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Hypertension and Vascular Disease Center Receives $10 Million Grant

Winston-Salem, N.C. – The Hypertension and Vascular Disease Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has received a $10 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to continue investigating the causes and cures of high blood pressure.

The grant, a five-year renewal of an existing award, will provide major funding for the center’s basic science component. It will support five projects investigating the mechanisms of blood pressure regulation and the role of a newly discovered protein called ACE2 that maintains the balance between hormones that raise blood pressure and those that lower blood pressure.

“The active chemical substances in this system, known as angiotensin peptides, exist in different forms,” said Debra I. Diz, Ph.D., director of basic science research programs at the Hypertension and Vascular Disease Center. “A disorder in the regulation of these different hormones may dictate whether a person is likely to have a healthy or diseased cardiovascular system.”

The angiotensin peptides are manufactured in many places in the body, including the heart, the brain and the kidneys.

“The overall program reflects a new and important step in the pursuit of mechanisms by which the components of one of the body’s major blood pressure regulating systems contribute to hypertension, heart disease, stroke and renal failure,” said Carlos M. Ferrario, M.D., lead researcher and director of the Hypertension and Vascular Disease Center.

Hypertension can cause an enlargement of the heart that reduces its effectiveness to pump blood. In project No. 1, Ferrario is investigating the angiotensin peptides made in the heart that may improve heart function as well as lower the blood pressure. In 1989, Ferrario’s team discovered angiotensin-(1-7), which helps regulate blood pressure.

In project No. 2, associate professor E. Ann Tallant, Ph.D., is studying the angiotensin peptides that control growth of heart cells and the mechanisms for the cellular events that accompany the changes in growth status. Both projects are also focusing on the newly discovered protein, ACE2 that acts to control the balance of the angiotensin system. Some of the various angiotensin proteins contribute to impairment in heart function while others are beneficial.

“This may lead to therapies that can be used to limit the damage to the heart in patients with high blood pressure,” said Ferrario.

Associate professor Mark C. Chappell, Ph.D., in project 3, focuses on formation of the angiotensin peptides in the kidney. Hypertension damages the kidneys resulting in problems with the elimination of salt and water. That in turn can contribute to further increases in blood pressure. Beneficial components of the angiotensin system may improve kidney function.

Diz is the lead researcher for project No 4, looking at the formation of the angiotensin peptides in the brain during aging.

“Blood pressure increases as we age and this may be a result of reduced formation of one of the angiotensin peptides in the portion of the brain involved with the control of normal blood pressure,” said Diz. “Our studies should help provide therapy to limit vascular damage during aging.”

Professor K. Bridget Brosnihan, in project 5, is investigating the role of the angiotensin peptides in control of blood pressure during pregnancy.

“There is a low but significant incidence of hypertension in women during their first pregnancy that jeopardizes the life of mother and child,” said Brosnihan. “Understanding the balance of the angiotensins that contribute to increases versus decreases in blood pressure in normal and hypertensive pregnancy is the goal of this research.”

An internationally recognized center for the investigation of vascular disease and hypertension, the Hypertension and Vascular Disease Center provides comprehensive care for hypertension and vascular disease, a mobile blood pressure clinic, early screening and management of peripheral artery disease.

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Media Contacts: Jim Steele, jsteele@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, or Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-4587.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. It is licensed to operate 1,282 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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