Cardiologist honored for research on effect of air pollution on heart health
Thanks to the work of Dr. Jesus Araujo, director of environmental cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, patients with high cholesterol and those at risk for heart disease may one day be told by their doctors to avoid not only fatty foods and smoking but air pollution too.
Araujo's ongoing research on the effect of air pollution on cardiovascular health has revealed that the smallest particles from vehicle emissions may be the most damaging components of pollution in triggering plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
His team has discovered that these emission particles promote hardening of the arteries by inactivating the protective qualities of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol.
In recognition of his innovative environmental and biological research, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, has honored Araujo with a 2009 Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) grant award to establish a UCLA program for the study of air pollution's impact on the heart.
Araujo is one of only six researchers across the country to receive the highly competitive award, which recognizes scientists in the early stages of their careers who are dedicated to launching unique research programs focusing on environmental exposures and their impact on human biology and disease development. Each ONES awardee was put forward as the sole candidate from their respective school or institution; Araujo was nominated by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
The $2.6 million grant award, which was announced Oct. 1, will allow Araujo to establish an ambitious program to further his research with co-investigators from UCLA and collaborating academic centers, including the University of Washington, the University of Michigan and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
The program will aim to further investigate and understand the biological changes that occur as a result of these air pollutant particles and to develop therapeutic strategies that could inhibit their toxic effects in the future. Scientists will focus on identifying the mechanisms behind how exposure to air pollution induces alterations in HDL lipoproteins in the blood and plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis.
Araujo, an assistant professor of medicine and cardiology who holds both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, is also a faculty member of the UCLA Molecular Toxicology Interdepartmental Program and an associate member of the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute.
The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, which graduated its first class in 1955, is the youngest medical school to be ranked among the top 11 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members, including recipients of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal of Science.