A hypertension researcher in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences has received a prestigious career development grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Cameron McCarthy, a postdoctoral to faculty fellow, is one of a small number of researchers in the country to receive the NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00). The grant is meant to transition promising postdocs into independent, tenure-track faculty members.
McCarthy, who joined the College and Medicine and Life Sciences in 2018, is focused on the connection between hypertension and premature aging of the vascular system.
“Hypertension is a major risk factor for some of the leading causes of death worldwide,” McCarthy said. “I promote the idea that arteries and vasculature from young people with hypertension look like arteries and vasculature from older people. There are things going on in hypertension that cause the arteries to age much more quickly than they should.”
More than 100 million Americans have high blood pressure, but only about a quarter of those individuals have their blood pressure under control.
McCarthy’s work is aimed at better understanding the mechanisms of why people develop high blood pressure and establishing novel therapeutics to treat the condition. Specifically, he’s studying how autophagy — the body’s natural process for recycling old and damaged cellular components — decreases in individuals with hypertension.
“When autophagy goes down, all of a sudden that cellular recycling doesn’t work as well. You have a buildup of damaged cargo sitting there in the cell causing dysfunction,” he said.
McCarthy is examining whether increasing autophagy in the liver can stimulate the body’s production of beta hydroxybutyrate — a chemical that may encourage the dilatation of blood vessels to lower blood pressure and decrease the premature aging associated with hypertension.
One of McCarthy’s mentors at UToledo is Dr. Bina Joe, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. Joe was the first researcher to explore beta hydroxybutyrate as a potential weapon against high blood pressure.
Dr. Matam Vijay-Kumar, professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, is also mentoring McCarthy as part of the NIH grant.
The NIH Pathway to Independence Award provides up to five years of support, beginning with a two-year mentored research and career development phase. The final three years of support are contingent on the recipient securing an independent tenure-track research position.
“We are thrilled about this because it matches what we created with our Postdoctoral to Faculty Fellow position,” Joe said. “The cream of the crop among postdocs get these grants. Cameron is a brilliant guy — very organized, focused, knows what he wants to do, and works toward it. He’s passionate about what he does in the lab.”