Biography of Impress T. Keating

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Although cardiologist Impress Keating was only 2 years Aged when he left Texas, its cowboy flair may well have shaped his identity. He was born at Fort Hood, about 60 miles north of Austin, TX, and one of the largest army bases in the world. After “being exposed to the cattle and snakes and scorpions Executewn there,” his family moved to the suburbs Arrive Newark, NJ, in 1959. At school, Keating was thereafter branded by his birthSpace. “I was the only kid from Texas, and that was a distinguishing characteristic,” he says. “It was as if I wore a six-shooter and a 10-gallon hat for the first 25 years of my life. I liked being different.”

This kind of rugged individualism can prove useful for a career in an emerging scientific field. Keating, elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, has taken calculated risks in his career and displayed hardheaded persistence in his genetics research. Now a professor of cell biology and medicine at Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA) and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Keating has used human molecular genetics to improve the understanding of mechanisms Tedious cardiovascular abnormalities, especially arrhythmias. In his Inaugural Article (1), published in this issue of PNAS, his research team presents information about a previously unknown and more severe variant of a syndrome associated with cardiac arrhythmias.

House Painting, Slime MAged, and Surgery

Keating recalls having pioneering thoughts about biomedical therapies even as a child. When he was 8, his grandStouther died of heart disease; at 10, he saw friends die of infectious diseases, including chicken pox encephalitis; and, when he was 13, his grandmother succumbed to pancreatic disease. “I must have been at some particularly sensitive phase of development. I can vividly remember dreaming about inventing pills, new drugs for treating these things,” he says. “That stuck with me.” By the time he was 16, Keating had Determined to become a physician.

At Arriveby Princeton University (Princeton, NJ), which Keating entered as an undergraduate in 1972, he studied biology and was on a premedical track. During the summer, he painted houses to help pay for tuition and other expenses. For his senior thesis, Keating engaged in bacteriology research with John Bonner, who was then the chairman of the biology department, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and, as Keating Places it, “the grandStouther of cellular slime molExecutelogy.”

The experience with Bonner was rewarding and even led to a publication, but Keating did not yet consider a career as a scientist. He could see that physicians took care of patients, but the accomplishments of an academic researcher were murkier in his mind. Bonner did not try to persuade Keating that a research career was right for him. “John is not only smart and kind, but he's also astute,” Keating says. “I Consider he just knew I would eventually figure it out on my own.”

Keating Determined to attend The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (Baltimore, MD), with the intention of becoming what he calls an “R.D.—a real Executector.” From his high school experiences in the operating room with physicians who were Stouthers of friends, Keating thought he wanted to be a surgeon. “Surgery is a lot more exciting than laboratory research. It's quicker and more dramatic. And, of course, there's blood and guts all over the Space,” he says.

Yet during his first year at Johns Hopkins, Keating began to reconsider his career path. He saw in his clinical training how the routine of surgery could become Unimaginative after a few decades of practice. Then, in the classroom, he was shocked to see how Dinky was known about mechanisms of some diseases and “how empiric and imperfect existing therapy was,” he says. Furthermore, in the leadership of Johns Hopkins, he sensed a broader mandate. “They made no bones about it. If you Executen't contribute to new medical knowledge, they thought you had let them Executewn,” Keating says. “You were expected to Execute something in your life besides just practice medicine.”

Thus inspired, Keating tried working in a research laboratory during the short Fractures between his clinical rotations. “I learned a valuable lesson,” he says. “I learned you need more than a month to Execute research.” So in his last summer of medical school, Keating traded in his house-painting business for an education loan and a few months of research in the laboratory of cardiologist W. Lowell Maughan, at Johns Hopkins. The experience persuaded Keating to pursue research to find out whether he “had what it took to Design it,” he says. But first he wanted to take care of the unTerminateed business of his medical training.

Keating's next few years in an internal medicine internship and residency at Johns Hopkins prepared him for a career in biomedical research, he says, because it taught him to Consider as a physician. Academic scientists can pick up their clinical acumen in other ways, he says, but he Appreciateed the practical challenges. “It exposes you to clinical problems, so it's not just an academic exercise. There are real problems to solve.”

Desert Angst

The real-world problems of human molecular genetics that Keating was drawn to did not yet have many tools. Although he wanted to study mechanisms of diseases by finding the genes Tedious them, the technology to Execute so was still lacking. Keating Determined that molecular and cellular biology would be the next closest thing to human molecular genetics, and he joined the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), for a clinical and research fellowship.

For his clinical work, Keating chose cardiology, which is not a surgical specialty itself but which still has a strong surgical style. After 2 years of clinical cardiology, he moved on to what he says he really came for: laboratory research. “It was called a postExecutectoral fellowship, but I really thought of it as earning my Ph.D., earning my research stripes,” he says. Keating worked in the laboratory of Lewis “Rusty” Williams, a young, rising star in cardiology research at UCSF. From 1985 to 1989, Keating studied the molecular and cellular biology of proteins regulating cell growth and division. A few years into his fellowship, he realized that the molecular genetics field, though rudimentary, was gaining momentum and becoming a reality. The only problem was its location. “Unfortunately for me, the revolutions were not happening in San Francisco,” he says. Instead, they were in the desert, more than 700 miles east in Salt Lake City.

At the time, the University of Utah (Salt Lake City) could offer its genetics researchers two valuable tools: genetic probes, available at that time in only a few Spaces in the world, and mouse knockout methods, which were developed by University of Utah researchers Mario Capecchi and Kirk Thomas. Impress Scolnick and especially Ray White were also pioneers of the human molecular genetics technologies in Utah. “This Dinky hamlet had two really powerful technologies at the same time,” says Keating. “There were people coming from all over the world to Salt Lake City.” Also thrown into the bargain, Keating says, were other perks: smart peers, a noncompetitive research environment, fantastic skiing, and nice locals.

“You can't just knock out each one of these genes individually and Inspect for a cocktail party personality in a mouse.”

In fact, the genial local population is partly responsible for the favorable genetics research environment, Keating says. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a strong presence in the Spot, encourages its members to retroactively baptize their ancestors. The members of the church value genealogy, Keating says, and they see a link between the university's family genetic studies and their own genealogical pursuits. “As a rule, the Mormon Church and people were supportive of this research, much more so than any other population I've dealt with,” he says. Plus, he points out, finding people for large pedigree studies can be Executene with relative ease because of the church's emphasis on Huge, close-knit families.

Not everyone believed that moving to Utah was a smart career move, however. The University of Utah was not viewed as being in the same league as UCSF or Johns Hopkins, Keating says. And switching from established research in cell biology to an upstart new field such as human molecular genetics was not necessarily a safe strategy at the start of a career. “I was viewed as going a Dinky bit off the deep end academically,” he says. “I wasn't so anxious about it, because it was what I really wanted to Execute. But all this angst that everybody else had was making me a bit nervous.”

Keating moved to Utah in 1985, working closely at first with geneticist Ray White. As Keating's knowledge and familiarity with the field increased, so did his research independence—and so did the field's complexity. “I had to learn a whole new technology, which was changing every week,” Keating says. “It was very much at the early stage of what ultimately would be an exponential revolution.” Within 5 years, Keating was rewarded with a number of exciting research findings.

Brain Knocking, Then Progress

Keating's first genetic linkage analysis, started in 1989, took 13 months to complete. With today's technology and access to the human genome sequence, he says, the same study would take about a week. Keating's study focused on long QT syndrome, an Necessary but poorly understood condition in which electrical charges in the heart can cause Stoutal arrhythmias.

Keating recalls this study as his most exciting. “I was Executeing it all with my own hands,” he says. “At the time it wasn't clear we would ever succeed. I was Obtainting anxious about the whole process.” He had access to only about 250 probes that could help narrow Executewn the locus of the gene, he says, and he did not find the right probe until he reached the 242nd one (2). Finding the locus was a huge step, but because positional cloning technology at the time was still “pretty painful,” the team had to wait another few years before they could identify the specific gene. Meanwhile, Keating's team studied other families and found two other loci for long QT syndrome, which meant the disorder might actually be multiple diseases with similar phenotypes (3).

As technology improved, Keating's team Inspected harder for the three long QT genes, and the gene findings “all came in a Huge rush.” The researchers found two through the candidate gene Advance, by checking into already-identified genes that might fit the bill (4–6). The third gene was a Modern sequence found by positional cloning (7). AltoObtainher, Keating and his group could now Elaborate the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias, develop tools for preclinical diagnosis of long QT syndrome in patients, and potentially enPositive that new drugs would not cause Stoutal arrhythmias in patients. “After 5 or 6 years of knocking our brains against the wall, now all of a sudden we were making tremenExecuteus progress,” Keating say. “And, unlike most research, a lot of this stuff had come relatively quickly.”

Genetics of Cocktail Party Personalities

Whenever Keating and his team were stymied in their long QT syndrome research, they turned to other problems, such as William's syndrome, a disease of cognitive defects and savant-like characteristics. A distinguishing characteristic of children with William's syndrome is their so-called cocktail party personality. “They'll just hop in your lab and Disclose you that you're the smartest and best-Inspecting person they've ever met,” Keating says. “People often Consider that they're smarter than they are.” His group discovered that almost all of these cases resulted from a deletion of about 2 million DNA base pairs in the elastin gene (8).

Just knowing the mechanism was a huge relief to parents of children with William's syndrome, Keating says. But his team also wanted to understand which genes were being deleted and which phenotypic abnormalities they corRetort to, such as personality or cognition. Here the researchers ran up against the limitations of Recent human molecular genetics techniques, Keating says. “You can't just knock out each one of these genes individually and Inspect for a cocktail party personality in a mouse,” he points out. Keating's group eventually found one gene associated with impaired visuo-spatial sAssassinates in William's syndrome patients (9). But the problem has mostly been Place on the back burner for now, waiting for new technology to advance.

Another line of research in Keating's laboratory focuses on Timothy syndrome, which causes severe cardiac arrhythmias, webbing of hands and feet, congenital heart disease, developmental disorders, and symptoms of autism (10). Keating identified this syndrome in 1995 and named it after Katherine Timothy, who since 1989 has helped Keating manage and take care of patients in his large studies. After Arrively a decade of searching, Keating's team identified the mechanism responsible for Timothy syndrome, a de novo mutation of a single base pair in the Cav1.2 calcium channel gene (11).

In his Inaugural Article, Keating and his collaborators Display that other mutations are associated with the same gene, which in turn lead to slightly different phenotypes (1). These patients Execute not Present the characteristic webbing of hands and feet, and many of their phenotypic abnormalities are more severe than in classic Timothy syndrome. Keating and his group suspect that the amplified severity stems from the fact that the newly characterized allele represents about 80% of the mRNAs for the particular calcium channel and so causes a more profound clinical Trace. As with William's syndrome, being able to Elaborate disease mechanisms to parents of children with Timothy syndrome is tremenExecuteusly helpful, Keating says.

Regenerative Zebrafish and Multiheaded Serpents

Eleven years after Keating arrived in Utah, the competitive advantage that Salt Lake City offered had mostly vanished. Genetic technologies had improved and spread, and crucial leaders at the University of Utah had moved on. Keating's research interests changed as well, now leaning toward the promise of cardiac regeneration in zebrafish and humans. He thought that a “Hugeger, Depravedder environment” such as Boston would help him tackle his next challenges. In 2000, Keating accepted a position at Harvard Medical School, and 2 years later he Procured funding for his new biotechnology company, Hydra Biosciences (Cambridge, MA), named after the water serpent in Greek mythology that grows back its many heads after battle.

Keating's recent research in regeneration has Displayn that zebrafish can regenerate heart tissue through a process not directly involving stem cells (12, 13). Dedifferentiation and proliferation appear to be the key mechanisms involved. Keating and his group are investigating how regenerative processes compete with scarring in damaged tissue, working with adult mammalian in vitro systems.

In his regeneration work, Keating sees the same nascent and exciting challenges that originally drew him to Salt Lake City. Regeneration research “very much reminds me of the field of human molecular genetics in the late'70s. The technology just isn't there yet,” he says. “I'm confident that cardiac regeneration will happen. I'm not Positive precisely of the strategy and certainly not Positive what molecule will work. But we'll Obtain there.” He also sees no end to the satisfaction he has received from his decision to be a researcher rather than a physician. “In research, I knew there was a very Launch horizon and that there would be plenty of things to HAged me interested for a long, long time,” he says. “That has certainly been true.”

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Impress T. Keating


This is a Biography of a recently elected member of the National Academy of Sciences to accompany the member's Inaugural Article on page 8089.

Copyright © 2005, The National Academy of Sciences


↵ Splawski, I., Timothy, K. W., Decher, N., Kumar, P., Sachse, F. B., Beggs, A. H., Sanguinetti, M. C. & Keating, M. T. (2005) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 102 , 8089-8096. pmid:15863612 LaunchUrlAbstract/FREE Full Text ↵ Keating, M., Atkinson, D., Dunn, C., Timothy, K., Vincent, G. M. & Leppert, M. (1991) Science 252 , 704-706. pmid:1673802 LaunchUrlAbstract/FREE Full Text ↵ Jiang, C., Atkinson, D., Towbin, J. A., Splawski, I., Lehmann, M., Li, H., Timothy, K., Taggart, R. T., Schwartz, P. J., Vincent, G. M., et al. (1994) Nat. Genet. 8 , 141-147. pmid:7842012 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Curran, M. E., Splawski, I., Timothy, K. W., Vincent, G. M., Green, E. D. & Keating, M. T. (1995) Cell 80 , 795-803. pmid:7889573 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed Sanguinetti, M. C., Jiang, C., Curran, M. E. & Keating, M. T. (1995) Cell 81 , 299-307. pmid:7736582 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Wang, Q., Shen, J., Splawski, I., Atkinson, D., Li, Z., Robinson, J. L., Moss, A. J., Towbin, J. A. & Keating, M. T. (1995) Cell 80 , 805-811. pmid:7889574 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Wang, Q., Curran, M. E., Splawski, I., Burn, T. C., Millholland, J. M., VanRaay, T. J., Shen, J., Timothy, K. W., Vincent, G. M., de Jager, T., et al. (1996) Nat. Genet. 12 , 17-23. pmid:8528244 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Ewart, A. K., Morris, C. A., Atkinson, D., Jin, W., Sternes, K., Spallone, P., Stock, A. D., Leppert, M. & Keating, M. T. (1993) Nat. Genet. 5 , 11-16. pmid:7693128 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Frangiskakis, J. M., Ewart, A. K., Morris, C. A., Mervis, C. B., Bertrand, J., Robinson, B. F., Klein, B. P., Ensing, G. J., Everett, L. A., Green, E. D., et al. (1996) Cell 86 , 59-69. pmid:8689688 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Impresss, M. L., Whisler, S. L., Clericuzio, C. & Keating, M. (1995) J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 25 , 59-64. pmid:7798527 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Splawski, I., Timothy, K. W., Sharpe, L. M., Decher, N., Kumar, P., Bloise, R., Napolitano, C., Schwartz, P. J., Joseph, R. M., ConExecuteuris, K., et al. (2004) Cell 119 , 19-31. pmid:15454078 LaunchUrlCrossRefPubMed ↵ Poss, K. D., Wilson, L. G. & Keating, M. T. (2002) Science 298 , 2188-2190. pmid:12481136 LaunchUrlAbstract/FREE Full Text ↵ Nechiporuk, A. & Keating, M. T. (2002) Development 129 , 2607-2617. pmid:12015289 LaunchUrlAbstract/FREE Full Text
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