MCW Cardiovascular Center Research Programs

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, taking more than one million lives annually. We at the Medical College of Wisconsin have made research aimed at understanding and curing heart, lung and blood vessel diseases a top priority.

The Cardiovascular Center is a nationally recognized leader in the study of the basic mechanisms underlying diseases of the heart, lung and blood vessels. Its scope is comprehensive, including all aspects of cardiac, vascular and cardiopulmonary biology.

Total laboratory space exceeds 42,000 square feet, making it one of the largest cardiovascular centers in the United States and providing a think tank for investigators studying cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Ivor Benjamin, MD, FAHA, FACC, is the Director of the Cardiovascular Center. Dr. David Gutterman, MD, Northwestern Mutual Professor of Cardiology, is the Senior Associate Director of the Cardiovascular Center. The Center is comprised of more than 150 faculty scientists and physicians from virtually every department at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Cardiovascular Center researchers are responsible for nearly $60 million in research grants.

Research and program initiative highlights

  • Recently, the Cardiovascular Center began collaborating with the BloodCenter of Wisconsin and the Free Radical Research Center. This arrangement represents significant opportunities for expansion of joint research programs, joint recruitment of new faculty and the development of new scientific methodologies for the College's faculty.
  • Vascular Signaling by Free Radicals is one of the Center's program initiatives. Free radicals are highly reactive agents produced in normal biological processes through the body's use of oxygen. This vascular biology initiative is analyzing how free radicals induce cell death within vessels, and how they modify normal vascular function. David R. Harder, PhD, is the principal investigator and Peter Newman, PhD, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, David Gutterman, MD, Northwestern Mutual Life Professor of Cardiology, and Balaraman Kalyanaraman, PhD, director and professor of biophysics, are project leaders.
  • A second program initiative involves a new direction for anesthesiology research. With the Medical College of Wisconsin's Department of Anesthesiology, the Center is using genetic analysis of anesthetic-induced cardiac conditions.
  • Another initiative focuses on the mechanisms controlling cerebral circulation and disease states such as stroke and neuronal damage found in Alzheimer's disease. This $9 million project with Johns Hopkins University is identifying genetic and molecular controls of cerebrovascular circulation. Richard Roman, PhD, professor of physiology, is a project leader, and David R. Harder, PhD, is principal investigator of the program.
  • Within the Blood Research Institute is another program initiative – the study of the genetics of hypertension and blood pressure regulation. Peter Newman, PhD, professor of pharmacology and toxicology, is the principal investigator of the program. In addition, Allen Cowley, PhD, professor and chair of physiology, and Theodore Kotchen, MD, professor of medicine, are directing the research under a Specialized Center of Research Excellence (SCOR) grant from the National Institutes of Health.
  • Two clinical trials underway in the Cardiovascular Center involve the study of gliomas, tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord. William Campbell, PhD, professor and chair of pharmacology and toxicology, and David R. Harder, PhD, professor of physiology, have identified an endothelial-dependent hyperpolarizing factor that is present in human vessels, especially in the heart. Center investigators are testing specific drugs that may lead to therapies that will reduce or eliminate the tumors.
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  Healing Begins with Discovery

Pushing the frontiers of research to help those who suffer

Medical advances discovered by Medical College of Wisconsin cardiovascular researchers:

  • Substances produced by brain cells to trigger the growth of new blood vessels, an important clue as to how the brain works to combat the effects of a stroke.
  • How the body's reflexes control the heart and lung systems making general anesthesia safer.
  • The critical link between kidney blood flow regulation and the development of high blood pressure.
  • Female athletes experiencing amenorrhea (cessation of menstrual cycle) are at high risk for both cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
  • Automated external defibrillators, used in conjunction with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, double the chances of survival for cardiac arrest victims.
  • A gene that helps regulate triglyceride levels in the body. Elevated triglycerides, a fat component in the blood, are a significant risk factor in heart disease.
  • Techniques used during surgery and after surgery that resulted in the nation's best outcomes for a form of pediatric heart surgery (hypoplastic left heart syndrome surgery).
  • Higher levels of the hormone aldosterone in African Americans with high blood pressure. Aldosterone is secreted by the adrenal glands and causes salt retention by the kidneys.
  • The transfer of the renin gene from a strain of rat resistant to hypertension into the genetic background of a hypertensive strain restores the relaxation of cerebral arteries.
  • Novel genetic variants contributing to left ventricular hypertrophy in hypertensive individuals.
  • A way to create the first genetically modified rat using technology known as zinc finger nuclease, paving the way for the development of novel genetically modified animal models of human diseases.
  • Genes partially govern where the fatty deposits develop within the heart's arteries in patients.
  Pioneering Research Programs

The Medical College of Wisconsin Cardiovascular Center is a multidisciplinary research institution focusing on the mechanisms of disease related to the heart, lung and blood vessels.

Within the Center, researchers use state-of-the-art techniques to learn the causes of cardiovascular disease at the cellular, molecular and genetic levels. What they learn is translated into patient care in our affiliated hospitals.

For example, Center investigators are defining basic mechanisms through which blood vessels grow into the heart and brain. Clinical research then takes this basic data and uses it:

  • To develop drugs and therapies to enhance this growth in the heart and brain of patients with heart and cerebral vascular pathologies.
  • To treat problems such as heart failure, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

The Cardiovascular Center is internationally recognized

Established in 1992, the Cardiovascular Center's talented scientists have achieved significant accomplishments, including the identification of:

  • Processes that induce the growth of additional blood vessels in the heart.
  • Regulators of pulmonary, vascular and airway elasticity related to asthma and hypertension.
  • Cell mediators that regulate circulation.
  • A new role for astrocytes, large cells in the nervous tissue. The Center showed that these cells are responsible for managing blood flow to neural activity in the brain. We now know that diseases like Alzheimer's result from a lack of normal blood flow to neurons. This research will give way to new therapies for stroke, Alzheimer's disease and other cerebral/vascular diseases.
  • How blood sugar plays an important role in determining how much damage a heart attack will cause.
  • New genes associated with high blood pressure and heart disease in African-Americans.
  • Women who exercise to the point that they develop amenorrhea (no longer have menstrual periods) run the risk of developing osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems.

CVC Research Contact Information

Allison DeVan, PhD
Academic Program and Research Consultant
(414) 955-5617 |

Cardiovascular Center
Medical College of Wisconsin
8701 Watertown Plank Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53226-0509