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  March 10, 2003

Focus On Vascular System Earns Federal Research Grant

A new five-year, $1.8 million-a-year program project grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute will fund an interdisciplin ary vascular research project at the Health Center.

The vascular system - which supplies blood - permeates every organ. Defects in the system can create serious human diseases. Health Center faculty from the Center for Vascular Biology, Center for Biomedical Imaging Technology, and the Department of Genetics and Developmental Biology plan to work together to explore the role of cells and blood vessels in human disease.

The research project will focus on the mechanism of vessel remodeling, that is, the way vessels change in shape and number to accommodate new demands imposed by disease or organ physiology. Blood vessels remodel in various diseases, such as cancer or heart disease, says Timothy Hla, professor and director of the Center for Vascular Biology, but they also remodel to maintain health, for example, in prolonged aerobic exercise.

Current knowledge and understanding of remodeling is poor, yet better understanding could lead to therapeutics that might help hearts injured by heart attack grow new vascular tissue; restore the circulation in a diabetic's legs; or even shut down blood flow to cancers or tumors.

Faculty participating in the project include Kevin Claffey, Guo-Hua Fong, and Henry Furneaux, assistant professors of vascular biology; David Han, assistant professor of physiology; Dan Wu, associate professor of genetics and developmental biology; and Ann Cowan, assistant professor of biochemistry.

"Each of us uses a unique approach to researching the vascular system," says Hla. "The philosophy behind the grant application is that the sum of the components should be greater than simple addition of the parts. Everybody interacts and attacks the problem, and the synergism built in will likely result in significant research findings."

The grant will also support new staff, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students. "It will greatly enhance our research capability and capacity," says Hla.

Dr. Richard Berlin, associate dean for research, planning, and coordination, notes that vascular biology was identified as a major focus of the Health Center's research strategic plan in 1998 and the Center for Vascular Biology was established later that year.

"In the view of many, understanding how the vascular system is formed, repaired, and regulated will be the key to the control of cancer, wound healing and heart disease - no small order," Berlin says.

"To obtain a program project grant, which testifies to the vigor and reality of interactions among faculty, in less than five years from

the creation of the center is a great tribute to its leadership and faculty," Berlin adds. "This is also something of a vindication for the Strategic Plan's aim to create focused areas of strength."