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Abel Chosen To Lead One of Four American Heart Association Research Networks

E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD, has been awarded a four-year $3.8M grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to investigate mechanisms that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes. Abel will oversee a Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN) of three projects in partnership with other UI departments and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School. The team will examine the relationship between novel secreted molecules from liver, adipose tissue, and skeletal muscle that may directly or indirectly lead to damage of the heart and blood vessels in individuals with diabetes.

Abel and his network will compare molecules secreted from obese mice and obesity-protected mice to identify those that can mediate cardiovascular injury. The MGH group will examine the release of specific cargo called exosomes (extracellular vesicles) from fat tissue biopsies obtained before or after bariatric surgery. The team will characterize these cardiovascular damaging molecules by characterizing the content of these vesicles and determining their impact on cardiovascular cells using a novel organ-on-chip technology. 

“These studies will identify new risk factors for cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals with obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes,” Abel said. “The knowledge gained from these studies will enable physicians to specifically determine the risk for cardiovascular disease in individuals with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes to ensure that personalized therapies can be offered.” 

Using serum samples from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) large-scale study, the population study team will measure the concentrations of more than one hundred proteins to find correlations between circulating metabolites and the distribution of body fat in the abdomen and heart. 

Abel serves as the overall Center Director and Principal Investigator (PI) on this project, joined by Training Director Kamal Rahmouni, PhD, of the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology and Basic Project PI Ethan Anderson, PhD, of the College of Pharmacy. These three University of Iowa researchers are also members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center. The clinical and population projects will be led by colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital: the Clinical Project PI is Saumya Das, MD, PhD, and the Population Project PI is Ravi Shah, MD. 

This award was received after a national competition in response to a specific call for applications from the AHA. Three other institutions also received grants to generate independent SFRNs to address similar questions related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These will be located at Johns Hopkins, New York University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The four SFRNs including the one at the University of Iowa, will form a research consortium.

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