Physicians and staff
RAKESH C. KUKREJA, Ph.D.
Dr. Kukreja, the Eric Lipman Professor in Cardiology, runs the nationally recognized program in molecular cardiology at the Medical College of Virginia of Virginia Commonwealth University. Born and educated in India, Dr. Kukreja graduated from Punjab University with his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology. He then received his master’s in biochemistry from Allahabad University and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Kurukshetra University in 1982. While a Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Kukreja worked as a scientist and researcher in Animal Biochemistry at the National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, India. He completed a postdoctoral visiting fellowship in the Molecular Endocrinology Laboratory at the University of Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France for two years, after which he came to the MCV Campus as a USPHS postdoctoral trainee in “Cardiovascular Injury Mechanisms.” Dr. Kukreja then joined the cardiology faculty in 1988, first as research associate and quickly moving up the ranks to full professor in 2000. He was awarded the Eric Lipman Endowed Professorship in 1995, when he became fully tenured.
Dr. Kukreja’s research interests include cellular and molecular mechanisms of myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury, gene therapy and cell signaling. His research is focused on the mechanisms by which ischemia (heart attack) kills cardiac cells and the development of novel therapeutic strategies which can minimize the damage in the heart muscle. For the last 15 years, Dr. Kukreja has been working on the phenomenon of ischemic preconditioning, which is a natural way for the heart to protect itself. He has done an enormous amount of work to understand the biochemical and molecular signaling pathways by which ischemic or pharmacological preconditioning and gene delivery protect the heart following ischemia/reperfusion injury. Recently, Dr. Kukreja invented a new and potentially important use for the male erectile dysfunction drugs including, sildenafil (Viagra) and vardenafil (Levitra).. These drugs are potent inhibitors of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5), an enzyme which regulates the levels of intracellular messenger molecule, cGMP. His research has shown that PDE-5 inhibitors show significant protection against damage from ischemia/reperfusion injury in animals. In a major breakthrough, Dr. Kukreja further demonstrated that sildenafil protected the heart against injuries caused by chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin, which is used to treat both tumors and blood cancers. Dr. Kukreja’s discovery on the cardioprotective effects of PDE-5 inhibitors is particularly exciting and has significant clinical potential since these drugs are FDA-approved and so widely used in a population of patients that commonly have coronary artery disease and erectile dysfunction. Moreover, this work may lead to future development of a new group of compounds which could be developed for both acute and chronic cardioprotective therapy against ischemia/reperfusion injury, hypertrophy and heart failure.
Dr. Kukreja has a long track record of funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and pharmaceutical companies, with current funding from these sources totaling more than $6 million. He has published more than 100 research papers in peer-reviewed journals, presented over 120 abstracts and authored two books, one of which was translated into Portugese. Dr. Kukreja serves on the editorial board of several reputable cardiovascular journals, including the Circulation Research, American Journal of Physiology (Heart & Circulatory Physiology), Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology and Indian Journal of Cardiology, Dr. Kukreja served the NIH Peer Review Group as a regular member for four years. He also is actively involved in the research training of cardiology fellows, postdoctoral researchers and Ph.D. students.
In 2006, Dr. Kukreja received the NIH’s prestigious MERIT Award, which is given to outstanding established scientists who are conducting research in areas of importance to the NIH. Among his other many honors, Dr. Kukreja was awarded in 1992 the Young Investigator Travel Award by the International Society of Heart Research, and in 1982 he was co-recipient of the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Memorial Prize, one of the highest scientific awards given by the Indian government. Dr. Kukreja is an elected fellow of the American Physiological Society (Cardiovascular Section), the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences and member of several other professional organizations. He has been invited chairman of scientific sessions at many national and international meetings and an invited lecturer for numerous seminars nationwide at medical centers, universities, the private industry and professional organizations. Dr. Kukreja was granted in 1998 a United States patent for histidine as a protective agent in cardiac surgery and myocardial ischemic syndromes. He has another pending patent on the cardioprotective effects of PDE-5 inhibitors.