Dr. Gregory Amberg, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, has been named a 2010 Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Amberg, who researches the role of calcium channels in hypertension, will receive $240,000 over four years to fund his projects, which aim to help understand new ways to treat people with hypertension.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition in which pressure is elevated in circulatory system arteries. The condition increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks, glaucoma, heart failure, and aneurysms, and is a leading cause of chronic kidney disease.
Calcium causes muscle cells to contract, including cells in the walls of arteries. When someone has hypertension, calcium, which reaches cells in muscle walls through calcium channels, causes the arteries to contract even more – which is counterproductive. Unlocking the secrets of why calcium levels increase in arterial muscle cells during hypertension may lead to a new avenue for drug treatments.
Dr. Amberg believes that calcium and reactive oxygen species, which are oxidants, work together in small areas in arterial muscle cells. Cell activity maps show that reactive oxygen species and calcium enter the cells in the same places and at the same time. Although oxidants have a reputation for damaging cells, scientists are beginning to learn that, in the correct amount and in some places in the cell, they can have a beneficial role – but just what that role may be for people with hypertension is yet to be discovered.
“In laboratory studies with animals, antioxidants have lowered blood pressure, but the results of clinical trials on humans have been disappointing,” Dr. Amberg said. “It is possible that the correct antioxidants are not being used for humans. My study looks at whether or not reactive oxygen species and calcium entry into cells is linked in muscle cells, and how and if that impacts cell function. No one has looked at potential links between these kinds of cellular activities.”
Dr. Amberg is one of only 21 people nationwide to be named a Pew Scholar this year. Many of the nation’s best early-career scientists—working in all areas of physical and life sciences related to biomedical research—apply to the rigorously competitive program. Applicants who demonstrate excellence and innovation in their research are nominated by one of 155 invited institutions.