November 14, 2008

Francis inducted into WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni

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Sharron Francis, Ph.D.

Francis inducted into WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni

Sharron Francis, Ph.D., research professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt Medical Center, was recently inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni at her alma mater, Western Kentucky University.

Francis was honored during the university's homecoming events on Oct. 31 for her research contributing to the development of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Francis graduated from WKU in 1965 with a degree in biology and was named Most Outstanding Biology Student. She earned her doctorate in Medical Physiology from Vanderbilt University in 1970 and joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1975.

Francis' research has focused on enzymes that regulate levels of cyclic nucleotides — cGMP and cAMP — which are important “second messengers” involved in cell metabolism and other vital cellular functions.

In the late 1970s, Francis and Vanderbilt colleague Jackie Corbin, Ph.D., purified and extensively characterized a protein named phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5), which degrades cyclic GMP and modulates blood pressure. Inhibitors of the enzyme — which were being tested for their blood pressure-lowering effects — were later found to improve male impotence, leading to the drug Viagra.