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MU Awarded $8.5 Million to
Explore Tiny Vessels' Role
in Cardiovascular Diseases


One of MU's largest medical research grants will advance study of America's No. 1 killer

One of the largest medical research grants ever awarded to the University of Missouri was announced by MU scientists and administrators on May 6, 2010. The National Institutes of Health grant will help answer important questions about such prevalent health problems as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. The conditions are closely associated with cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in Missouri and the nation.

The $8.47 million program project grant from the NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) will fund an integrated research effort involving more than 20 scientists across campus. Their discoveries will further understanding of the smallest blood vessels in the body, collectively known as the microcirculation. How the miniscule vessels contribute to health and disease is a growing field of study for cardiovascular researchers.

"The grant has given us a very large opportunity that will help us focus on the many questions we have about microvascular function," said Gerald Meininger, PhD, the program director and project principal investigator, as well as director of MU's Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center. "By focusing the efforts of many scientists, we hope to further understand the underlying conditions that contribute to many different types of cardiovascular diseases."

Life literally depends on the microcirculation. The network of vessels, with walls as small as a single cell thick, are responsible for transferring gases, nutrition and hormones throughout the body. The vessels also remove waste, such as carbon dioxide, from organs and tissues. The ability of these processes to function properly, over and over again through many of miles of tiny vessels, is what determines the health of the entire cardiovascular system and all the organs and tissues it supports.

"MU has spent decades developing one of the most productive groups of cardiovascular investigators in the world, with a special emphasis on the emerging field of microcirculation," said Robert Churchill, MD, Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson Dean of the MU School of Medicine. "This grant is the latest example of what MU can achieve when scientific talent and resources from across campus come together to achieve a critical mass in a critical area of medical research."

The grant projects are particularly reliant on scientists and resources at MU's Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, School of Medicine and College of Veterinary Medicine. Other key collaborators include MU's Center for Gender Physiology and Environmental Adaptation, Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center, Charles W. Gehrke Proteomics Center, and research support cores for computing, translational science and electron microscopy. Microscopy and spectrometry technology at Dalton and MU's Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center provide advanced tools for high-resolution imaging and analysis.

"The imaging resources give MU a powerful advantage in terms of trying to answer questions about blood vessels that are thinner than human hair, as well as cells and tissues," said Ronald Korthuis, PhD, chair of the Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology and a project leader for the grant. "Where others can only speculate, we are able to show the world."

All of the project leaders in the program grant are faculty members in the MU School of Medicine Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology, which is ranked 12th in the nation in terms of research grant funding. The prominence of Dalton and the department in microcirculation research led to MU's selection as host for more than 150 scientists from around the world for a meeting of the Microcirculatory Society in October 2009.

The pharmacology and physiology department also is generously supported by private gifts for endowed faculty positions and research centers. Grant program director Meininger, project leader Michael Davis, PhD, and George Davis, MD, PhD, and other department scientists involved in the grant are Margaret Proctor Mulligan Distinguished Professors in Medical Research. Korthuis, a project leader, is the George L. and Melna A. Bolm Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Health. Center for Gender Physiology director Virginia Huxley, PhD, is the James O. Davis Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Research. She and other scientists are housed in the Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research.

"These endowments helped transform MU into a highly competitive institution for cardiovascular research," said Chancellor Brady Deaton, PhD, who recently led MU in receiving more than $1 billion in gifts for a campuswide fundraising campaign. "With this new NIH grant, we'll continue to leverage our significant investments in cardiovascular research to improve the health and quality of life for people across our state and throughout the world."

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