March 29, 2002

Hudson to lead Matrix Biology

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Hudson to lead Matrix Biology

A senior scientist internationally known for his molecular biology research in kidney disorders begins his career at Vanderbilt Monday.

Billy Hudson, Ph.D., will be director of the new Center for Matrix Biology and the Elliot V. Newman Professor of Medicine in the division of Nephrology, with a secondary appointment in Biochemistry.

“Dr. Hudson has been a pioneer in the field of matrix biology and proteomics, with significant contributions in the fields of biology, chemistry and pathology,” said Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, dean of the School of Medicine.

“The matrix biology group here is well known,” said Hudson, who left Kansas University Medical Center in March as professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology. Matrices, he says, “are fundamental to a number of different diseases. They serve as a carpet for cells to sit on, glue that helps hold them together, which is critical for the development of all tissues.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in matrix biology,” he said. “It’s been revolutionized in two decades; I feel fortunate to be part of the journey of discovery.”

He points to Vanderbilt’s “rich atmosphere” of research, specifically in proteomics and structural biology. “I hope to capitalize on what’s already here and build on it,” he said. From his lab on the third floor of Corridor B in Medical Center North, he expects to collaborate with colleagues throughout the basic sciences, including Biochemistry, Molecular Physiology, Biophysics and Cancer Biology.

Hudson’s seminal discoveries of the chains of alpha 3 and alpha 4 type IV collagen contributed to the understanding of the molecular bases of Goodpasture syndrome, a rapidly progressing and often fatal autoimmune disorder that can lead to kidney failure and bleeding in the lung tissue, and Alport syndrome, a hereditary disorder of mutations in the alpha 3, alpha 4 and alpha 5 chains of type IV collagen that lead to progressive kidney disease.

“We are delighted to have attracted such an important scientist to the department of Medicine,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, Hugh J. Morgan Professor and chairman of the department of Medicine. “I have followed the work from Billy’s laboratory for most of my career and he has had an important influence on my own studies and the field of epithelial cell biology in general.”

Most recently, Hudson discovered that type IV collagen may represent an important new class of anti-angiogenic molecules for the treatment of neovascular diseases, such as tumor growth and metastasis. This work is likely to provide an important new source for drug discovery, Neilson said.

Hudson is a co-founder of the pharmaceutical company BioStratum, which focuses on basal lamina research. His findings have led to the development of two drugs: Pyridorin, a molecule inhibitor for the treatment of diabetic renal disease now in phase II trials, and Angiocol an anti-angiogenesis agent that targets basal lamina, slated for a phase I trial next year. He has served on several NIH study sections, including Pathology A, which focuses on nephrology, and on several editorial boards, including a 10-year term for the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Last year, Hudson received a Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, ensuring funding of $375,000 per year for the next eight years (he has had continuous funding for 29 years). He has grants from the American Heart Association and more than $1 million in funding from pharmaceutical companies.

Hudson will bring a cadre of researchers with him, including four research assistant professors, two postdoctoral fellows, a graduate student and several experienced research associates.

The goal for the Center for Matrix Biology will be to stimulate interdisciplinary research in extracellular matrix as it relates to organ development, cancer and the pathophysiology of tissue fibrosis. Recruiting new faculty to the Center and establishing a seminar program with visiting speakers are on the drawing board, he said.

“Dr. Hudson’s group will provide a new focus on the biochemical and structural aspects of matrices that should complement all of the biological studies in pathophysiology and molecular biology already in place,” said Dr. Raymond Harris Jr., Ann and Roscoe R. Robinson Professor of Medicine and director of the division of Nephrology.

Hudson’s research into basement membranes is especially pertinent to the microvascular complications of diabetes, such as are seen with diabetic retinopathy, nephropathy and neuropathy. “A lot of the pathophysiology associated with these complications appears to be related to abnormal matrices,” Harris said.