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Blood pressure or pulse pressure? New research has identified four regions on the human genome that may play an important role in susceptibility for atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries that can lead to serious coronary disease. The research is based on data from participants in the Framingham Heart Study, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s landmark epidemiological study begun in 1948 and operated by BU since 1971.

Anita L. DeStefano, an SPH associate professor of biostatistics and a MED associate professor of neurology, and her colleagues analyzed pulse pressure (pp) data and genome scans of 1,585 participants in the Framingham study. The analysis indicated four specific regions on chromosomes 5, 7, 10, and 15 that appear to be linked with pulse pressure. It is not yet known if these chromosomal regions harbor genes that are protective or if they increase the risk of heart disease.

Most people are familiar with blood pressure, but pulse pressure may be a more important number to know, especially in people older than 60. Pulse pressure is determined by subtracting peak diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) from peak systolic blood pressure (the top number). A person with a reading of 120/80, for example, has a pulse pressure of 40. A pp reading greater than 60 may indicate blood vessels that have lost flexibility.

Until recently, a person with high diastolic blood pressure was considered by doctors to be at high risk for coronary heart disease, but a 2001 study based on Framingham data suggests that for people over the age of 60, pulse pressure is a better predictor of the disease. The study suggests that diastolic blood pressure is still the gold standard for diagnosing atherosclerosis in people younger than 60, that all three measures need to be considered in those between 50 and 60, but that pulse pressure is the number to watch in those over 60.

DeStefano’s research was published in the August 2004 issue of the journal Hypertension. The 2001 study was published in the March 6, 2001, issue of the journal Circulation.

Infrastructure for the really big picture. Today’s scientists manipulate mind-boggling amounts of data in their search to understand enormous questions, such as how the universe began and how living beings operate on a molecular level. And increasingly, they collaborate, across disciplines and around the world. Such collaborative research has long outgrown the capabilities of an Internet choked with spam, commerce, and virtually nonstop communicating and surfing by people from toddlers to grannies.

To create more capacity for important science, the Department of Energy has launched a new initiative — known as UltraScience Net — that is being specifically designed to accommodate scientists working on the big questions. David Starobinski, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is building a vital part of the infrastructure that will make the new scientific mega-superhighway flow smoothly.

According to Starobinski, current networks have inherent instabilities that lead to congestion: too many “packets” of information entering at the same time, parts of a network that may be restricted to information from certain sources, and programs that consume resources endlessly waiting for key decisions to be made (for example, you order a book online, your credit card information is sent to your bank for authorization, but too many other credit cards are waiting for authorization, so your purchase is held up). Currently when a network gets bogged down, various programs spring into action to try to solve the problem — to find alternate routes around the congestion.

Such ad hoc solutions won’t work in the new scientific network, Starobinski says. Instead he is working to identify the various forms of instability that occur in networks, determine their underlying causes, and estimate how likely it is that a particular instability will appear. His goal is to develop new infrastructure for the network to prevent problems from arising in the first place.

Starobinski’s work is supported by an Early Career Award from the Department of Energy. Further information about this work is available at:

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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