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Biodesign Institute’s Poste calls hiring ‘a tremendous asset:’ Hecht to co-direct new Center


September 27, 2006

ASU's Biodesign Institute has recruited Sidney Hecht to co-direct its new Center for BioEnergetics. Hecht is a respected leader in biological chemistry and drug design who has played a key role in the development of Hycamtin, a drug used to treat ovarian and lung cancer, as well as in the study of the mechanism of the antitumor agent bleomycin.

He now is turning his attention to diseases caused by defects in the body's energy production processes.

In a career spanning more than three decades, Hecht has held academic and industrial research positions. He joins ASU from the University of Virginia , where he is a professor of chemistry and biology. From 1981-1987, he concurrently held leadership positions in research and development for Smith Kline and French Laboratories. These dual interests are reflected when Hecht cites his most rewarding achievements: serving as a mentor to hundreds of young scientists and seeing his discoveries become life-saving drugs.

George Poste, director of the Biodesign Institute, says Hecht's recruitment is significant for ASU.

“Sid Hecht possesses an enormous talent for understanding the fundamental cellular mechanisms that underlie disease, and he has been able to translate that into treatments,” Poste says. “An entrepreneurial researcher of his caliber is a tremendous asset.”

The Biodesign Institute's Center for BioEnergetics will focus on mitochondrial diseases, which are classified as metabolic disorders.

“I became interested in contributing to this effort because energy production is similar mechanistically to other molecular processes I've studied extensively,” Hecht says.

Most cells in the human body are powered by tiny, pill-shaped structures called mitochondria. When these malfunction, the body cannot produce enough energy to sustain normal function, resulting in devastating and often fatal diseases. These primarily affect children and young adults, though adult onset is becoming more prevalent. Symptoms include heart, liver or kidney disease; poor growth; loss of muscle function; vision and hearing problems; developmental delays or mental retardation; diabetes; respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders; and dementia.

Mitochondrial defects are responsible for more than 40 different diseases that independently are classified as rare. Collectively, however, these diseases have significant impact. In the United States , about 1 in 4,000 children will develop a mitochondrial disease before age 10.

Impairment to the mitochondria also is implicated as a factor in aging and is associated with diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, atherosclerotic heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

Hecht will co-direct the center with Guy Miller, who was appointed in February. Hecht mentored Miller during his doctoral studies in chemistry, and the two of them have collaborated frequently. In 2005, they co-founded Edison Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company focusing on inherited mitochondrial disorders.

“Dr. Miller is both a chemist and physician with uncommon insights into metabolism and its linkage to disease,” Hecht says. “He is committed to harnessing research to improve patient outcomes. We have complementary skills and similar goals, so working together comes very naturally to us.”

Hecht says the opportunity to work within the Biodesign Institute was a major factor in his decision to join ASU.

“In addition to the excellent facilities, the researchers here have a broad range of skills, an expansive willingness to work with one another, and a determination to direct scientific discovery at societal needs,” Hecht says. “The leadership is willing to let researchers do things differently, understanding that innovation requires taking some risks.”

Hecht had been with the University of Virginia since 1979. Before that, he was a faculty member at MIT.

He has been an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was named Virginia 's Outstanding Scientist for 1996. He serves on the boards of several biotech companies, is an associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and serves on the editorial boards of four other peer-reviewed publications.