University of Utah cardiologist Dean Y. Li, M.D., Ph.D., a groundbreaking researcher in vascular development and disease, has been named the inaugural vice dean for research and chief scientific officer at University of Utah Health Care effective Dec. 1, 2011.

Li, who is Professor of Internal Medicine and director of the Molecular Medicine and M.D./Ph.D. programs at the School of Medicine, is ideally suited for the position, says Vivian S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., University senior vice president for health sciences, dean of the medical school, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care.

Since coming to the University he has developed mouse models for three human vascular diseases: supravalvular stenosis, (narrowing of the aorta above the aortic valve); hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, (a genetic disorder that causes abnormal blood vessels); and cerebral cavernous malformations, (a group of small blood vessels prone to leaking in the brain).

Through studying these diseases, Li identified a blood vessel protein that reversed or prevented age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy in mouse models. He also identified a family of proteins that accelerated blood vessel growth in ischemic mice and restored blood vessel growth in diabetic mice.

Those discoveries have opened the door to developing drug therapies to treat those diseases.

In an uncertain economic time, the University of Utah must maximize and coordinate its substantial research investments for greatest effect,” he says. “We must recognize that success in research and discovery at the University of Utah School of Medicine and University of Utah Health Care are vital to medical education, clinical care, and economic development within our state and throughout the Intermountain West.”