Researcher Awarded Grant to Investigate New Approach

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Mitchell A. Watsky, PhD, UTHSC associate professor of physiology, has been awarded a two-year grant totaling $150,000 by the Scleroderma Foundation.

Mitchell A. Watsky, PhD, associate professor of physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been awarded a two-year grant totaling $150,000 by the Scleroderma Foundation. His proposal received the 2005 Marta Marx Eradication of Scleroderma Award.

Scleroderma is a serious rheumatic disorder, characterized by skin and organ fibrosis (hardening), which is associated with substantial impairments in quality of life and increased death rates. To date, no drugs are available to cure the disease which affects approximately 300,000 Americans.

Dr. Watsky’s research is focusing on preventing the formation of specialized cells (myofibroblasts) that are activated during the disease and which cause much of the fibrosis that occurs. . Early studies show that myofibroblasts will not form if a cell membrane channel, specific for chloride, can be blocked, thus preventing chloride from entering the cell. If this approach holds throughout Dr. Watsky’s studies, the results could point to a new target for drugs to treat scleroderma.

“Dr. Watsky may be at the threshold of a major breakthrough in understanding and preventing this life-threatening disease,” said Arnold Postlethwaite, MD, UTHSC professor and a collaborator on the grant. “The myofibroblast is the major cell type that produces organ fibrosis which, in turn, causes vital organ functions to deteriorate. If we can put myofibroblasts out of commission, we can halt the fibrosis.”

Dr. Watsky holds a doctorate degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Mayo Foundation (Rochester, MN). He is widely published and has collaborated on research extensively, both nationally and internationally. Additionally, Dr. Watsky has been the principal investigator on several other National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants.