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Medical College receives $11 million grant to study high blood pressure

Wauwatosa, Wis. - A Medical College of Wisconsin research team has received a five-year, $11 million grant to study salt-sensitive high blood pressure.

The grant was provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to evaluate the impact that genes within specific regions of chromosome 13 have on salt-sensitive high blood pressure and kidney failure. According to the institute, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in three American adults.

The Medical College study will be conducted with specially-bred "designer" rats, and the work will help define the physiological processes responsible for salt-sensitive hypertension in humans, especially in high-risk populations such as African Americans.

Allen W. Cowley, Jr., chairman and professor of physiology, is the principal investigator of the grant, which will fund three projects that bring together a group of geneticists and physiologists.

The first project will use genetic and physiological data from the kidney, adrenal gland, and blood vessels to determine how genes, all within four discrete areas of chromosome 13, impact salt-sensitive hypertension and kidney dysfunction. This initial project also will study the genetic and physiologic reasons for gender differences in the degree of hypertension and kidney damage.
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A second project will study one region of chromosome 13 to identify the gene or genes that offer protection from salt-sensitive hypertension in both male and female rats.

In the third and final project, the research team will attempt to identify and characterize the mutation that regulates the "renin gene." Renin is an enzyme released by special cells in the kidney in response to salt, and its release can lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Eight Medical College faculty members, all Ph.Ds., will serve as co-investigators on the study. Among them are:

• Andrew S. Greene, a professor of physiology, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering, and director of the National Center for Proteomics Research at the Medical College.

• Howard J. Jacob, a Warren P. Knowles Professor in Human and Molecular Genetics, a professor of physiology, and director of the school's Human and Molecular Genetics Center.

• Richard J. Roman, professor of physiology and director of the Medical College Kidney Disease Center.

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