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UTHSC Hypertension Investigator Receives $2.6 Million Grant, Champions VCR CORNET Awards Program

Dr. Kafait U. Malik (center) with his research team (from left to right: Ji Soo Shin, MS, research assistant; SaeRam Oh, MS, M2; Chi Young Song, PhD, research associate; and Purnima Singh, PhD, postdoctoral fellow). (Photo by Connor Bran/UTHSC).

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center researcher Kafait U. Malik, DSc, PhD, professor in the Department of Pharmacology, has been working in the area of cardiovascular science, with a focus on the mechanism underlying the development of high blood pressure, or hypertension, and its pathogenesis for more than four decades.

“I have a zest for science,” Dr. Malik said. His recently funded grant renewal titled, “Angiotensins, Prostaglandins-Adrenergic Interactions,” focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying sex differences in blood pressure.

According to research, men have higher blood pressure than women before menopause, which reverses after women enter menopause. Dr. Malik’s team is working on the molecular mechanism underlying sex differences in the development of hypertension and its pathogenesis, and identifying novel targets for its treatment with agents selective for males and females.

“Clinicians need distinct approaches when treating hypertension-related morbidity/mortality in females and males,” Dr. Malik said. “Our proposal intends to elucidate the interaction between two enzymes, Cytochrome P450 1B1 and cytosolic phospholipase A2, as a major mechanism regulating sex differences in blood pressure, and identify the targets for the development of therapeutic agents selective for the treatment of hypertension in different sexes. Further, our goal is to determine whether the development of selective inhibitors for one of these specific enzymes would be useful for hypertension treatment in males but may be inadvisable in females, due to a decrease in the production of anti-hypertensive estrogen biomolecules.”

Dr. Malik’s hypertension research has been continually funded since the early 1970s. This year’s renewal, which will put him close to the 50-year mark of continued project support, has been funded for $2,647,134 over a period of four years. However, when recent changes to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) policies caused a temporary gap in Dr. Malik’s research funding, the senior researcher found himself experiencing an old, but familiar, challenge.

“For the first time as a senior investigator, I was unsure how I was going to continue my work, while I waited on funding decisions by NIH to be made,” Dr. Malik said. “This can be a difficult challenge for more-advanced researchers.”

The break unfortunately fell in between the Office of Research’s bridge funding and Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Award opportunities. Thankfully for Dr. Malik, UTHSC’s Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman, PhD, provided a Vice Chancellor for Research CORNET Award as a potential solution. “It was the opportunity I had been hoping for,” Dr. Malik said.

Envisioned by Dr. Goodman, the Vice Chancellor for Research Collaborative Research Network (VCR CORNET) Awards represent an extension of the CORNET program originally launched in 2016. Following a similar submission style as a traditional CORNET competition, Dr. Malik was asked to submit a formal request to Dr. Goodman describing his project, with a budget.

Since its inception, CORNET projects have ranged in topics from cancer to substance abuse and the latest opportunity, health disparities. Dr. Goodman is thrilled at the news of Dr. Malik’s continued NIH-funded research and recognizes the success of the CORNET Awards program for helping propel UTHSC investigators forward at any point in their careers.

“Hypertension is the leading cause of cardiovascular morbidity/mortality worldwide,” Dr. Goodman said. “The research being done in Dr. Malik’s lab is imperative to the development of novel therapies for the treatment of hypertension. I am pleased that the CORNET Awards program continues to help our researchers become successful, whether they are junior faculty working on new projects or senior faculty with a track record that indicates a high likelihood of continued success.”