UF Recruits Muscle Expert

May 29, 2014

H. Lee Sweeney, a world leader in research on neuromuscular diseases, has agreed to move to University of Florida next year to lead an institute specifically devoted to muscle research, UF announced. His research on muscle-wasting applies not only to diseases but also to aging.

H. Lee Sweeney, Ph.D.
Credit UF

Currently, Sweeney holds an endowed chair at University of Pennsylvania and directs the Penn Center for Orphan Disease Research and Therapy.

He is scheduled to arrive at UF July 1, 2015. At UF, he will be the Thomas H. Maren M.D. Eminent Scholar Chair in Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the College of Medicine.  He will pull together the Myology Institute from experts and resources already at UF, the school said in a press release.

A Ph.D. physiologist, Sweeney is a leading researcher on muscular dystrophy and other muscle diseases. He became nationally known a decade ago for a gene therapy approach to prevent mice from losing muscle as they age, UF said.

Also, he was part of a team that developed the first drug approved in Europe for treatment of the most common form of muscular dystrophy in children, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. For this, he received the Hamdan Award for Medical Research Excellence.

Because of his expertise on myostatin manipulation, Sweeney is also a go-to expert for journalists doing research on performance-enhancing drugs in sports. He was one of those interviewed for an NPR story on that topic last summer, in which he predicted that myostatin-blocking drugs would provide a cheap and easy way for athletes to bulk up.

Here is more from the UF press release:

“Lee is studying muscular dystrophy at its most basic level and is truly committed to making strong headway toward therapeutic approaches,” said Jeffrey Martens, Ph.D., chairman of the College of Medicine department of pharmacology and therapeutics. “He is approaching the treatment of muscular dystrophy in any and every way he can. I am really convinced he is going to move treatment of this disease forward in a significant way.”

In addition, some of the scientific concepts derived from his research on muscles relate to cancer cells, and Sweeney plans to use this knowledge to develop new techniques to fight cancer cells as well.

“Much of my most basic research focuses on myosin motors that move cargoes inside of cells and move the muscles of the body,” Sweeney said. “Cancer cells depend on these myosin motors to grow rapidly and move. I am now applying my knowledge of how these myosin motors work to cripple cancer cells.”

In addition to continuing his own research, Sweeney will lead a newly created Myology Institute, the goal of which will be to join and extend all of the research already being conducted at UF faculty in the field of muscle biology, neuromuscular medicine and cancer.

“UF has so many outstanding scientists working at many levels of muscle biology and neuromuscular disease that it will be easy to build upon those strengths to create a world-class program,” Sweeney said. “To do this, UF will create a myology institute to spearhead research and clinical efforts in the areas of muscle biology and disease.

“This is an exciting opportunity.”

Sweeney, who earned his doctorate at Harvard University, has been on the faculty at Penn since 1989. In addition to his scientific work, he also serves as the scientific director for the advocacy group Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy and has lobbied Congress for more funding for research for neuromuscular diseases.

“Dr. Sweeney is a true leader in his field and we are excited to welcome him to the University of Florida,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “His recruitment demonstrates the tremendous growing momentum of UF Rising, UF's preeminence journey to become a top 10 research university. We believe strongly that his presence on campus, and that of similarly recruited preeminent colleagues, will make a meaningful and lasting impact on research here at UF, and more importantly, the patients we serve.”