CHAPEL HILL,University of North Carolina scientists have won a $8.65 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study the molecular basis of blood vessel aging and development of vascular disease.

The researchers say the impact of aging is not well understood.

The grant is for five years. The National Institute of Aging is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“Aging is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Cam Patterson, professor of medicine and director of UNC’s Cardiovascular Biology Center, in a statement. “Eighty percent of people over 80 years old will have some form of (cardiovascular disease). But of all risk factors for cardiovascular disease, aging is the least well understood.”

Patterson is focused on “chaperones” and other cellular molecules that impact on malformed proteins in heart muscle, either fixing them or slating them for destruction, UNC said.

Also involved in the program are:

  • Dr. Marschall Runge, a cardiovascular researcher, also professor and chair of internal medicine and president of UNC Physicians. He studies the role in heart disease of “reactive oxygen species,” or free radicals, including how these molecules are involved in DNA damage, gene expression and atherosclerosis.

  • Dr. David Clemmons, professor of medicine and biochemistry and biophysics, who is the grant’s principal investigator. He also is director of the endocrinology division in the department of medicine and is recognized as the leading expert internationally in the biology of insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1. In human and animal studies, IGF-1 is known to play a role both in atherosclerosis and aging.

  • Dr. Susan Smyth, assistant professor of cardiology, directs a cardiovascular phenotyping laboratory that examines heart and vascular function.

  • Dr. James Faber, professor of cell and molecular physiology, directs an histology facility to explore the expression of myriad genes that may play important roles in vascular aging.
  • UNC: