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UIC News Tips
University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
601 S. Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7113, (312) 996-3456, www.uic.edu/depts/paff

June 16, 2000 Contact: Sharon Butler, (312) 355-2522, sbutler@uic.edu


Under a $9.4 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, researchers in the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine have launched an intensive five-year program to investigate the molecular mechanisms responsible for heart failure.

The study will focus on the molecular motors that make the muscles of the heart contract, pumping blood into the arteries, and will investigate how and why they fail. The scientists involved in the project - Peter Buttrick, Pieter de Tombe, Brenda Russell and John Solaro - demonstrated in earlier investigations that heart failure occurs not when the ignition system of the heart gives way, as previously believed, but when these motors are damaged.

The research is expected to result in new diagnostic techniques and novel strategies for the design of drugs to treat heart failure.

More than 400,000 Americans are diagnosed with congestive heart failure each year. This life-threatening condition typically results from high blood pressure, when the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood. To adjust to the increased load, the heart enlarges, individual cells increase in size and the number of molecular motors multiplies. In time, however, the heart is no longer able to adjust and at some point gives way and fails to deliver enough blood to the body's tissues.

"For reasons that are poorly understood, the enlarged cells are progressively incapable of adapting to the increased pressure load," said John Solaro, principal investigator for the research project and head of the department of physiology and biophysics. "Somehow the increased strain from high blood pressure disrupts the normal physiological and biological activities that help cardiac muscle adapt to changes in load."

"Our goal is to understand what goes wrong at a molecular level inside these working cells," Solaro added. "Our hope is that we can design new drugs that will compensate and keep the heart from failing." The research effort involves a multidisciplinary approach. Buttrick, chief of cardiology at the UIC College of Medicine, brings a clinical perspective, while Solaro and the two professors in his department, de Tombe and Russell, have expertise in cardiac molecular biophysics, bioengineering and the molecular biology of cardiac cell growth.

The UIC College of Medicine is the nation's largest medical school. One out of six Illinois doctors is a graduate of the college, as are 70 percent of the minority physicians practicing in Chicago. The college produces more medical school faculty than all but five schools in the country.

With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the entire metropolitan region.

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