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Cardiovascular research program
For young faculty members applying for federal grants to support biomedical research, the process can be frustrating. You need to show a record of success in the laboratory to get funding, but you need funding to get that initial laboratory track record. While federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health do have some programs for young investigators, fiscal restraints often mean there isn’t enough funding to support all deserving candidates.
Helping to fill the financial gap and encourage young investigators, organizations like the American Heart Association are offering more and more grants to help young scientists start new laboratories and develop their research work. Dr. Scott Earley, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, is the recipient of one such award, a four-year Scientist Development Grant from the American Heart Association (AHA).
“The American Heart Association’s Scientist Development Grant allows researchers to bridge the gap between postdoctoral work and faculty tenure,” said Dr. Earley, who has had support from the AHA since 2005. “The grant I have pays for three months of salary and research support. NIH funding is difficult to get and requires a certain level of preliminary data and past successes, so my support from the American Heart Association is critical to my research program.”
With the AHA grant, Dr. Earley is examining the role that endothelial cells play in the constriction of blood vessels. A single layer of endothelial cells lines blood vessels and, for many years, were simply thought to be part of the vessels’ support structure. Twenty years ago, new research showed that the endothelial cells also make factors that regulate vascular muscle tone. (Dr. Robert Furchgott made this important discovery in 1986 and went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1998.)
“In our lab, we are working to understand the relationship between endothelial cells and muscular cells,” said Dr. Earley. “We are looking at things like receptors, signaling pathways, and why different factors are produced. This field has only been around 20 years and there is an explosion of research, particularly because there may be opportunities to develop new pharmaceutical compounds that may have a profound impact on the treatment of vascular disease.”
In the United States, 38 percent of the adult population has some form of cardiovascular disease. This year, 1.2 million Americans will have their first or recurrent coronary attack and 479,000 of them will die. High blood pressure affects 65 million Americans. Each year, approximately 700,000 Americans suffer from their first or a recurrent stroke and, of those, about 160,000 will die. Almost 35 million Americans have high cholesterol levels, a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke.
Other work in Dr. Earley’s laboratory includes studying transient receptor potential channels (TRP) to better understand their functional significance in vascular cells. He also is working with Dr. Ron Tjalkens, an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, on the vascular aspects of Parkinson’s disease; with Dr. Greg Amberg, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, on vascular work (Dr. Amberg also has a Scientist Development Grant from AHA); and has collaborations outside of Colorado State University.
“We hope that our basic research will help improve the treatment of cardiovascular disease through a greater understanding of the basic physiology of how the heart and circulatory system function,” said Dr. Earley. “Seventy-one million Americans are affected by some form of cardiovascular disease, so the stakes are high.”