The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health is continuing to support Dr. Bina Joe, UT associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, as she advances her research in the genetics of high blood pressure or hypertension.
The four-year, $1.62 million grant will be used to continue the four years of research by Joe on the role genetics plays in the disease that affects the lives of some 31 percent of Americans; nearly 25,000 die a year as a result.
Known as “the silent killer,” hypertension shows few warning signs, but it can lead to serious, life-threatening illnesses such as permanent damage of arteries, blocked or ruptured blood vessels in the brain causing a stroke, and heart failure.
“It’s a wake-up call you get one day when you have heart or kidney trouble, but by then it’s already too late,” Joe said.
Statistics from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute say that those who don’t have high blood pressure by age 55 have a 90 percent chance of developing it later, and according to the American Heart Association, in 90 to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases, there's no identifiable cause.
Joe became interested in the role of genetics in altering diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and hypertension in the mid-1990s as a graduate student in India when studying the anti-inflammatory effects of oils and spices on arthritis in rats.
After learning of the work being done at the NIH researching genes that caused rheumatoid arthritis by using a model she was familiar with, Joe pursued a position there to finish her postdoctoral training and was accepted in 1997. This was the beginning of what would amount to a life dedicated to curing hypertension.
Conducting research to prove her theory, Joe received her first four-year grant from the NIH based on a proposal from research done at the Institute for Genome Research.
Since then, Joe has continued to work on genetics and has found some links between animal and human genes that may one day lead to personalized, preventive medicine.
“During the last year, we have successfully identified a potential candidate gene in rats and obtained evidence for the association of this gene in human hypertension,” Joe said. “Future plans include continuing our efforts to positionally clone genes for hypertension and extend our studies to humans wherever applicable.”
When it comes to mapping the human genome, Joe said finding the genes that relate to hypertension is just one step when it comes to the big picture of understanding the complexity of genetics.
Thanks to the NIH and UT, Joe will have the backing to continue the fight on one of the most widespread diseases among Americans.