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BIDMC's Peter Weller, M.D., receives NIH MERIT Award

BOSTON -- Peter Weller, MD, Chief of both the Division of Allergy and Inflammation and the Division of Infectious Diseases at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), is the recipient of an NIH MERIT award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Weller received the award for his longstanding grant, "Human Eosinophils: Mechanisms of Functioning."

An acronym for the Method to Extend Research in Time, MERIT Awards are intended to provide long-term research grant support to scientists who have demonstrated a stellar record of research accomplishment. Rather than being awarded through an application process, MERIT awards are given at the discretion of the NIH, with fewer than five percent of investigators selected as MERIT recipients.

"This is particularly rewarding because this was the first grant my laboratory received when I joined the former Beth Israel Hospital 27 years ago," says Weller. "Over nearly three decades, our studies and those of others have peeled away the onion skin surrounding eosinophils to show that they are not so simple as once thought. This MERIT award will assure the funding to continue this work."

Eosinophils are one of five major types of white blood cells. Eosinophils serve roles in the body's immune system, but the functions of eosinophils are still poorly understood.

"Higher-than-normal levels of eosinophils ecome problematic," explains Weller. This can occur when too many of the cells are recruited to a disease site or when the bone marrow overproduces eosinophils. Parasitic diseases, asthma and allergic reactions are among the more common causes of eosinophilia, the term used to describe high levels of eosinophils.

Weller's laboratory, in collaboration with the laboratory of Ann Dvorak, MD, a scientist in BIDMC's Department of Pathology, has greatly expanded the understanding of these white blood cells. In particular, their research has illuminated the role of eosinophils as granulocytes, cells containing preformed granules. The granules of eosinophils contain many proteins called cytokines that act to affect other cells. In eosinophils cytokines are already formed and can be released both from granules within eosinophils and also from granules that are present outside the cells.

In addition, work out of the Weller laboratory has helped to inform the clinical management of eosinophilic disorders and pointed to potential treatments for eosinophil-related diseases. In 2007, BIDMC's Division of Allergy and Inflammation developed the Center for Eosinophilic Disorders, an interdisciplinary program for the evaluation and management of these conditions. Javed Sheikh, MD, is the clinical Director of the Center.

"BIDMC is one of only a few national institutions with established expertise in the research and treatment of eosinophil-associated diseases," explains Weller. "Both ongoing NIH-funded basic research of eosinophils as well as clinically oriented studies that help us understand the roles of these white blood cells in disease have distinguished us in this field, and the eosinophil-focused programs at BIDMC have benefited from the sustained contributions of both research investigators and trainees and of expert clinicians."


Contact: Bonnie Prescott
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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