October 22, 2004

Brown named Williams Professor of Medicine

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Nancy Brown, M.D.

Brown named Williams Professor of Medicine

Nancy Brown, M.D., has been named the Robert H. Williams Professor of Medicine.

The newly created professorship was named in honor of Robert H. Williams, M.D., who received his training in internal medicine at Vanderbilt and was Vanderbilt Chief Medical Resident in 1939.

“We are delighted to be able to appoint Dr. Brown as the Williams Professor,” said Eric G. Neilson, M.D., Morgan Professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine. “Dr. Williams spent his life training over 100 physician-scientists and I am sure he would have been thrilled to know Dr. Brown, herself a consummate physician-scientist.”

Brown has earned national recognition and numerous awards for her research on blood pressure regulation, including the 2001 Young Scholar Award from the American Society of Hypertension and the 2002 American Federation for Medical Research Outstanding Investigator Award.

“Our overall goal is to develop new pharmacologic strategies to decrease cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” said Brown, who is director of the Vanderbilt Clinical Research Scholars Program and co-director of the Vanderbilt Master of Science in Clinical Investigation Program.

Brown's research on the body's blood pressure regulatory systems, the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and the kallikrein-kinin system, has provided important insights into how medications like ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure and prevent death due to cardiovascular disease.

In a pioneering study, Brown and colleagues found that a protein called bradykinin contributes to the blood pressure lowering effects of ACE inhibitors in humans. Her recent work has demonstrated that these medications stimulate the release of tissue plasminogen activator, an anti-clotting molecule, through bradykinin, and that this pathway is impaired in patients at risk for heart disease.

In addition to delineating the beneficial effects of ACE inhibitors, Brown, together with colleagues in the Department of Preventive Medicine, was the first to report that black Americans are at increased risk for angioedema or facial swelling while taking ACE inhibitors. This finding has impacted the development of new blood pressure medications (ACE/neutral endopeptidase inhibitors), which are even more likely to cause angioedema.

Brown and Laine Murphey, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, have also developed methods to measure bradykinin metabolism in humans, allowing researchers to explore the role of bradykinin in a range of diseases including diabetes and sepsis. Brown and colleagues determined that genetic variation in the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) gene increases bradykinin metabolism, which may explain why people with this variant have an increased risk of heart disease.

Currently, Brown's lab is exploring how aldosterone causes fibrosis and cardiovascular injury and determining the genetic factors that control tissue plasminogen activator release.

“We have expanded our work in looking at genetic animal models, which have allowed us to do experiments that one can't do in humans,” Brown said. “This chair will provide resources to help us develop this area.”

Although she is honored by the appointment, Brown recognizes that research accomplishments are a product of a large team of colleagues and collaborators.

“Although one person receives the recognition, it is shared by many people who've worked hard for many years,” Brown said.

Brown received her M.D. from Harvard University and came to Vanderbilt as an intern in Internal Medicine. After completing fellowship training in Clinical Pharmacology where she served as Hugh J. Morgan Chief Medical Resident, Brown joined the Vanderbilt faculty as assistant professor of Medicine and Pharmacology in 1992.

Williams joined the Harvard Medical School after internal medicine training to work with Fuller Albright at the Massachusetts General Hospital and quickly became one of America's leading endocrinologists. He wrote the classic textbook known as Williams' Textbook of Endocrinology, and subsequently left Harvard to form the first Department of Medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle where he had a distinguished career as an academician. He later helped found the Association of Professors of Medicine. Williams died unexpectedly in 1979 while en route to Philadelphia to care for one of his patients.