Grant to Further UA Studies Investigating Connection Between Healthy Immune Systems and Healthy Hearts

College of Public Health receives $1.8 million grant.
A five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will help fund research conducted by The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the UA College of Medicine that may lead to better treatments for heart failure.

The money will be used to further research undertaken by the College of Medicine's Douglas Larson, PhD, and the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health's Ronald Watson, PhD, into how immune dysfunction can cause dysfunctional hearts.

Both Drs. Larson and Watson also are members of the UA Sarver Heart Center, a center of excellence at the UA College of Medicine.

Dr. Watson said their past research has led to new hypotheses regarding how a healthy immune system keeps the heart functioning properly.

"There's increasing evidence that the immune system plays an important role in regulating heart structure, and hence its functions," he said.

For example, Dr. Watson said the immune system has a role to play in maintaining optimal collagen levels in the heart. Too little or too much collagen can make the heart stiff or flabby. Determining how the immune system regulates those levels could lead to treatments.

The studies may enable scientists one day to define and test therapies for humans with compromised immune systems, such as people with AIDS or the elderly.

Past studies by Drs. Larson and Watson have led to a patented therapy for regulating the immune system using T-cell receptor peptides. Their novel therapy will need non-government funds to develop it as a weapon against heart disease, Dr. Watson said.

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Established by the Arizona Board of Regents in January 2000, The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health is the only college of public health in the 12-state Mountain/Pacific region. The UA Zuckerman College of Public Health's mission is to promote the health of individuals and communities with a special emphasis on diverse populations and the Southwest.