UK’s Cassis recognized for hypertension research, contributions to pharmacology

photo of Lisa Cassis
UK Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis. Mark Cornelison | UK Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 5, 2024) — The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) is honoring the University of Kentucky’s Vice President for Research for her foundational contributions to our understanding of the renin-angiotensin system that has broad implications for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Lisa Cassis, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since joining the UK faculty in 1988.

Cassis has led many multi-million-dollar projects, including serving as program director of a 15-year NIH-supported Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) focused on obesity and cardiovascular diseases that has garnered over $27 million to support research development of junior investigators across an array of departments and colleges at UK.

“Throughout my career at UK, I’ve been fortunate to have opportunities to focus my studies on the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) in metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, and a variety of offshoots from that initial work,” said Cassis.

The RAS is an endocrine system regulating blood pressure and fluid balance. An important finding by her UK research program showed that a component of the RAS is made in fat in our bodies, which shifted thinking about how obesity contributed to cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension. In collaboration with colleagues at UK, Cassis discovered that the RAS also contributes to vascular diseases, including aortic aneurysms and coronary artery disease. A major focus of her laboratory includes the study of sex differences in cardiovascular diseases to optimize therapeutics in men and women.

For her scientific contributions, ASPET will honor Cassis with the 2024 Robert R. Ruffolo Career Achievement Award in Pharmacology. The award recognizes scientists who are at the height of their careers and who have made significant contributions to pharmacology.

“This award recognizes our long-standing research program geared at identifying targets for drug development through the discipline of pharmacology. I have had the honor and privilege of meeting Dr. Ruffolo in whose name the award was developed, and it is indeed an honor to have my contributions recognized by ASPET as deserving of this recognition,” said Cassis, an ASPET member since 1997.

Cassis will receive the award at the ASPET 2024 Annual Meeting on May 19 in Arlington, Va.

In addition to the College of Medicine, Cassis has appointments in the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center and College of Pharmacy. She also has served as a mentor for M.D. and Ph.D. students and many junior faculty.

As vice president for research, Cassis leads the UK research enterprise, that garnered a record-setting $479.3 million in grants and contracts in FY23, and oversees research proposal development, grants and contracts administration, human subjects protection, 13 multidisciplinary research centers and institutes, and six core facilities. She established UK’s successful Research Priority Area program to enhance UK’s competitiveness in eight key research areas and spearheaded UK’s newest research facility, the Healthy Kentucky Research Building (HKRB).

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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