UTA faculty member receives $308,000 grant to fight heart disease in women

May 20, 2016

The American Heart Association has awarded a new University of Texas at Arlington assistant professor of kinesiology a $308,000, four-year grant to study the root causes of a heart condition that damages tiny coronary arteries in women.

The study will focus on coronary microvascular dysfunction and continues the work of Michael Nelson, an expert in integrative human physiology whose research has focused on cardiac mechanics and ventricular function, among other areas. Nelson joined the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation in January and also is an adjunct professor of bioengineering and a visiting faculty scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Symptoms of the coronary microvascular dysfunction often include chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue, Nelson said. Diagnoses frequently elude cardiologists, who have traditionally relied on major blockages of blood vessels to dictate a clinical course of action, he said.

"Our previous research has shown that the heart muscle doesn't relax properly in these women. We have also found that these women are prone to developing heart failure. Unfortunately we don't understand why," Nelson added. "Our hypothesis is that the impaired relaxation of the heart is directly related to coronary microvascular dysfunction and contributes to the progression of heart failure."

Anne Bavier, dean of UTA's College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said the study has the makings of a potent weapon in the war against heart disease and will strengthen the University's efforts to advance health and the human condition, one of the four core themes of its Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

"Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. One in four female deaths in this country are as a result of heart disease," Bavier said. "The outcomes of this study could go a long way toward saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and improving the quality of life of millions of others."

Nelson and his team will use MRI techniques to test the hypothesis that coronary microvascular dysfunction is directly related to the impaired relaxation of the heart. The study will include 30 subjects in all. Half of the patients will have the condition; the other half will be age and gender matched controls.

Nelson is working with several cardiologists in the area to recruit subjects for the study, which will take place at the Advanced Imaging Research Center on the University of Texas Southwestern campus. The center is co-owned by UTA, UT Southwestern Medical Center and The University of Texas at Dallas.

He is also consulting with area cardiologists on drug prescription matters related to the study. Participants will be treated with a medication called a phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, a drug that is known to improve microvascular blood flow, to see if they can alleviate the disorder and restore normal heart function. The drug is commonly used to treat pulmonary hypertension and erectile dysfunction. Cardiologists will prescribe the medication.

"We want to see if that will eliminate microvascular dysfunction and reverse the relaxation impairment," he said.

Nelson said most of the women afflicted with the coronary artery condition have several things in common, including risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity. His previous research has shown that the heart muscles of women these risk factors do not relax well.

"Most of the time these patients have absolutely no blockage and are dismissed from subspecialty care and sent home with very little treatment," Nelson said. "But if you follow these women for five to seven years, you will find that they suffer from the same major cardiovascular adverse events, like heart attacks or a stroke, as their male counterparts who have obstructed blood vessels."

Depending on the results of the study, Nelson plans to extend the work to include a larger cohort of patients with the goal of reducing the progression of the disease. Anyone interested in participating in the study should contact Nelson at Michael.Nelson3@uta.edu.
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About the UTA College of Nursing and Health Innovation

UTA's College of Nursing and Health Innovation is a National League for Nursing Center of Excellence and encompasses one of the nation's largest and most successful nursing schools and a renowned kinesiology program offering degrees in exercise science, kinesiology, athletic training and an undergraduate track in public health. The college is the largest producer of registered nurses in Texas and a leader in the use of online platforms and simulation technology to help more students achieve nursing degrees. U.S. News & World Report ranked the Master of Science in Nursing program and the online Master of Science in Nursing degree among the best in the country. The College's highly-regarded faculty is dedicated to advancing health and the human condition and investigates a wide range of topics in basic science, human performance and clinical conditions.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a R1 - Carnegie "highest research activity" institution of more than 53,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

University of Texas at Arlington

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