April 6, 2001

Vessel growth focus of grant

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David Bader

by Jessica Pasley

Vanderbilt University Medical Center scientist David M. Bader, Ph.D., Gladys Parkinson Stahlman Professor of Cardiovascular Research and professor of Medicine and Cell Biology, has led a team that was recently awarded a $9 million PPG Grant from the National Institutes of Health, Heart, Lung, Blood Division.

The five-year grant, awarded April 1, will allow a collaborative team of six researchers to focus on the cellular and molecular regulation of the coronary vessel development in the heart.

For the past 20 years, Bader’s research has focused on heart development and led to this type of collaborative project. Now, with financial support and the efforts of this outstanding group of scientists, he is closer to realizing his goal.

“We hope to determine the basic program used to make coronary vessels,” he said. “Our collaborative efforts have allowed us to lead the charge in this area of discovery. Our group has identified genes that are essential to the development of coronary vessels, and now we will begin working on figuring out how mutations in these genes lead to abnormalities in coronary vessel development.”

The heart has vessels that are essential for its development and function, but no one has unraveled the mystery of how they develop nor why there are so many variations in the process and how these variations affect embryonic development, adult heart function and susceptibility to disease.

“I want to understand how these variations in the vessel development affect heart function and the health of individuals,” Bader said. “This is something that few people think about. I want to know what determines if you can run a four-minute mile while another person is winded walking up a flight of stairs.”

The directed project has brought together an outstanding group of scientists to attack the issues of the unknowns of the coronary system. They include: Brigid L.M. Hogan, Ph.D., Hortense B. Ingram Professor of Molecular Oncology, HHMI investigator and senior fellow, John F. Kennedy Center and professor of Cell Biology; Joey V. Barnett, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pharmacology; Tom Kume, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine; Takashi Mikawa, Ph.D., Charles Hinsey Professor of Cell Biology at Cornell University and Dr. Donald Fischman, Harvey Klein Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University.

“We are the only group in the world approaching this problem in this manner,” Bader said. “We are the only group with a grant in this area who has formalized the effort to characterize and study molecular regulation of this essential development process.

“These are world renown leaders in this field of research. I am very lucky that they would join me in this effort. Vanderbilt is on the forefront and building momentum in this area of research. We do not see this as the culmination of our efforts. We see it as the beginning,” Bader said.

One of the biggest coups for Bader is the fact that the team landed the nearly $10 million grant, which includes both direct and indirect funds, on the first attempt.

“I will admit that this is a huge, huge grant,” he said. “It is the biggest I’ve ever received in one sum. These grants are especially difficult to get, so I feel that it’s not just our passion for discovery, but the federal government also wants this figured out.”

Although cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, very few labs are involved with the study of the development of the coronary vessels. The progress that Bader’s team makes will become relevant in the future treatment of pediatric coronary cases, as well as in understanding the way the coronary system works in hopes of developing and customizing treatments for cardiovascular diseases.