Dr. Koch

A Bryan High School graduate of renown in the field of cardiovascular medicine has received an award that Temple University calls “the most prestigious honor given to a senior researcher by the International Society for Heart Research.”

Dr. Walter J. Koch, the W.W. Smith endowed chair in cardiovascular medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple, has been selected as the recipient of the 2020 Research Achievement Award (RAA).

According to a news release issued last week by Temple University Health System, Koch was nominated and chosen to receive the RAA by ISHR peers for his work in pioneering and advancing the study of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) kinases (GRKs) in cardiovascular physiology and disease. He was one of the first to suggest that GRKs influenced heart function, and 25 years later, he remains a leader in GRK heart research.

“To be included with past winners of the RAA and to be recognized by peers for this award is a big honor,” Koch said. “I have benefited from wonderful trainees in my lab over the past years, and I couldn’t have reached this point without them.”

Koch last spoke with The Bryan Times in 2018, when he was selected to receive a $1 million award from the American Heart Association to help fund his studies on the heart’s relationship to the enzyme GRK2 and its effect on fat production.

“It opens up a lot when we can appreciate the heart is not a simple pump, but it’s an organ that has the potential to communicate with other organs,” Koch said at that time. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg, so that’s the exciting thing.”

Koch started his own lab in 1995 at Duke University, where his research became increasingly focused on the role of GRK2 and GRK5 in heart function. In 2003 Koch moved his lab to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where he established the Center for Translational Medicine.

Koch moved his Center for Translational Medicine to the Temple campus in 2012. Much of his ongoing research now centers on the development and clinical study of GRK inhibitors.

“GRK inhibition in patients with heart failure could have life-changing effects,” Koch said. “If GRK inhibitors work, they would be an entirely new class of drugs.”

In addition to his position as endowed chair, Koch is also a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, and director of the Center for Translational Medicine, at the school in Philadelphia, where he now resides. Over the last 25 years, Koch has trained more than 60 pre- and post-doctoral fellows in his laboratory.

Koch graduated from BHS in 1979. He earned his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at the University of Toledo in 1984 and his Ph.D. in pharmacology and cell biophysics at the University of Cincinnati in 1990.

He is one of two recipients of the 2020 RAA, the other being Dr. Livia Hool from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Australia.

Koch will deliver an invited talk about his research and will receive the RAA, which includes a plaque and monetary prize, at the 38th Meeting of the ISHR-North American Section, which will be held virtually in August.

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