The University of Arizona

Sarver Heart Center Awarded $8.8 Million NIH Grant to Study Heart Development

By Pila Martinez, August 11, 2000

Researchers at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center have received an $8.8 million grant to fund five projects dealing with embryonic heart development.

Raymond Runyan, Ph.D., a Heart Center researcher and a professor in the UA Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, and a handful of other UA researchers have been chosen for a prestigious "program project grant" from the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Program project grants are distinctive in that they are awarded to groups of biomedical researchers working together.

"It's a recognition that the cluster at the University of Arizona is one of the top groups in the world for heart development research," Dr. Runyan says.

The grants are structured to foster collaboration among the projects and researchers so that each benefits from the others' work, Dr. Runyan says.

"The reason NIH likes program project grants," he says, "is they believe they get a synergy out of them."

Titled "Commitment and Differentiation of Cardiac Cell Phenotypes," the UA's project consists of five projects exploring two types of cells in embryonic hearts: endothelia, the cells that line the inner surface of the heart, and myocytes, the muscle cells that enable the heart to beat.

The researchers will look at how heart valves are formed, how cells get the signal to become cardiac muscle cells and the formation of the filament system that causes the heart to contract.

By studying the factors involved in normal heart development, Dr. Runyan and his fellow researchers are laying the groundwork for future research into how to prevent congenital heart defects.

Dr. Runyan is the grant's principal investigator and leader of one of the research projects. Other laboratories involved in the program project grant include those of Ronald Heimark, Ph.D., Paul Krieg, Ph.D., Parker Antin, Ph.D., Carol Gregorio, Ph.D., Scott Klewer, M.D., all of the UA, and John McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. The five-year grant is renewable.