Association-Funded Researcher Honored with Prestigious Massachusetts Award

The Association congratulates James A. Hamilton, PhD, of Boston University School of Medicine, for his 2012 election into the prestigious class of Massachusetts Academy of Sciences (MAS) Fellows. The honor recognizes Dr. Hamilton’s commitment to addressing public health challenges and his contribution to novel research strategies to study diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  

“Each year, the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences honors distinguished individuals through its fellowship awards. [Hamilton] joins an elite group of professional scientists and science educators who are recognized for extraordinary scientific accomplishments and service to the science community and the public,” stated Peg Riley, president and founder of MAS.

Dr. Hamilton leads a highly innovative and multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to uncovering the molecular mysteries related to fat storage and fatty acid metabolism. He is a professor of physiology, biophysics, radiology, and biomedical engineering, and he also serves as the director of the High Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Spectroscopy and MR Imaging Core at Boston University.

The investigator currently holds an ADA Basic Science Award for research aimed at understanding how fatty acids enter cells, and whether blocking fatty acid uptake can prevent excessive fat storage – issues which have been controversial for decades. He has recently pioneered new approaches to differentiate the influence of the lipid membrane and proteins in the movement of fatty acids across cell membranes, as well as the impact of each mechanism to metabolism. These approaches will provide a more detailed understanding of the function of proteins, such as CD36, that are believed to be fatty acid transporters.

“When we achieve this, new drugs can be designed that target the exact mechanism more precisely than currently available drugs, to reduce unhealthy accumulation of fat in cells and thus the risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes,” explained Dr. Hamilton.              

He has also been involved in developing non-invasive imaging techniques to detect harmful atherosclerotic plaques. These plaques are considered to be “silent killers” because they cause blood to clot abnormally and can lead to heart attack or stroke without any warning or prior symptoms. These vulnerable plaques are barely visible using standard x-ray imaging because narrowing of the blood vessels does not occur. Dr. Hamilton’s research team is now testing a unique magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method that may be capable of detecting the deadly plaques before an event occurs.

Dr. Hamilton has also received the Biophysical Society 2010 Avanti Award in Lipids and the Juniata College Outstanding Science Alumni Award in 2011.