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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 5, 2009

NIH awards $10.4 million grant to UI Cardiovascular Research Center

A long-standing University of Iowa research program that has helped reduce death from heart disease has received its eighth consecutive five-year grant renewal from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The nearly $10.4 million grant will help support ongoing studies to understand how and why errors in the brain and nervous system cause heart and circulatory problems, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and obesity.

Established in 1971, the program has received nearly $80 million in NIH support to date. The current renewal makes the "Integrative Neurobiology of Cardiovascular Regulation" program one of the longest continuously funded research programs by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute under the direction of the same principal investigator, in this case, UI faculty member Francois Abboud (photo, left), M.D.

The project has involved dozens of investigators over the years. Other UI faculty members who were instrumental in this most recent grant renewal include, as project leaders and core directors, Yang Baoli, Chris Benson, Mark Chapleau, Beverly Davidson, William Haynes and Alan Johnson. In addition, current co-investigators in the program's four major projects include UI faculty members Mark Anderson, Allyn Mark, Margaret Price, Kamal Rahmouni, Harold Stauss, Robert Weiss and Michael Welsh.

The initial support of the grant helped create the UI Cardiovascular Research Center in 1975 and then allowed several new cardiovascular research programs to emerge within the center with independent, yet cohesive, leadership. Loretta Bassler is among the administrative staff who have provided continuity and stability to the program.

"Our emphasis on linking basic science and clinical research continues to drive current research," said Abboud, a UI professor of internal medicine and molecular physiology and biophysics who holds the Edith King Pearson Chair of Cardiovascular Research and is founder and director of the UI Cardiovascular Research Center.

"Over the past 40 years, death and injury from cardiovascular disease have been reduced significantly nationwide because of basic interdisciplinary research that was translated into patient care advances. We are proud to have been at the forefront of discoveries that contributed to this success," Abboud said.

Program achievements include studies of basic molecular functions that contributed to new approaches for treating high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis and studies of patients with sleep apnea that showed their risk for very high blood pressure during sleep and the need to institute preventive measures.

"The UI research focuses on the cause of excessive nerve activity from the brain," Abboud said. "The heart and blood vessels depend on brain signals to provide the body with the blood needed for every function. In fatal diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke and heart failure, the nerve signals are both excessive and dysfunctional. Our goal is to eliminate this excessive activity and thus reduce death from heart disease."

Other studies within the program have helped show the reasons for high blood pressure in people who are obese or salt-sensitive and how nerves in brain blood vessels help protect against stroke.

The program also has contributed to the development of animal models of cardiovascular disease that help scientists understand heart conditions and chemicals that can treat such conditions.

These animal model studies examined the use of cytokines to alter the immune response in heart failure, ion channel blockers, scavengers of reactive oxygen in the brain that can lower blood pressure and reduce blood vessel damage, and serotonin-like chemicals that can reduce depression and increase the chance of surviving a heart attack.

The UI program was the first major interdisciplinary research program in the UI Carver College of Medicine and has involved dozens of basic scientists and clinician-scientists from such areas as internal medicine, pediatrics, molecular physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry and obstetrics and gynecology as well as the departments of psychology and exercise science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The number of personnel annually involved in the grant has ranged from 30 to 50 employees.

"It is rare to have a program with the depth, scope and longevity of the Integrative Neurobiology of Cardiovascular Regulation Program," said Jean Robillard, M.D., UI vice president for medical affairs. "In addition to advancing cardiovascular care and related scientific inquiry, the program has served as a leading research model for the entire University of Iowa, increasing our ability to attract and retain expert researchers and support staff. It is a shining gem among all our achievements."

"The competitive edge of the research program is due to the participation of all those who helped create the first successful model at the UI for team research and interdisciplinary science and to the environment and values that nurtured and sustained it," Abboud said.

"As a scientist and physician, I can say it has been a lifetime privilege to be a part of such passion, creativity and mutual support since I came to Iowa 48 years ago. It is a phenomenon that is uniquely Iowan," Abboud added.

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

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660,