Gilmore Award recipient's research defies conventional wisdom

For decades, it has been held by the scientific community that the type 2 receptor (AT2) of the peptide hormone Angiotensin II contributes primarily to embryonic development.

In animal models, the AT2 receptor is highly expressed in the fetus and dramatically declines and disappears after birth. This has been widely accepted in the scientific literature and by those working in the field.

But, said Lie Gao, Ph.D., assistant professor of cellular and integrative physiology, "As a scientist, the big job is to find some new thing."

picture disc.
Lie Gao, Ph.D.
And so Dr. Gao's mentor and department chairman, Irving Zucker, Ph.D., suggested he do just that. They decided that Dr. Gao should look to see if there is any difference in AT2 receptor expression between adult rats and aged ones.

So Dr. Gao with the assistance of his wife, research technologist Li Yu, did some experiments. And ... nothing.

"We were very disappointed," Dr. Gao said.

This is how most experiments go.

But then Dr. Gao's colleague, George Rozanski, Ph.D., professor of cellular and integrative physiology, provided some rat fetal tissue.

The new experiments, this time with rat fetal tissue, showed lower, not higher, AT2 receptor expression. "This confused us," Dr. Gao said. They tried it again and again. Three times - the results were stable, always the same.

And, they were always the opposite of the previously-held conventional wisdom that the AT2 receptor was higher in the fetal compared to the adult. This was an exciting new finding.

And so, on March 7, Dr. Gao will receive UNMC's 2013 Joseph. P. Gilmore Distinguished New Investigator award.

"I appreciate the Gilmore family," Dr. Gao said. "It is recognition like this that spurs us on to more and greater research."

Dr. Gao next hopes to collaborate with physicians, in order to further apply these findings into clinical work.

Angiotensin II is the peptide that plays an important role in the regulation of blood pressure and water balance. Preliminary data suggests that AT2 receptors may also enhance insulin secretion. The Gao laboratory's preliminary findings, if proven true, may be applicable toward a novel therapeutic strategy for chronic heart failure and diabetes.

But, how? How could the Gao lab come up with findings that were the opposite of decades of accepted science?

Previous experiments studied AT2 receptors in rats using skin samples. But Dr. Gao focused on other tissues and organs, and found what no one had before.

There is still a long way to go, if these findings are to be accepted as the new standard. Still, it's exciting.

"It feels," Dr. Gao said, "like you are the first one to know a secret."


Fill out the following and your comment will post once it has been approved.

Thank you, your comment will appear below once it has been approved.

About Joseph P. Gilmore

The Joseph P. Gilmore Distinguished New Investigator award is named for Joseph Gilmore, Ph.D., who served as professor and chairman of the UNMC Department of Physiology and Biophysics from 1970 to 1987.

He died in 2007 at age 78.

Dr. Gilmore was instrumental in elevating the level of cardiovascular and renal research at UNMC to world-class levels, and obtained the first NIH training grant at UNMC.

His enthusiasm for his work was contagious: “When we worked together in the lab, he made sure that everyone knew the great data he was accumulating by dragging the first person that walked by and showing him his latest hemodynamic recording,” recalled his successor as department chair, Irving Zucker, Ph.D. “My success in science and as Chairman is a direct consequence of Joe Gilmore’s influence.”

The winner of this year’s Gilmore award, Lie Gao, Ph.D., never met him. But Dr. Gao made clear he respected the name.

“He was our chairman,” Dr. Gao said proudly. “To win this award in honor of his career means a great deal.”