Researcher Studies High Blood Pressure Causes and Therapies

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common health problems in the world, one that affects about one-third of Americans. Left uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney failure as well as stroke. While doctors can easily measure and treat hypertension with drugs, they don’t always know what causes the disease. With private support from some very special donors, a Sarver Heart Center researcher has shown that suppression of selected white blood cells of the immune system (namely subpopulations of lymphocytes) can completely inhibit the development of hypertension. Seed grants from these donors totaling $50,000 since 2006 have grown into a $1.5 million four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, awarded to Sarver Heart Center member Douglas F. Larson, PhD, professor of medical pharmacology and cardiothoracic surgery at the UA College of Medicine.

His research of the immune-system also helped develop early anti-rejection regimens that made possible the success of the UA’s world-renowned cardiac transplantation program. His observations in the transplantation arena showed a marked incidence of hypertension in transplantation patients who receive anti-rejection therapeutics. This led him to study the role of lymphocytes in hypertension.

Dr. Larson says, “The immune system’s role in cardiovascular disease has lacked the thorough investigation compared to research of the nervous and endocrine systems. Therefore we have a unique opportunity to make some very significant breakthroughs in cardiovascular disease at the Sarver Heart Center. The first goal of our new NIH study is to define how the lymphocytes regulate arterial blood vessel stiffness. The long-term goal is to develop new therapeutics that will treat hypertension by manipulating the immune system.”

Made Possible with Donor Support
“This NIH grant would not have been possible without the support of generous donors who provided funds for a research pilot study that allowed me to obtain preliminary data. These smaller grants are so critical to the scientific process that could lead to major breakthroughs in treating cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure,” says Dr. Larson. His research was funded by donations from Drs. Del and Karen Steinbronn, Dr. Sandy Katz and Diane Stephenson.

The Steinbronns were inspired to support Dr. Larson’s research on heart failure after their 20-yearold daughter’s heart condition was treated here without surgery, using only medical intervention. Since hypertension is the root cause of heart failure, progress in preventing high blood pressure from the start will reduce the incidence of heart failure. Sandy and Diane are active members of the Sarver Heart Center Women’s Heart Health Education Committee
and are very interested in advancing the understanding of cardiovascular disease. ♥


Del Steinbronn, MD, Karen Steinbronn, MD, Doug Larson, PhD, Sandy Katz MD, JD, and Diane Stephenson