Weill Cornell Medical College Hematologist Receives Prestigious NIH MERIT Award

Grant to Support Research to Contribute to Development of New Treatment for Stroke, Coronary Artery Disease, and Peripheral Vascular Disease

Nov 15, 2004


Recognized for his nearly 50 years of pioneering biomedical research in hematology and vascular biology, Weill Cornell Medical College physician-scientist Dr. Aaron J. Marcus has been selected by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to receive a 2004 NIH Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award. He has been continuously funded by NHLBI since 1956.

The $2.8 million research grant will provide long-term support for the development of a new treatment for occlusive vascular diseases such as stroke, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Dr. Marcus is chief of Hematology-Oncology and director of the Thrombosis Research Lab at VANY Harbor Healthcare System. He is professor of medicine and professor of medicine in pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, and attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

"This prestigious award is a wonderful accomplishment and testament to the significance and longevity of Dr. Marcus's research," says Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "One of the founders of the discipline of vascular biology, his insights have resulted in entirely new advances and clinical concepts in cardiovascular research."

"This grant will allow me to explore ideas concerning heart attack and stroke that might not ordinarily be funded by current peer-review organizations," says Dr. Marcus. "Importantly, I will also have the opportunity to mentor and train physician-scientists and other interested individuals for a career involving patient care, research, and teaching."

As part of research into a new treatment for occlusive vascular diseases, Dr. Marcus and his colleagues have isolated and characterized ecto-CD39/ADPase, a naturally occurring protein that represents the main system for protecting blood fluidity. (The excessive activation of blood platelets – or blood clotting – is the main cause of these diseases.) Dr. Marcus and his team are developing this protein in a form that will allow it to be administered to high-risk patients. The treatment, which works by inactivating material derived from blood platelets that hastens the evolution of a clot, has already been shown to be effective in treating coronary artery disease in animal models.

The basis for his work with the ecto-CD39/ADPase protein was Dr. Marcus's discovery of cell-cell interaction: the concept that cells communicate and interact with each other resulting in metabolic products that neither cell could synthesize alone. Cell-cell interactions have had a profound effect on research in a wide variety of disciplines.

"Dr. Marcus continues to be at the vanguard of thrombosis research. His ideas are novel, relevant, and they provide new inroads into defining the blood-clotting process," says Dr. David P. Hajjar, Rhodes Professor and Dean of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and Director of the Center of Vascular Biology at Weill Cornell.

Among other accomplishments, Dr. Marcus created the partial thromboplastin time (PTT) test, a method used throughout the world for evaluating blood coagulation in patients. Along with Dr. Marjorie Zucker, he authored the 1965 book The Physiology of Blood Platelets, the first comprehensive scientific document on platelets.

The MERIT Award is a yearly grant of $280,000 for five years. After this time, Dr. Marcus will have the option of continuing funding for an additional five years under the conditions of the award.

The National Institutes of Health, including the NHLBI, established the MERIT Award in 1956 to provide extended grant support to investigators whose research competence, productivity, and scientific contributions are distinctly superior.

Dr. Aaron Marcus

Dr. Aaron Marcus received his medical degree from New York Medical College in 1953, and completed a medical residency and research fellowship at Montefiore Hospital. In 1958, he was named Hematology-Oncology Chief at New York VA Medical Center. In 1973, he was named Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College (then called Cornell University Medical College) and Attending Physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell (then called The New York Hospital). In 1990, he was named Professor of Medicine in Pathology at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Dr. Marcus is a member of several societies and organizations, including the American Society for Clinical Investigation, Association of American Physicians, the American Society of Hematology, the New York Society for the Study of Blood, the New York Lipids Research Club, the American Federation for Clinical Research, the American Oil Chemists' Society, and the International Society of Hematology. He has served on the Editorial Boards of several journals, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation; Blood; Journal of Lipid Research; Thrombosis et Diathesis Haemorrhagica; and Thrombosis and Haemostasis.

He is the 1994 recipient of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Award for Distinguished Achievements in Cardiovascular Research. He was also awarded the William S. Middleton Award, the highest honor that can be conferred on an investigator by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1989, he was the Henry Stratton Lecturer of the American Society of Hematology (ASH). More recently (1997), Dr. Marcus received the Sixteenth Anna and Leo Roon Visiting Lectureship award for distinguished achievement in vascular biology and cardiovascular medicine.