Grant sparks hope for incurable disease

September 9th, 2010
A disease that has no cure in young children and adults is getting closer attention, thanks to a University of Colorado Denver Bioengineering assistant professor and a five year National Heart Lung and Blood Institute/National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant. Kendall Hunter, PhD, will perform research to improve the diagnosis and prognosis of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) in children and adults with approximately $700,000 over a five-year period.

PAH is a fatal disease in children and adults. High pressure in the lungs forces the heart to work harder to move blood through the lungs, ultimately leading to heart failure and death. It's easy to diagnose high blood pressure in the body but not easy to diagnose it in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension) without invasive surgery. Hunter is combining non-invasive ultrasound measurements with invasive heart catheterization to discover better ways to diagnose and accurately predict progression of this disease. He intends to focus on the large pulmonary vessels, just outside the lungs, and measure the stiffness of the main pulmonary artery.

"I'm very excited to have received the award, and I see it as the first step towards my independence as a principal investigator," said Hunter. "This grant will provide protected time for the maturation of my research program. I very much hope to repeat this success with a larger R-series award in the next two years."

Hunter will perform the research under the mentorship of five prominent investigators including Robin Shandas, PhD, head of the new UC Denver Bioengineering department and primary mentor for the award, with specialties complementary to the research and his training needs, while completing additional formal coursework. This award encourages translational interdisciplinary collaboration in clinical and engineering research.

Through the award, Hunter will build on his understanding of clinical cardiology and PAH through formal training and mentored research in the quantitative analysis of magnetic resonance imaging, mechanical measurements for the characterization of soft tissue, and the use and interpretation of PAH animal models. Hunter's career goal is to contribute to cardiology and the clinical and basic science tools that diagnose and measure cardiac function and disease.

Hunter hopes to broaden the scope of his research with future projects, such as one that will examine the use of both vascular function and heart function in prognosis. Another potential future project would examine how stents change blood vessel deformation in order to enable easier and more accurate stent design. He also hopes to collaborate on designing computer models of blood vessels; such work would eventually enable the examination of patient disease or surgical outcomes on a computer, ultimately creating multiple options for surgeons and better results for patients.

"I am delighted that Kendall received this highly competitive award," said Shandas. "It's a great way to kick-off our new Department since it exemplifies the cross-disciplinary nature of our research and training."

According to the NIH, the goal of this program is to foster interdisciplinary collaboration in biomedical and behavioral research by supporting supervised research experiences for scientists with quantitative and engineering backgrounds. This award provides research and career development opportunities for post doctorate to senior faculty scientists and engineers -research-oriented investigators -with little or no biomedical or behavioral research experience who are committed to establishing themselves in careers as independent biomedical or behavioral investigators.

Provided by University of Colorado Denver

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