Researcher Receives Grant to Study Female Stroke Resilience

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A new study could yield new insight into preserving function and improving stroke outcomes.

A University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher earned a grant worth nearly $2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study why cells from female blood vessels are less susceptible than male cells to the impacts of stroke, and how those protective qualities can be enhanced and expanded.

Charles E. Norton III, PhD
Charles E. Norton III, PhD

Dr. Charles Norton studies how cells in the blood vessels can be protected from the stress caused by a stroke’s impact on blood flow.

“The number one cause of adult disability is stroke, and our goal is to investigate new treatment avenues to identify the protective benefits women possess, and how we can not only enhance those benefits but provide those same protections to men,” Norton said.

When blood flow is restored following a stroke, blood vessels produce harmful oxygen derivatives which can kill the cells that line the inside of the blood vessel and the cells that expand and contract the vessel. When those cells are damaged, blood flows to the region uncontrolled.

However, Norton’s research has found that women’s cells possess qualities that protect them from these harmful oxygen derivatives. Norton believes the secret involves the regulation of calcium. His research has found that women are able to protect against calcium overload, which can damage the energy producing system in the cell and lead to cell death.

Norton’s team will test their hypothesis by isolating small arteries in mice and selectively block calcium overload in vascular cells to prevent blood vessel death following stroke and evaluate how improving vascular survival promotes neuronal function in the brain. The team will also study how regulation of cell death differs in vascular cells versus neuronal cells.

“By better understanding how women are able to protect against cell death, we will be able to apply that knowledge to other diseases where vascular and neuronal cell death leads to cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s Disease,” Norton said. “This research holds great promise and we are pleased to have received this grant.”

Norton’s grant runs through December 2028.

Dr. Charles Norton is an assistant professor of medical pharmacology and physiology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine. He holds a PhD from the University of New Mexico. His areas of expertise include cardiovascular physiology, pulmonary circulation, microcirculation and vascular calcium imaging.