Helen Vlassara, M.D., formerly Professor and head of the Laboratory of Diabetes and Aging at the Picower Institute for Medical Research, joined Mount Sinai in 1998 as Professor in Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Adult Development and Director of the Experimental Diabetes and Aging Program. She is also a Professor of Medicine, Molecular Medicine, and Gene Therapy.
Dr. Vlassara has conducted extensive, innovative research in areas as diverse as atherosclerosis, kidney disease, and disorders of the central nervous system such as stroke and Alzheimer's disease. Her work has helped define one of the major mechanisms that induce aging and diabetes-related illnesses: the process of spontaneous modification of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids by glucoses, known as glycation. She has also conducted seminal studies demonstrating the protective effects of agents that inhibit this process.
Dr. Vlassara will be expanding her investigations in basic and clinical research. Goals of the basic research program will be to broaden the working model on pathogenic processes and obtain tools for prevention/intervention treatments of the complications of aging and diabetes. These complex entities reflect multiple interactions of environmental and genetic parameters. Her studies have defined: a) the chemical and cellular-toxicity of advanced glycation; b) a new receptor system that recognizes AGE-modified molecules (AGE-receptor); c) genetic factor(s) influencing the AGE-receptor function. Cellular activation via this receptor contributes to vascular, renal, and neuronal dysfunction under conditions of AGE-overaccumulation, as in aging, diabetes, or renal impairment. These factors, combined with environmental AGEs, eg., diet and tobacco smoke, can contribute to tissue injury, leading to chronic degenerative disorder. Dr. Vlassara's studies have applied a broad range of molecular, cell-culture, and animal-based approaches to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between AGEs and pathology. Concurrently, they also have produced novel quantitative and sensitive diagnostic methods and highly effective therapies that are actively tested.
Within the clinical research program, Dr. Vlassara's goals will be the early diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of vascular, renal, and cerebrovascular diseases of diabetes and aging. Studies in this program include: a) AGE-receptor gene defects as risk factors in atherosclerosis, hypertension, nephropathy, and dementias of aging and diabetes; b) prevention of cardiovascular/cerebrovascular injury, hypertension, and dementia (vascular or Alzheimer's); c) prevention of renal disease in diabetic and non-diabetic aging patients; d) intervention/reversal of complications of diabetes and aging.