UMDF Celebrates the 2023 Vanguard Award Winner Robert Naviaux, MD, PhD

Above: Richard Haas, MD, presents Robert Naviaux, MD, PhD, with the 2023 Vanguard Award.

The UMDF Vanguard Award is presented to a scientist or physician in honor of his or her lifetime contributions to the field of mitochondrial medicine or research. The recipient is recognized for leadership and commitment towards a cure for mitochondrial diseases, whether through research or medical treatment, and inspiration has resulted in bringing new scientific or medical experts into the field.

UMDF is proud to recognize Robert Naviaux, MD, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, as our 2023 Vanguard Award winner for his decades of achievement in mitochondrial research and medicine and his unrelenting commitment to the care of our patient community.

Below are prepared remarks from his colleague Richard Haas, MD, who presented Dr. Naviaux his award at Mitochondrial Medicine Symposium in Charlotte in June.

He is a Renaissance Man – a novel thinker with the ability to think laterally and to see correlations that others can’t appreciate. I’m sure that those of you who were able to see his presentations in the scientific sessions will agree.

I know (from personal experience) that it can be quite difficult to get Bob to accept conventional wisdom, medical or scientific. His interests are wide-ranging spanning from the molecular biology of oceans to Mitochondrial Medicine.

Although a brilliant physician, a number of years ago Bob backed away from direct patient care. He found that he would get so involved with looking after his patients that his scientific research was suffering.

Bob started at UCSD as our fellow in metabolic disease. Since then I have learned from Bob every time we chat. He is a great teacher and has attracted high school students and a collection of post-doc fellows to the laboratory to become invested in mitochondrial research. His enthusiasm for science is infectious.

His science is often avant guard – and not appreciated initially by others in the scientific community. His scientific interests range from basic mechanisms of mtDNA replication to proving polymerase gamma deficiency as the cause of Alper’s syndrome.

He identified triacetyl-uridine as a potential treatment for mitochondrial disease and more recently a focus on causes of Autism and a mouse model lead him to explore the role of Purinergic signaling in a variety of diseases and the identification of century old drug, suramin as a treatment for Autism.

Most recently Bob has been working on metabolomic pathways and disease correlation finding reproducible patterns in conditions as varied as post traumatic stress in Veterans to kids with Autism.

All this recent work has resulted in an in-depth understanding of the role of mitochondria in little known important factor in human disease – the Cell Danger Response and the phases of healing.  The topic of what has to be considered his magnum opus published last month in Mitochondrion.

Richard Haas, MD

Director, Neurometabolic Clinic at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego and the Mitochondrial Disease Laboratory