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Diwan named inaugural Shaeffer professor

Noted physician-scientist studies molecular underpinnings of cardiovascular disease

by Marley WiemersApril 30, 2024

Dan Donovan

Abhinav Diwan, MD, a highly regarded cardiologist with expertise in the molecular underpinnings of cardiovascular disease, has been named the inaugural Charlie W. Shaeffer, MD, Professor of Cardiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Diwan was installed by David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor.

Diwan’s team studies the mechanisms underlying cardiac dysfunction in cardiovascular diseases and heart failure. His lab has identified lysosome dysfunction as a contributor to cardiac disease progression. Lysosomes are compartments within cells that act like garbage disposals; they contain digestive enzymes that are involved with the breakdown of dying cells and the destruction of invading viruses and other pathogens. His laboratory is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Diwan’s team also has implicated lysosomal dysfunction as a contributor to atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, underscoring similarities that could point to common therapeutic strategies across a range of diseases. His lab ultimately aims to look at how lysosomes can be targeted to enhance health, prolong life span, and treat diseases.

“Dr. Shaeffer has a long history of patient care and advocacy toward better cardiovascular health, and we are grateful that this professorship will continue supporting innovative research into reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. “It is a pleasure to recognize Dr. Diwan with this professorship. He is a dedicated physician-scientist whose groundbreaking research could lead to new and better ways to treat or prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death globally.”

Diwan, also a professor of medicine, of neurology, of cell biology & physiology, and of obstetrics & gynecology at the School of Medicine, joined the Cardiovascular Division faculty in 2008. He practices general cardiology and specializes in echocardiography, the use of ultrasound to image the heart to evaluate its structure and function. He treats patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the John Cochran VA Medical Center, where he also serves as chief of the Division of Cardiology.

“Dr. Diwan is an exceptionally talented physician-scientist and a dedicated mentor,” Perlmutter said. “His work in lysosome biology is leading to the identification of novel targets for improving treatment of heart disease. His work builds on the dedication and impact of Charles Shaeffer’s advocacy and work to reduce the burden of heart disease.”

Diwan is the program director for a long-standing NIH training grant in the Cardiovascular Division, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. He also serves as associate program director for the cardiology fellowship investigator-training pathway for physician-scientists in the Cardiovascular Division.

“Dr. Diwan is an outstanding physician-scientist who is dedicated to patient care and the training of early-career physicians,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine. “We are delighted to recognize his contributions to the understanding of heart disease and related conditions with this inaugural professorship.”

Diwan also serves as a principal investigator for a VA initiative to combat infectious and emerging life-threatening diseases, a nationwide biospecimen and data repository of the VA that he assisted with setting up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Charlie Willard Shaeffer Jr. earned his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1964. In recognition of the importance of a scholarship Shaeffer had received as a medical student, Schaeffer and his wife, Claire, established the Charlie W. Shaeffer Jr., MD, Scholarship in 2008 for medical students at the university. In 2018, they established a fund for a named professorship in cardiology.

Charlie Shaeffer recognized the impact of societal influences on patient health and was a forceful advocate for preventive medicine, smoke-free environments, and education to reduce incidence of heart disease. He held a variety of positions throughout his career, including as chief of cardiology and chair at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He died in 2023.

“We are happy to recognize and support Dr. Diwan’s work with this inaugural professorship — there is no one better to help us honor Dr. Shaeffer’s legacy,” said Sumanth D. Prabhu, MD, the Tobias and Hortense Lewin Distinguished Professor of Cardiovascular Diseases and director of the Cardiovascular Division at the School of Medicine. “Dr. Diwan has made — and will clearly continue to make — significant contributions to our knowledge of lysosomal dysfunction. This knowledge could have important implications for future therapies developed for cardiometabolic diseases and heart failure.”

Diwan is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, an honor awarded by peers to the best in their field, and chairs research committees for the organization and the VA. He is also a standing member on the peer-review committee at the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, for review of training grants.

Diwan also has mentored many physicians and scientists at different stages of their careers. His trainees have successfully competed for career-development awards and established independently funded research programs.

He earned his medical degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. He then completed an internal medicine residency and a cardiology fellowship through the physician-scientist training pathway at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

About Washington University School of Medicine

WashU Medicine is a global leader in academic medicine, including biomedical research, patient care and educational programs with 2,900 faculty. Its National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding portfolio is the second largest among U.S. medical schools and has grown 56% in the last seven years. Together with institutional investment, WashU Medicine commits well over $1 billion annually to basic and clinical research innovation and training. Its faculty practice is consistently within the top five in the country, with more than 1,900 faculty physicians practicing at 130 locations and who are also the medical staffs of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals of BJC HealthCare. WashU Medicine has a storied history in MD/PhD training, recently dedicated $100 million to scholarships and curriculum renewal for its medical students, and is home to top-notch training programs in every medical subspecialty as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and audiology and communications sciences.

Marley Wiemers is a science writing intern with Washington University School of Medicine Marketing & Communications. She is a junior at Washington University with double majors in psychological & brain sciences and anthropology, with an emphasis on global health and the environment.