Liggett Honored For Pioneering
Date: June 1, 2001
Approaches To Heart, Lung Problems
By: Angela Russo
Phone: (513) 558-4559
Photo by Colleen Kelley
Archive: General News
Stephen Liggett has achieved a national and international reputation for his outstanding research contributions to heart and lung disease. For his achievements, UC has awarded him this year's university-wide Distinguished Research Professorship Award. Joseph A. Steger, president of UC, and the UC Board of Trustees approved the recommendation of the emeriti faculty review committee to award Liggett this prestigious honor.
The title of Distinguished Research Professor is the highest honor the university has to give in recognition of excellence in research. Liggett is a professor of medicine at the UC College of Medicine and director of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine.
"Dr. Liggett has been a dedicated scientist and teacher throughout his career," said John Hutton, dean of the UC College of Medicine. "He is an extraordinarily imaginative individual whose contributions bring honor to the college and university and improve the health of people throughout the world."
"Being named the Distinguished Research Professor is a great honor," Liggett said. "Especially since there are so many excellent research scientists to choose from at UC."
Liggett's research involves understanding basic mechanisms of cellular signaling through a superfamily of receptors. Receptors are proteins on the cell surface that combine with a drug or hormone to alter the function of the cell. Liggett's major interest is in the function of the adrenergic receptor subclass, which is responsible for the marked changes in the body in response to physiological stress often denoted as fight or flight responses.
Through his research, Liggett has found genetic variations in receptors called polymorphisms that alter receptor function. This is important because in diseases such as asthma and heart failure, certain polymorphisms are found to markedly alter disease characteristics or the response to therapy.
As a result, his research has paved the way for a new era of personalized medicine. With his groundbreaking discoveries in the areas of asthma and congestive heart failure, researchers are now beginning to link particular genes to how patients will respond to certain medications and treatments. This has given way to a new field of study called pharmacogenetics, specifically the study of how drugs will help patients and whether the drug will cause side effects.
For example, in a recent discovery, Liggett and his team announced a way to predict the reaction of asthma patients to a commonly prescribed drug based on their DNA. The research team used a unique approach using genome markers called haplotypes or HAP markers. These HAP markers, analogous to bar codes, represent the distinct patterns of genomic variability in people. The gene variations are studied and can explain why some people experience a better response to medication than others do. Conversely, it can also help explain why certain people develop side effects when others do not.
"There has always been trial and error involved in trying to decide which medications available are appropriate for a given individual," Liggett said. "There is a need for physicians to have an aid in knowing whether a person is genetically programmed to respond to a medication. Ultimately, when a patient comes to the physician's office, a genetic panel of HAP markers can be obtained to give the physician a readout of the patient's likely response to a drug."
Liggett's findings have helped change the way scientists and clinicians view aspects of the treatment of illnesses such as asthma and congestive heart failure. National publications such as the New York Times and Newsweek have featured articles on Ligget's groundbreaking research.
"UC has given me an opportunity to explore this area due to its excellent basic and clinical science facilities," Liggett said. "I have also been very fortunate to have a truly exceptional group of research assistants, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, collaborators and administrators."
Liggett has been a faculty member at UC for the past nine years. He received his medical degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Fla. He then completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Subsequently, he completed an additional fellowship in molecular biology at Duke University at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.