Four UT Health Northeast scientists received a total of $2.1 million in competitive research grants, officials announced Tuesday.

The scientists are Vijay Rao, Ph.D; Krishna Vankayalapati, Ph.D.; Sreerama Shetty, Ph.D.; and Hong-Long Ji. Ph.D.

Rao, professor of biochemistry in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, recently was awarded a $1.43 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant would allow him to investigate how blood clotting is activated in conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

“If a person is in good health, blood passes through blood vessels with ease and doesn’t form clots,” Rao said. “But in atherosclerosis, infections, or cancer, blood cells or cells that line the blood vessel walls begin producing a substance called tissue factor, which starts the clotting process.”

UT Health officials said the research is important, because one out of every four deaths in the United States each year is contributed to heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women, while stroke is the No. 5 cause of death, according to Centers for Disease and Prevention data.

Vankayalapati, chair of the Department of Pulmonary Immunology and professor of microbiology and immunology, was awarded a $385,852, two-year NIH grant to study why people with HIV are vulnerable to tuberculosis (TB) infection.

Vankayalapati and his team hope to aid in the development of therapies that would prevent latent, or inactive, TB from developing into an active TB infection in people with HIV.

According to the CDC, one-third of the world’s population is infected with TB. It’s a leading killer of people infected with HIV.

Shetty, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, received a $140,000, two-year grant from the American Heart Association (AHA) to continue his research into how to treat lung fibrosis, or scarring. He and his team are examining how a small chain of amino acids called p53 interact with another substance in lung cells to control scarring.

Lung scarring, also called pulmonary fibrosis, happens when scar tissue and excess connective tissue thicken the lungs’ walls, reducing the oxygen supply to the body. People with pulmonary fibrosis are constantly short of breath, and it kills about 40,000 people in the U.S. each year.

The AHA also awarded Ji, an associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, a $140,000, two-year grant to investigate how fluid builds up in injured lungs, which is called pulmonary edema. It can occur in pneumonia, sepsis, smoke inhalation, aspiration, heart failure and stroke.

Fluid in the lungs causes shortness of breath and starves the body’s tissues of oxygen. By understanding more about how this fluid can be removed from the lungs, Ji and his team’s research could help develop new treatments for this life-threatening disorder, UT Health officials said.

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