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University of Iowa News

Sept. 5, 2006

Sigmund's Blood Pressure Research Earns Top NIH Grant

A researcher in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine has received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) award that is given only to researchers whose NIH projects rank in the top 2 percent of productivity and promise.

Curt D. Sigmund, Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine and physiology and biophysics, received a five-year, $1.8 million MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to continue investigating renin, an enzyme that contributes to hypertension, or high blood pressure. The study is a project in the UI Center on Functional Genomics of Hypertension, which Sigmund directs.

Sigmund also is likely to receive in 2011 an additional five-year $1.8 million extension as part of the MERIT award. The grant program provides long-term funding to researchers who have demonstrated outstanding research productivity, excellence and consistency.

"The MERIT award allows you to push the state-of-the-art in your field and do research that takes extra time but has large potential for positive impact," Sigmund said. "We can work on findings and technical developments without having to worry about getting ready for the next competitive grant cycle."

Renin is involved in the earliest step in generating a hormone called angiotensin, which in turn plays a major role in regulating cardiovascular functions. Abnormalities in the renin-angiotensin system are thought to cause high blood pressure, Sigmund said.

"Many people with hypertension take ACE inhibitors, which block the renin-angiotensin system. The first rate-limiting step in the generation of angiotensin is production of the protein renin. So we need to look at what, at the molecular and genetic level, controls the production of renin," Sigmund said.

"The advance we're trying to make is to tie together physiologic signals to events that occur in the nucleus that regulate the renin gene," he added.

Understanding these signals could eventually allow scientists to assess which pathway is abnormal in hypertension, and even further down the road, develop appropriate therapies.

Prior to this MERIT award, Sigmund's renin studies received three consecutive NIH grants over the past 12 years, totaling more than $3.3 million.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660