MU professor receives lifetime achievement award

Sowers helped discover the relationship between heart disease and diabetes.

Since his graduation in 1971, MU professor James Sowers has accumulated 30 years of researching success — all tucked into the pocket of his lab coat.

Pointing to framed photos on the walls, James Sowers spoke of doctors and mentors who led him to his career path. He has become one of those mentors, leading him to win a lifetime achievement award Thursday for his research and teaching.

Sowers’ medical career began at MU as a graduate student studying cardiovascular disease. Sowers said the value of his graduate studies came from working with James Davis, the late head of physiology at MU.

During medical school, Sowers began researching diabetes in pigs. Sowers said he initially worked with pigs in his research because they are comparable translational models for human processes and anatomy.

“The pig studies probably had the biggest impact on my career,” Sowers said in a news release. “I was utilizing pigs in research before it became fashionable. Now, pig research continues to play an ever-important role in how we study these diseases.”

Sowers traveled to the West Coast after medical school, where he studied endocrinology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

After working at Wayne State University in Detroit and the State University of New York Health Science Center, Sowers returned to his original alma mater, according to a news release.

“I wanted to contribute something to the institution since I started out here and received my education here,” Sowers said.

In addition to his role as chairman of diabetology, Sowers also acts as the director of the Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research, professor in the medical pharmacology and physiology department, and editor of MU's medical journal, according to the release.

“Dr. Sowers is a ‘triple threat’ because he is a clinician who is also a superb researcher and educator,” physiology department chairman Ronald Korthuis said in the news release. “He sees connections in research and clinical disease few of us can. He then takes those discoveries and is able to translate them from bench to bedside.”

In recognition of more than three decades of success, Sowers received the Irvine Page-Alva Bradley Lifetime Achievement Award in Hypertension, according to the release.

The Council for High Blood Pressure Research held a ceremony honoring Sowers’ achievements Saturday in the nation’s capital.

“Receiving the reward was humbling, satisfying and nice to know that my colleagues around the world recognize what I have done,” Sowers said.

A key aspect of the lifetime achievement award is success in the realm of mentorship, Sowers said. He said he thinks training the researchers of the future is a central responsibility of his job.

“A big part of what I do is mentoring young people and train them how to be researchers,” Sowers said.

Receiving this commemorative award does not signify the end of his career, Sowers said.

“I believe the most important work I’ve done is work I’m going to be doing in the future,” Sowers said.

Sowers’ newest research seeks to minimize the negative effects of obesity and diabetes on the cardiovascular system. Sowers was one of the first researchers to discover the fatal correlation between diabetes and heart disease, according to the news release.

“The main thing I want to do is continue doing good research,” Sowers said. “I plan to finish my career at the University of Missouri."

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