UTSW Researcher Wins Harrington Prize for Discovering Innovative Way to Reduce Cholesterol

A UT Southwestern Medical Center geneticist discovered a link between a gene mutation and low levels of cholesterol, leading to the development of new drugs to combat unhealthy cholesterol levels. This week, that geneticist, Dr. Helen Hobbs, was honored with the fifth-annual Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine, becoming the first woman to win the award.

The Harrington Award is a collaboration by The American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) and the Cleveland-based Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. It goes to physician-scientists who’ve moved science forward with specific achievements that demonstrate innovation, creativity and potential for clinical application.

Dr. Helen Hobbs, Director of UT Southwestern’s Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development

Hobbs, director of UTSW’s Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development and a professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics, used data from the Dallas Heart Study, which she co-founded. It provided an ethnically diverse view of 3,500 Dallas County residents, including genetic information and data on physical traits, according to UTSW’s release on the honor.

Hobbs focused her analysis on rare mutations, a dissent from previous research, and found an individual with a mutation in the PCSK9 gene that also had “hyper-low” cholesterol levels. Drug companies turned the research into a cholesterol-fighting drug.

With the prize, Hobbs wins a $20,000 honorarium. She’ll also be a lecturer at ASCI’s annual meeting and publish an essay in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Last year’s Harrington Prize was jointly awarded to three researchers for “their discovery of incretin hormones and for the translation of these findings into transformative therapies for major metabolic diseases such as diabetes.”