Multidisciplinary team will examine how exercise improves blood flow

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Cristine Heaps, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, received a $2 million individual research grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of exercise training on coronary artery disease.

Past studies have shown that patients who have what is called 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 muscle of the heart and, thereby, function in the ischemic heart, which, in turn, aids in getting more blood flow out to the rest of the tissues within the body.

Heaps’ multidisciplinary team includes Sonya Gordon, a small animal cardiologist, 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; Fred Schroeder, senior professor, who will focus on fluorescent imaging of cells of the coronary arteries to determine how molecules are interacting with each other; Jerry Trzeciakowski, professor and associate head, Department of Medical Physiology, College of Medicine, who will provide statistical guidance to the team; and Jeff Bray, a 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 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.”

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