Physicians Hall Front

MCW researcher receives $3.7 million "dream" grant to study treatments for hypertension

Milwaukee, June 13, 2017 – Alexander Staruschenko, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), has been named a recipient of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH), R35 Emerging Investigator Award. The $3.7 million grant will be distributed over a seven-year period. The grant will allow his research team to further focus on renal ion channels in the kidney, membrane proteins that could hold the key to better understand the causes of kidney disease and high blood pressure.

“The R35 grant is different from a standard grant in that is has no specific research aims,” explained Dr. Staruschenko. The grant allows for open-ended research, which he said supports a high-risk, high-reward approach that could lead to uncovering problems and, eventually, the development of better medicine to treat hypertension.

“It’s a dream grant for any scientist,” said Staruschenko.

Alexander Staruschenko, one of eight scientists to receive the NHLBI’s inaugural R35 Emerging Investigator Award, said he calls it a “dream” grant since it is intended to provide researchers with long-term stability and greater freedom to focus on their science. 

“It allows investigators to pursue research that requires a longer timeframe and focus on “big” questions rather than on small incremental steps,” he said.

With the freedom allowed them through the grant, the team of investigators hopes to further research already identified mutations or abnormalities in renal ion channels that have led to changes in blood pressure. Doing so could help them understand the renal ion channels’ basic mechanisms and how they regulate the kidneys and contribute to the development of hypertension.

Hypertension affects one in three adults or about 75 million Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Hypertension is one of the major risk factors for coronary heart disease, stroke and renal failure. Novel approaches developed through prior research in Staruschenko’s lab, were a significant factor in his lab receiving the R35 award.  The team is looking to advance prior research by studying the renal ion transporters, under physiological and pathological conditions, and through a combination of physiological, biophysical, optical, and genetic perspectives, that have never been examined before, which could result in a groundbreaking research on ways to control blood pressure. 

“It is expected that such research efforts will result in groundbreaking and paradigm-shifting discoveries,” Staruschenko said.  

Co-investigators for the project include Allen W. Cowley, Jr., PhD, Chair and Professor of Physiology at MCW, Aron Geurts, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology at MCW, Oleg Palygin, PhD, Assistant Professor at MCW, and Daria Ilatovskaya, PhD, Assistant Professor at MCW.

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