levels over a daily, 24-hour span.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 75 million American adults (29 percent of the adult population) suffer from high blood pressure. The condition significantly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.


In normal cases, nocturnal blood pressure falls between 10 and 20 percent compared to daytime levels. Patients whose blood pressure drops less than ten percent during the night are usually classified as non-dippers. Additionally, some patients are classified as “reverse dippers,” meaning their blood pressure rises at night.


The Merit Award research is based on FitzGerald’s longstanding efforts to better understand the molecular clock that governs body rhythms, including its role in aging. He will seek to use and build on this knowledge to adjust release rates of generic blood pressure medications, offering the hope of increasing the medications’ effectiveness through the night for non-dippers and reverse dippers.


Since the drugs he will be studying are currently used by heart patients, his research will not have to undergo the intensive review-and-approval process of new medications. This approach has the potential to bring lifesaving benefits to patients faster, which is especially important in light of the growing occurrence of high blood pressure in an aging world population.


In announcing the honor, Ivor Benjamin, MD, chair of the AHA research committee, said the purpose of the Merit Award is to support “visionary leaders.” He described FitzGerald’s work as having the potential to “revolutionize the treatment for new classes of blood pressure medications.”


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.