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June 28, 2005

Two Penn School of Medicine Professors Honored at White House for Research and Community Service

(Philadelphia, PA) – Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine were recently named among 58 of the nation’s most promising young scientists and engineers by President Bush with the 2004 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, (top photo) an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Tejvir S. Khurana, MD, PhD, (bottom photo) an Assistant Professor of Physiology and Member of the Pennsylvania Muscle Institute at Penn, were honored at a ceremony on June 13 at the White House.

PECASE, as the award is known, was established in 1996 to honor the most promising researchers in the nation within their fields. Eight federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers at the start of their independent careers whose work shows exceptional promise for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the twenty-first century. Participating agencies award these talented scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

The Department of Veterans Affairs nominated Volpp for his work in using econometric methods to study the effects of social policies and health system design on the health of patients and populations. For instance, along with two other researchers, he studied racial discrepancies between patient outcomes and health-care use among the general population and veterans. Specifically, they examined why many studies of US patient populations show that African-Americans have worse health outcomes and lower health-care use than Caucasians, while studies in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) show that African-Americans have treatment that is either as good, if not better, than Caucasians. Their article concludes that because most studies typically measure treatment and outcomes only within the VA—even though most patients receive some care outside the VA—total use by African-Americans compared with Caucasians may be overestimated because Caucasians receive more care outside of the VA. Volpp also studies the effects of financial incentives on health behaviors.

Volpp is also as an Assistant Professor of Health Care Systems at the Wharton School and a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. He received his MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1998 and his PhD from the Wharton School the same year.

Khurana was nominated by the National Institutes of Health for his studies on myostatin, a muscle protein, which might offer therapeutic strategies for muscular dystrophy. In general, he investigates the molecular mechanisms underlying muscle specializations and the physiology of muscle disease. He employs a variety of cutting-edge research techniques, including cloning genes, fractioning stem cells, and physiologically evaluating muscle, to study Duchenne's muscular dystrophy and other muscle diseases.

Myostatin, for instance, is a novel negative regulator of muscle mass. The myostatin gene, when mutated, causes the increased muscle growth seen in Belgian blue cattle and mice. Inhibiting myostatin offers a potential means to compensate for the severe muscle wasting that is distinctively characteristic of muscular dystrophy. Khurana is interested in developing and testing blockades of the myostatin protein as a strategy to treat muscular dystrophy and other myopathies.

Khurana received his medical degree from Delhi University in 1984 and his medical training in India, Kenya, and Europe. Before moving to the United States for his doctoral studies, he helped start a high-altitude mountain rescue service in the Garwhal Himalayas. Khurana received his PhD at Harvard University in 1992, where he also was a postdoctoral fellow. During his fellowship, he moved to Denmark to start an independent laboratory, sponsored by a clinical investigator development award from the National Institute of Health. He returned to the United States in 2000 to take up his current position at Penn. For more information on Khurana’s work, visit:

Marija Drndic, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Penn was also honored at the PECASE ceremony (www.upenn.edu/pennnews).

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PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #2 in the nation for receipt of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic medicine.

Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.

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