Professor Kathleen Morgan Awarded $2.5 Million NIH Grant

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Kathleen G. Morgan, PhD, professor of health sciences at Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation: Sargent College, a five-year $2.5 million grant to study aortic stiffness and its relationship to vascular function with age, potentially reversing a host of aging-associated cardiovascular disorders.

WEBSITE-Headshot13-6907-KMORGAN-009Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. And studies have shown that aortic stiffness increases with age. It is an early and independent biomarker of, and probable contributor to, adverse cardiovascular outcomes including kidney failure, hypertension and Alzheimer’s Disease-related dementia.

“Vascular dementia involves very similar symptoms to those attributed to Alzheimer’s Disease,” says Morgan, director of Boston University’s Cytoskeleton & Signaling Laboratory. “We are testing the idea that vascular damage in the brain might precede and, indeed, cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease in at least in a subset of cases.”

The aorta normally functions as a critical “shock absorber” to prevent the full force of the heartbeat from reaching the delicate small blood vessels of the brain, where it would cause damage leading to microbleeds and consequent dementia. However, this “shock absorber” function is impaired with age at the same time that aortic stiffness increases. Currently, there is no approved therapy to reduce aortic stiffness.

“This award speaks to the importance and novelty of Dr. Morgan’s work,” says Health Sciences Department Chair and Associate Professor Paula Quatromoni. “Opportunities like this – to engage in cutting-edge research alongside scientists who are advancing the field – make it a really exciting time to be a BU student.”

Leading an interdisciplinary collaboration, Morgan is working with Tyrone Porter, PhD, in BU College of Engineering to package these peptides into “microbubbles” which can be burst by ultrasound to target release into the aorta wall, as well as Jim Hamilton, PhD, and Francesca Seta, PhD, at the BU School of Medicine, to directly monitor vascular function and to image bleeds in the brains of an aged mouse model.

Read more about Morgan’s research in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.