And, Walsh is definitely interested in pursuing diagnostic or therapeutic avenues, because, as he says, “I don’t just want to cure heart disease in mice.”
Another area Walsh’s group currently is exploring— and another overlooked field, in his view— is how metabolic dysfunction, especially associated with obesity and diabetes, affects the heart’s activity. As Walsh notes, obese individuals have hearts that are larger than the predicted body-heart size ratio, causing hypertension and other problems.
“It’s a big driver of cardiovascular disease, yet, at cardiovascular meetings, you really won’t see a lot of metabolic talks,” Walsh says. “It’s starting to catch on, but, considering the clinical significance of the problem, it’s still vastly underrepresented.”
That’s why Walsh has made the metabolic-cardiovascular connection an initiative not just in his group, where’s he’s studying the role of the adipose-derived cytokine adiponectin in inflammation and heart disease, but also at the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute, which he currently directs.
“It’s a very collaborative environment, with a tremendous amount of expertise, and we’re still growing,” Walsh says proudly of the institute. “And being located in the heart of Boston, one of the best places to do biomedical research, is rewarding as well.”
“I think the only drawback right now is that my duties keep me away from the lab often, and I like working with my hands,” he continues. “But I think my lab is better served when I am working in my office.”
In looking back, though, Walsh sometimes wonders how he reached this point. After all, 30 years ago, he was just a young and headstrong biochemistry student working under Daniel Koshland without much knowledge or interest in cardiovascular research.
Then, when he received his first faculty appointment in the physiology department at Case Western Reserve University, he was surrounded by colleagues who worked in the cardiovascular field, so he started going with the flow, in a manner of speaking.
As for taking on a leadership role, Walsh notes: “I guess I’ve always been good at two things: chemistry and getting people to work together.”
Journal of Biological Chemistry research highlight: Cardiac-specific Deletion of LKB1 Leads to Hypertrophy and Dysfunction. JBC 284, 35839-35849.