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Posted 01.11.07

 
 
   

American Heart Association Funds Investigation By MU Grad Student

COLUMBIA, MO - More than 71 million American adults suffer from one or more types of cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. A University of Missouri-Columbia doctoral student is working to learn more about cardiovascular disease and was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Gabor Forgacs."Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in the world," said Mingzhai Sun, MU doctoral student in physics. "People have been concerned about cardiovascular disease for a long time, and there are many people working to find answers, but we¿re looking at this in a different way. Instead of looking at the function of single proteins or molecules, we will focus on the actual mechanical behavior and functions of the cell, which are controlled by the molecular mechanisms."

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Using an interdisciplinary approach that combines physics and biology, Sun is studying the structure, or biomechanics, of cells. In his AHA-funded research, Sun plans to study dysfunction of endothelial cells, which are specialized cells that line blood vessels in the circulatory system, from the heart to the smallest capillary. Endothelial cell dysfunction develops in the early stages of cardiovascular disease and acts as a predictor of the disease. A risk factor of endothelial cell dysfunction is dyslipidemia, which is characterized by an increase in the levels of low and very low density lipoproteins (LDL) and a decrease in the level of high density lipoproteins (HDL). This is often known in lay-terms as high cholesterol. Sun's goal is to determine the different types of lipoproteins that regulate endothelial cell biomechanics.

"Numerous experiments have demonstrated that cell mechanics play an important role in regulating multiple cellular functions, such as cell migration, proliferation and cell differentiation," Sun said.

It's unusual for a graduate student to receive a grant of this type where he or she is the primary investigator.

"This grant, on one hand, is the recognition of the important contributions Mingzhai has already made to the field and, on the other hand, the expression of AHA's confidence that with the biophysical approach he will be able to decipher further intricacies of cholesterol action that may be difficult to accomplish with the more traditional molecular methods," said Gabor Forgacs, professor of physics in MU's College of Arts and Science and Sun's faculty adviser.

Sun will collaborate on this study with Irena Levitan at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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