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Researcher Who Identified Genetic Cause and Possible Treatment for Marfan Syndrome Honored

Dr. Hal Dietz Receives March of Dimes Award for Lifetime Achievement in Genetic Sciences

Charlotte, North Carolina, Thursday, March 29, 2012

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A pediatrician, geneticist and long-time Marfan syndrome researcher who helped identify the disorder’s genetic cause, as well as a potential treatment for affected children and adults, is being honored by the March of Dimes

Harry (Hal) Dietz, MD, the Victor A. McKusick Professor of Genetics and Medicine at the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, director of the Smilow Center for Marfan Syndrome Research, professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Molecular Biology & Genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, will receive the 2012 March of Dimes/Colonel Harland Sanders Award for Lifetime Achievement in the field of genetic sciences. Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson, March of Dimes senior vice president for Research and Global Programs, will present the award to Dr. Dietz today during the American College of Medical Genetics Clinical Genetics Meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center here.

Marfan syndrome is an inherited connective tissue disorder that affects about 1 in 5,000 people. The syndrome is caused by a genetic defect that causes overgrowth of the body’s long bones and affects the connective tissue that strengthens the body's structures, including the skeletal system, cardiovascular system, eyes, and skin.

Those who have the syndrome tend to be tall, with arms and legs much longer than expected for their height. Also, in those with Marfan syndrome, the aorta, the main blood vessel that takes blood from the heart to the body, may stretch or become weak, leading to a dangerous aneurysm or bulge in the blood vessel that could rupture and cause severe hemorrhage or death.

In 1991, Dr. Dietz was a member of the team that identified the gene for Marfan syndrome. In 2006, his team’s research showed that an FDA-approved high blood pressure medication, losartan, prevented and reversed aortic enlargement in mice with Marfan syndrome.

Dr. Dietz received his medical degree from the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in 1984. He joined Johns Hopkins University Hospital in 1984 as a pediatric resident, became a Fellow in Cardiology there 1988, went on to pursue his post doctorate work at John Hopkins as well and continues his research there today.

He was named the Richard Starr Ross Research Scholar and received the Richard D. Rowe Award for outstanding research in Pediatric Cardiology, the Young Investigator Award, from the Society for Pediatric Research, and the Antoine Marfan Award from the National Marfan Foundation. Dr. Dietz also is a member of the American Society for Pediatric Research and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He was inducted into the American Society for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

Established in 1986, the March of Dimes/Colonel Harland Sanders Award is given annually to an individual whose lifetime body of research and education has made a significant contribution to the genetic sciences.

About the March of Dimes
The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies®, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

The March for Babies is sponsored nationally by the March of Dimes number one corporate supporter Kmart, Farmers Insurance Group, Cigna, Famous Footwear, Sanofi Pasteur, FedEx, Mission Pharmacal, Watson Pharmaceuticals, First Response, and United Airlines.

For the latest resources and health information, visit our websites marchofdimes.org and nacersano.org. To participate in our annual signature fundraising event, visit marchforbabies.org. If you have been affected by prematurity or birth defects, visit our shareyourstory.org community to find comfort and support. For detailed national, state and local perinatal statistics, visit persistats.org. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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