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Robert K. Naviaux Receives United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation’s Vanguard Award

Richard Haas, MD, director of the Mitochondrial Disease Laboratory at UC San Diego School of Medicine (right), honors Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, (left) with the Vanguard Award at the 2023 meeting of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation.

The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF) has selected UC San Diego’s Robert K. Naviaux, MD, PhD, as the recipient of their prestigious Vanguard Award for pioneering work and dedication to the field of mitochondrial medicine — the highest award given in the field.

Naviaux, a professor of genetics and co-director of the Mitochondrial and Metabolic Disease Center at UC San Diego School of Medicine, was presented the award at the annual UMDF meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina this July. Each year, the foundation selects one individual whose transformative contributions have substantially advanced the field of Mitochondrial Medicine. The Vanguard Award was first given in 2013 to the pioneering visionary Dr. Billi DiMauro at Columbia University.

Since joining UC San Diego in 1997, Naviaux’s groundbreaking contributions have consistently expanded the understanding of mitochondrial diseases. This group of genetic conditions affects how the mitochondria in our cells produce the energy our bodies need. When cells aren’t able to produce enough energy, this can lead to life-threatening complications.

Naviaux’s contributions to the field include his discovery of the cause of Alpers-Huttenlocher syndrome, his leadership in clinical trials of suramin to treat genetic forms of autism spectrum disorder, and his description of the cell danger response underlying various complex disorders. Naviaux is currently applying his expertise in mitochondria and metabolomics to search for a biomarker and potential treatment for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) — a serious, chronic and systemic disease associated with energy metabolism dysfunction. His research continues to inspire the medical community and instill hope in those affected by these diseases.

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Nicole Mlynaryk