Associate researcher Thanh Nguyen uses a microscope to search for obesity-induced endothelial dysfunction in arteries, as part of a project led by Ibra Fancher, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology.
Photos by Ashley Barnas
23 December 2021
Federal funding gives new investigators the opportunity to succeed
The renewal of a federal grant to the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) at the University of Delaware allows the center to expand its research into new aspects of cardiovascular disease while also providing the opportunity for other graduate students to ” gain valuable research experience.
The Phase II renewal is for a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The COBRE in Cardiovascular Health is led by Dave Edwards, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology who serves as a principal investigator, overseeing the implementation and growth of the center.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. The overall objective of this COBRE is to support multidisciplinary research focused on understanding the mechanisms that contribute to the causes and consequences of poor cardiovascular health, and ultimately to develop effective interventions for these conditions.
There are three phases involved in the growth of COBRE. Phase I provided the opportunity to move the first group of new investigators to financial independence as well as provide resources for the expansion of research related to cardiovascular disease. Phase II made it possible to support the research of four additional researchers.
âWe offer comprehensive mentorship and career development to support our new investigators,â said Edwards. âIn addition, we have regular meetings with an external advisory committee and other researchers to share research progress and provide feedback to help advance their careers. Combined with the infrastructure of the Research Core and the pilot program, the center is positioned for long-term stability.
Shannon Robson, Associate Professor, practices interventions with research assistants Adriana Verdezoto Alvarado and Baily Davin in the Energy Balance and Nutrition Lab.
Shannon Robson, associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition, is overseeing a project focused on increasing the frequency of family meals as a strategy for preventing cardiovascular disease in children. Robson’s team will test whether increasing the frequency of family meals will improve the quality of the diet, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, compared to traditional methods of increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables at the level individual using a parent-led behavior intervention.
Robson said the new funding will have an “incredible impact” on new investigators.
“This COBRE mechanism supports many facets of the advancement of science and research,” said Robson. âThe focus is on obesity throughout the center, which encourages collaboration between disciplines to improve cardiovascular health. ”
Ibra Fancher, Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, is a project researcher hired in phase I and will explore endothelial dysfunction in arteries resulting from obesity in phase II. Fancher said Phase I of COBRE funding created an “opportunity to be hired” and to continue his research.
âThe main focus of my research is obesity and circulatory system dysfunction,â Fancher said. âThis dysfunction is unusual because obesity affects some vascular beds but not others. I am researching ion channels in the endothelial cells that line the arteries, which act as regulators of mechanical stress and signaling. Higher stress leads to increased damage.
âThanks to COBRE funding, we are able to use both animal models and human studies to carry out our research. Recruiting these participants has been critical to our progress, providing biopsies and tests to analyze the functionality of their arteries. ”
Chris Martens (right) uses blood tests on Houston Ward to analyze the effects of added sugar intake on cerebral blood flow and hippocampal function.
Chris Martens, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, is a researcher on the project exploring the effects of added sugar intake on cerebral blood flow and hippocampal function in adults in their 40s.
âFactors that contribute to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease also create an increased risk for brain disease,â Martens said. âMy team is exploring how components of a Western diet, such as high amounts of added sugars, impact the brain and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The equipment and personnel provided by COBRE allow us to analyze images of blood vessels in the brain to determine their ability to effectively protect against these factors.
John Slater, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, will determine the influence of blood flow dynamics on neural damage and cerebral microvascular dysfunction. He is testing a hypothesis of cellular damage resulting from a pulsed flow using a new system of micro-vessels.
John Sperduto and Ryan Taitano of the Biomedical Engineering Lab inspect a complete vessel-on-chip device by imaging cell nuclei (blue), actin (red), and cell-cell junction (green).
With COBRE’s continued funding and the successful transition of new investigators to independence, the center will expand its impact on cardiovascular research and continue to prepare replacement project leaders over the five years of its funding.
âOur long term goal is to build infrastructure,â said Edwards. âWe aim to continue supporting new investigators as well as purchasing new equipment and providing core resources for cardiovascular research. Ultimately, we plan to reach phase III and become an autonomous center. We have a solid foundation in cardiovascular research and will continue to thrive with this new group of researchers. “