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A 50-year record and going strong

04/01/2013

Over the course of a long and illustrious career in medicine, Pulmonary Researcher Barry Fanburg, MD has received numerous grants, including continuous funding for 50 years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). An expert in pulmonary circulation, lung injury and lung repair processes, Dr. Fanburg recently extended his remarkable run as one of Tufts MC’s and the NIH’s longest continuously-funded investigators, when he received a very competitive four-year NIH award of more than $2 million. This grant will allow Dr. Fanburg to further his study of the basic mechanisms of the development of pulmonary hypertension, a serious disease in which blood pressure is elevated in the vascular circulation of the lungs.

Dr. Fanburg’s research focuses on a molecular process called the serotonylation of proteins of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells. His team has shown that this process participates in the vascular remodeling associated with pulmonary hypertension. “This modification process may signal the proliferation of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells, typically associated with the development and progression of pulmonary hypertension,” said Dr. Fanburg. “By understanding the regulation of the process, we may be able to better control and treat pulmonary hypertensive disease.”

Many people are less familiar with the disease of pulmonary hypertension than they are with high blood pressure, a disease of the general systemic circulation. However, pulmonary hypertension is receiving increased interest, due to its seriousness and prevalence; each year, pulmonary hypertension results in thousands of hospitalizations in the United States. The disease can ultimately lead to heart failure, as a result of narrowed pulmonary arteries in the right side of the heart that prevent adequate pumping of blood through the lungs. Although the exact number of Americans living with this disease is unknown, pulmonary hypertension may affect tens of thousands of individuals; many more are undiagnosed.

Dr. Fanburg noted that NIH support was once more readily available than it is today. Over the past few years, funding has become much more difficult to obtain. This limitation of funding for research has become an “albatross” for young investigators and has reduced manpower in the field. Dr. Fanburg strongly believes investigation provides the engine for the understanding and control of disease and the enhancement of medical care.

Dr. Fanburg always has been interested in how biological systems work. Before transitioning to work on the pulmonary vasculature, Dr. Fanburg studied heart muscle contraction and growth. At one point, he was a Principle Investigator of three concurrent NIH RO1 Research Awards and a Pre- and Post- Doctoral Training Grant at Tufts University School of Medicine. During this time, Dr. Fanburg supervised the training of more than 50 MDs and PhDs. In recognition of his significant research achievements, Dr. Fanburg received a prestigious NIH Merit Award, an honor given to less than five percent of NIH-funded investigators. He is also the recipient of a Research Achievement Award from the American Lung Association and a Grover Award from the Grover Conference on the Pulmonary Circulation. He has served on numerous panels and review groups for the NIH and is an author of more than 230 publications in his field.

Dr. Fanburg has been a part of the Tufts Medical Center community for 54 years as both a clinician and a researcher and is a Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. He served as Chief of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division for 30 years before stepping down in 2002 to focus on his research.