UNMC Included in Prestigious Research Grant

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December 30th, 2016

Irving Zucker, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy UNMC)

Irving Zucker, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy UNMC)

A consortium of seven prestigious medical research universities, including the University of Nebraska Medical Center, are about to embark a federally funded research study to map the heart’s nervous system. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott has more in this report.


Nearly one million people die each year in the United States from heart ailments such as heart failure, arrhythmia and hypertension. The University of Nebraska Medical Center is one of seven medical research universities that has been awarded an $8.6 million grant to study methods to treat cardiovascular diseases by focusing on nerves in the heart.

Dr. Irving H. Zucker is professor and chair of the UNMC Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology and is the chief investigator for UNMC in the consortium. Dr. Zucker said this groundbreaking research will take time to complete.

“A lot of this is a laborious pick and shovel work (which) will take many years to work out but after it’s all said and done, we will have a better understanding of the role of the nerves in the generation of arrhythmia’s and cardiac pump function. So we can target new therapies directly to these sites.”

Zucker noted that researchers believe modulating “electrical signals” is a way to treat heart failure and other common cardiovascular problems.

“Many people succumb to life threatening arrhythmias,” Zucker said. “I think understanding how these nerve endings participate in that scenario will help us target new therapies.

Zucker said researchers will begin mapping out the locations of all nerve endings and how they participate in acute and chronic cardiovascular disease. His team at UNMC will include the hospitals Department of Anesthesiology. They will be focusing on nerves in the heart which signal cell pain during a decrease of blood flow, which can occur with a heart attack.

“We’re going to be using specific agents that target high end channels on these nerve endings. These drugs can target the channels and destroy the negative influences of these nerves on rhythm disturbances.”

The research will be headed by the UCLA School of Medicine. Other universities along with UNMC in the study will include: Harvard, California Institute of Technology, University of California Irvine, Oregon Health and Science University and the University of Oxford.

Zucker said there is no timetable for the conclusion of the research, but his team is excited to get started.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center provided the interview clips with Dr. Zucker that were used in this report.

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