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Updated 11:00 AM April 5, 2004



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  Distinguished University Professor lecture
Ginsburg finds deep evolutionary roots in blood clotting

Most people can take for granted that when they suffer a cut on the skin, the injury will clot quickly and stop bleeding. But when people get older, many fear the exact opposite, that the blood will clot where it shouldn't, such as the brain, lungs or heart.

The intricate and finely balanced mechanisms of clotting, or failing to clot, are a key component of our existence as a higher life form with blood vessels and a heart, and they go far back on the evolutionary tree.

"It's got to be just right," says geneticist Dr. David Ginsburg, sitting at a table in his corner office on the fifth floor of the Life Sciences Institute (LSI) with a commanding view of the Hill residence halls.
“It’s like an arms race of mutations between the bugs and the humans.” —Dr. David Ginsburg

Ginsburg, the James V. Neel Distinguished University Professor of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics, will deliver his Distinguished University Professor lecture, "To Bleed or Not to Bleed, That is the Question" at 4 p.m. April 13 in the Rackham Amphitheatre, followed by a reception at
5 p.m. in Assembly Hall.

There are a few hundred genes involved in the clotting response, perhaps a half-percent of the entire human genome. Ginsburg likens the intricate, finely calibrated clotting system to the immune system: Both have to be highly responsive, and highly adaptable to a variety of conditions in the body. "You have to be able to turn clotting up a teeny bit, or down a teeny bit," he says.

Having conquered many fundamental questions of how various heritable clotting disorders occur, Ginsburg now is becoming curious about the co-evolution of infectious agents and the clotting response. How much have infectious organisms—which generally are very species-specific—driven the evolution of clotting? "It's like an arms race of mutations between the bugs and the humans," he says.

"I think the clotting system in general is going to turn out to be very central in our evolutionary history."

At U-M, Ginsburg's career has been distinguished in clinical practice, basic research and teaching. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a research professor at LSI. As a physician, Ginsburg is board certified in clinical genetics and internal medicine, as well as the subspecialties of hematology and medical oncology, and he still sees patients in the medical genetics clinic. As a teacher, Ginsburg has co-authored a popular text for medical students, "Principles of Medical Genetics," with colleagues Francis Collins and Thomas Gelehrter.

Ginsburg, 51, has had quite a year. In addition to the distinguished professorship at U-M, he received one of the American Heart Association's highest accolades, the basic research award, in November. On April 18, he will receive the annual award of the American Society of Clinical Investigation.

The Distinguished University Professorships, created in 1947, provide recipients maximum freedom to pursue scholarly and teaching efforts to contribute to the University and the nation.

Each professorship is named for a person of distinction in the same general field as the recipient. Ginsburg's professorship is named for the late James V. Neel, who established the first academic department of human genetics in the United States at U-M. Neel was the first scientist to recognize the genetic basis for sickle cell anemia.

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