$3 Million NIH Grant for Sleep Apnea, Cardiovascular Impact Study

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Studies will investigate how sleep apnea affects cells that line blood vessels and potential therapies to reverse those impacts.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) affects nearly a billion adults worldwide and is linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. A University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher who discovered that treatment may reduce accelerated biological aging in OSA patients, has been awarded nearly $3 million from the National Institutes of Health to further investigate the impact of OSA on cells that line the blood vessels, and potential treatments to reverse those impacts.

Rene Cortese, PhD
Rene Cortese, PhD

Rene Cortese, PhD will use mouse models to investigate how intermittent hypoxia and sleep fragmentation from OSA speeds up the aging process of blood vessel cells – called epigenetic age acceleration - leading them to permanently stop dividing. These “zombie cells” continue to release chemicals that can trigger inflammation and blood vessel dysregulation, leading to cardiovascular issues.

Cortese’s research team believes it can reverse the cardiovascular impacts of OSA by targeting and eliminating blood vessels cells that express a protein called p16, which is known to slow cell division. 

“Through the selective elimination of these cells, we believe we can tackle not just the negative impacts of OSA, but maybe other aging-associated diseases,” Cortese said.

Cortese’s $3 million National Institutes of Health grant award will run through 2028.

Rene Cortese is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health. He holds a PhD from the University of Bonn, Germany. His areas of expertise include the epigenomics of sleep disorders, epigenetic mechanisms involved in the origin of diseases and epigenetic mechanisms involved in children’s and women’s health.