Dhananjay Madhukar Vaidya, Ph.D.
Hi. I'm Jay Vaidya from John's Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. I'm very interested in why some families have arterial disease very early. Why do they have high blood pressure? Why do they have early heart attacks? I'm interested in finding the genes that are responsible for this. My research will help prevent and maybe treat these diseases. The American Resource and Recovery Act has special funds set aside for Early Career Investigators, like me. With these funds, I have put together a fantastic team of doctors, nurses, and also Genetic Expert, Dr. Rasika Mathias who would be supported on my project. More importantly, I have been able to employ two fresh, bright college graduates who will do cutting-edge research with me and later, go on to their own, independent careers. Thank you.
Dhananjay Madhukar Vaidya, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
Genetic Determinants of Premature Vascular Dysfunction in Families
Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Advanced Technologies and Surgery Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $733,832
Big Picture View: In medical school, Dhananjay M. Vaidya, Ph.D., began looking at the big picture. He noticed large gaps in medical knowledge where many treatment options were based on too little research. Instead of following the road to becoming a physician, he realized his calling was to help fill in the places where medical research was too thin. "As I was going through my rotations, I realized medicine has lots and lots of unknowns," the heart disease researcher explained.
But launching a medical research career today in a sputtering economy proved challenging. Dr. Vaidya watched competition grow for shrinking amounts of research funding over the last several years. Time that could have been spent doing the science to find solutions to heart disease was instead spent filling out forms in hopes of obtaining precious grant money. "We were spending more time asking for funds than we like," he said.
Launching Careers: With the help of Recovery Act funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Dr. Vaidya received a grant to launch more than his own career. The money is also helping a pair of freshly minted college graduates take the initial steps of their own careers with their first science research jobs.
The grant funds will be used to find out why some people develop stiff arteries early in life. In a healthy person, arteries should be supple and flexible. When arteries harden, there is a greater chance for blockages to form, which can cause a heart attack or angina, a type of chest pain or discomfort that occurs when an area of your heart muscle doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood. Stiffer arteries can also lead to high blood pressure. If blood pressure rises too high for extended periods, it can strain the heart, leading to heart failure. It can also lead to stroke. Dr. Vaidya hopes to find ways to delay the progression of hardening arteries. "We know that heart disease and stroke are major killers, both worldwide and especially in the United States," he noted.
Ultrasound and DNA Testing: Many days in the Vaidya lab are spent with study participants. These families are volunteering their time to help unlock clues about heart disease through the Johns Hopkins GeneSTAR Research Program. Dr. Vaidya and his team interview participants and answer questions about the project. Each participant is examined with ultrasound machines, which are used to peer into their bodies to examine artery structure and condition. Part of each lab day is spent on computer analysis of data gleaned from these ultrasound scans.
Dr. Vaidya and his colleagues hope to find genetic differences that could put people at greater risk of prematurely developing stiff arteries. To do this, the researchers will examine DNA samples from participants. "The families been very gracious," he said. Both African American and white families will be studied.
The lab is also taking advantage of NHLBI's STAMPEED program, which generates and shares genetic data from a wide range of epidemiological studies. The researchers will confirm their findings by comparing similar genetic and clinical data from two NHLBI-supported population-based studies, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and the Framingham Heart Study.
Analyzing the new and existing information could lead to tests to determine who might be at risk for early heart disease. Counseling at-risk patients about proper treatment, healthy diet, exercise, and lowered salt intake can help delay the onset of stiffened arteries. "We can motivate people to have healthful, preventive behaviors earlier."
When Dr. Vaidya is not thinking about ways to prevent heart disease, he is learning about ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, or wandering around in nature photographing flowers and landscapes. Just as photography can cause you to see things in new ways, Dr. Vaidya hopes to bring better focus to medicine so physicians learn how to better keep their patients healthy.
By Greg Lavine