Texas A&M Professor Receives $2 Million NIH Grant To Study Exercise Effects On Heart Disease
Posted September 07, 2018
According to the
American Heart Association, coronary artery disease is the leading
cause of death in both men and women in the United States, with
projected annual costs of more than $100 billion in health care
expenses and lost productivity.
Dr. Cristine Heaps, an associate professor in the Department of
Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology (VTPP) in the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
(CVM), received a $2 million individual research grant from the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of
exercise training on coronary artery disease.
"Dr. Heaps, as principal investigator, has assembled a powerful
team to determine how exercise affects the diseased
heart," said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of
Veterinary Medicine in the CVM. “The value and promise of this
study are evident. It is notable that this award is one of the
largest R01 single PI grants awarded in the CVM’s
“This research is highly interesting, impactful, and clinically
relevant because it involves clarifying the mechanisms that
underlie beneficial effects of exercise training in the setting of
coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Janet Parker, professor emeritus
in the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Department of Medical
Past studies have shown that ischemic heart disease, a reduced
blood flow into various regions of the heart, often results from
stenosis, a narrowing of the blood vessels.
This study will help to determine how exercise training improves
blood flow to the heart muscle and aids function in the ischemic
heart, which, in turn, aids in getting more blood flow out to the
rest of the tissues within the body.
Members included on Heaps’ multidisciplinary team include: Dr.
Sonya Gordon, a small animal cardiologist at the CVM, who will
determine how the heart is functioning overall, what areas of the
heart are getting normal levels of blood flow, and what areas are
getting low levels; Dr. Fred Schroeder, a senior professor in VTPP,
who will focus on fluorescent imaging of cells of the coronary
arteries to determine how molecules are interacting with each
other; Dr. Jerry Trzeciakowski, a professor from the Texas A&M
Health Science Center, who will provide statistical guidance to the
team; and Mr. Jeff Bray, Heaps’ research associate, who has been
working with Heaps for 10 years and whose detailed and focused work
generated much of the preliminary data necessary to secure funding
for the grant.
“The team that Dr. Heaps has assembled is the product of the
collaborative relationship between the CVM and the Michael E.
DeBakey Institute for Comparative Cardiovascular Science,” said Dr.
Larry Suva, VTPP department head. “There are high
expectations for this exciting and highly relevant translational
“The big picture is that we will try to look at the cellular
mechanisms that are altered with heart disease and how these
mechanisms adapt with exercise training,” Heaps said. “Chronic
exercise generates so many positive adaptations in both healthy and
diseased hearts; we have only begun to scratch the surface
regarding our understanding of the adaptations.”
The scientific community already knows that exercise improves
heart function, even in a diseased state; now, Heaps and her team
are trying to figure out what mechanisms contribute to that
improved function and why.
Preliminary data suggest that there are multiple pathways to
increase blood flow into the heart, according to Heaps, who is
passionate about exercise and heart health.
“I want to reaffirm to people that being active is very
important,” she said. “It might not be important for them to
understand how exercise improves heart health, but it’s important
for those of us in the scientific world to understand the
adaptations, so that therapies can be developed and improved.
People with or without heart disease will be the recipients of the
discovery and the opportunity to improve their own heart
Details about the project are available here.
For more information about the Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences,
please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of
Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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