American Heart Association Funding Two Cardiovascular Research Projects at Maine Institution

Jessica Davis-KnowltonThe American Heart Association (AHA) is currently funding two research grants at a local research facility. The grants – both currently active at Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough – total $257,100 to help further the AHA’s mission of building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. An existing grant awarded to Senior Scientist Calvin Vary is ongoing, and a new grant was recently awarded to graduate student Jessica Davis-Knowlton.

Davis-Knowlton has obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from Brandeis University and her Master of Science degree from the University of New England. She is currently working on her PhD with Tufts University by studying at Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough. Her grant is for two years and totals $59,100. Her research is focused on studying “Notch”, a signaling molecule active during vascular injury, and how this may regulate the development of arterial plaque during atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the arteries.

Davis-Knowlton is partnering with the Maine Medical Center Vascular Surgery group in order to collect plaque that is surgically removed from patients. She can then analyze these samples for the presence of Notch and culture living cells from them. She will compare responses of diseased cells to Notch and responses from healthy human vascular cells to Notch. Clinical data such as age of vascular disease onset, smoking and drinking habits, and incidence of diabetes or hypertension can also be collected. Her goal is to eventually correlate a patient’s level of Notch activity with their propensity for developing atherosclerosis.

Vascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, underlie ischemic heart disease and stroke- the leading causes of death worldwide. In order to help treat this progressive disease, it is imperative that scientists understand the basic molecular biology that regulates it. Scientific research is relevant to patient well-being since the latest scientific evidence is included in guidelines that doctors use to treat their patients.

“The support that the American Heart Association is providing for my project helps ‘to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke’ first by looking at how a specific signaling molecule may affect vascular disease, and second by promoting and nurturing the next generation of critical thinkers who will study and combat vascular disease,” said Davis-Knowlton.

The AHA in Maine is part of the Founders Affiliate, one of 8 affiliates across the country. This year, 317 new and continuing researchers are being funded by both the Founders Affiliate and the National Center for a total value of $79,344,909. In 2015, AHA contributed over $390.6 million in all aspects of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. The AHA’s research dollars support the most meritorious projects vigorously peer reviewed and selected from a substantial pool of applications.

Facts about AHA Research:

The AHA is second only to the federal government in funding cardiovascular and stroke research.

  • Since 1949, the AHA has invested more than $3.7 billion in heart disease and stroke research.
  • Donors have funded lifesaving research that has contributed to breakthrough advances, including techniques and standards for CPR, the first artificial heart valve, implantable pacemakers, cholesterol inhibitors, microsurgery and drug-coated stents.
  • In all, the AHA has funded 13 Nobel Prize winners, nine of whom won for work funded by the AHA.
  • Over 71 percent of our research dollars go to early career investigators to avoid losing a generation of scientists. Because of funding shortfalls each year, promising young researchers are often forced into other careers and meritorious research goes unfunded which could lead to new scientific advancements.
  • The AHA needs to continue funding research primarily by raising money at local events such as the Heart Walk, Go Red For Women Luncheon, and the Jump Rope for Heart program in local schools.

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