World leader in therapies for muscular conditions to join UF in 2015

As part of its goal to become a world leader in the development of therapies for muscular conditions and cancer, the University of Florida has recruited a world-renowned expert on neuromuscular diseases and pioneer in muscular dystrophy research.

H. Lee Sweeney, Ph.D., the William Maul Measey Professor of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Orphan Disease Research and Therapy, will join the University of Florida full-time on July 1, 2015 as The Thomas H. Maren, M.D., Eminent Scholar Chair in Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the UF College of Medicine, UF Health leaders announced today (May 28).

In addition to serving as a leading scholar, Sweeney will develop an institute specifically devoted to the study of muscles, pulling together resources and expertise already housed at UF.

“Dr. Sweeney embodies the characteristics of a preeminent investigator,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., UF’s senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “He is just the kind of scientific leader that we seek as we move UF as a whole toward preeminence. In addition, his bringing together all of UF Health’s expertise in muscular diseases in one center with a focus on translational science will allow us to make new breakthroughs in this field, benefiting patients well into the future.”

Sweeney, who served as the chairman of the department of physiology at Penn from 1999 until 2013 and has authored more than 200 scientific papers, is perhaps most well-known for a gene therapy approach he developed to prevent age-related muscle loss in mice. For this work, Esquire magazine named Sweeney to its list of “Best and Brightest” in 2004.

In addition, he and colleagues developed the first drug approved in Europe for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The most common form of muscular dystrophy in children, Duchenne muscular dystrophy results in muscle deterioration and ultimately death in those born with it. This discovery earned Sweeney the Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence.

Lee is studying muscular dystrophy at its most basic level and is truly committed to making strong headway toward therapeutic approaches,” said Jeffrey Martens, Ph.D., chairman of the College of Medicine department of pharmacology and therapeutics. “He is approaching the treatment of muscular dystrophy in any and every way he can. I am really convinced he is going to move treatment of this disease forward in a significant way.”

In addition, some of the scientific concepts derived from his research on muscles relate to cancer cells, and Sweeney plans to use this knowledge to develop new techniques to fight cancer cells as well.

“Much of my most basic research focuses on myosin motors that move cargoes inside of cells and move the muscles of the body,” Sweeney said. “Cancer cells depend on these myosin motors to grow rapidly and move. I am now applying my knowledge of how these myosin motors work to cripple cancer cells.”

In addition to continuing his own research, Sweeney will lead a newly created Myology Institute, the goal of which will be to join and extend all of the research already being conducted at UF faculty in the field of muscle biology, neuromuscular medicine and cancer.

“UF has so many outstanding scientists working at many levels of muscle biology and neuromuscular disease that it will be easy to build upon those strengths to create a world-class program,” Sweeney said. “To do this, UF will create a myology institute to spearhead research and clinical efforts in the areas of muscle biology and disease.

“This is an exciting opportunity.”

Sweeney, who earned his doctorate at Harvard University, has been on the faculty at Penn since 1989. In addition to his scientific work, he also serves as the scientific director for the advocacy group Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy and has lobbied Congress for more funding for research for neuromuscular diseases.

“Dr. Sweeney is a true leader in his field and we are excited to welcome him to the University of Florida,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “His recruitment demonstrates the tremendous growing momentum of UF Rising, UF's preeminence journey to become a top 10 research university. We believe strongly that his presence on campus, and that of similarly recruited preeminent colleagues, will make a meaningful and lasting impact on research here at UF, and more importantly, the patients we serve.”

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April Frawley Lacey

Editor / College of Medicine Science Writer

Editor of The Post and a medical writer in the HSC Office of News & Communications. Before joining the HSC News & Communications staff, she was a reporter and assistant...Read More