SALT LAKE CITY — Millions of lives are threatened each year by deep vein thrombosis. For the most part, blood clots affect individuals with diabetes and other metabolic disorders more often than anyone else and the University of Utah is set to study why.
A $16 million grant from the National Institutes of Health has put researchers at the U.'s new Molecular Medicine Translational Research Center in Thrombosis in a unique position to study the medical phenomena, including a chance at new discovery regarding the causes and treatment of the sometimes elusive disease.
Such "difficult and challenging clinical problems" are exactly what the new center and its focus on interdisciplinary research aims to work on, said Dr. John R. Hoidal, chairman of the U.'s Department of Medicine.
The need for research and treatment of blood clots has grown to global proportions, with the incidence of metabolic diseases and their thrombotic complications increasing markedly in the U.S. and worldwide in recent years, according to the World Health Organization.
The U. is one of four centers in the country to receive NIH funding to study solutions to the growing prevalence of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, which illustrates the scale of the problem, according to U. officials.
Blood clots, while common in those with metabolic disease, can also occur in aging people who cannot move around well or who might have just had surgery. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking as the best preventive methods for unexpected deep vein thrombosis.
Between 350,000 and 600,000 blood clots occur each year, with at least 100,000 of them fatal, according to the U.S. surgeon general, which issued a call to action on the matter in 2008. The numbers have only increased since then, with some agencies estimating as many as 300,000 deaths per year due to deep vein thrombosis.
The new center at the U., which initiated research in July, will determine how factors in blood and tissues, including high levels of glucose (sugar) and lipids (fats), cause molecular changes that make platelets more prone to induce clotting. The studies will provide new insights into the treatment and management of diabetes and obesity, which are common, expensive and are frequently associated with complications, such as thrombosis, that can be lethal.
"Metabolic stress, inflammation, bleeding and clotting have been major influences in human evolution, and now they've also become major contributors to modern disorders, including diabetes, obesity and their complications," said Dr. Guy A. Zimmerman, U. Department of Medicine professor and a principal investigator on the grant. The center, he said, will "address key gaps in our knowledge in each of these areas and bring unparalleled expertise to bear on aspects of how platelets contribute to clotting and inflammation in metabolic diseases."
Four major projects, involving mice and human patients, will be conducted at the U., with mice studies already under way.
Zimmerman, and Andrew S. Weyrich, also a professor of medicine at the U., along with a team of researchers, will build on existing research at the institution, involving platelets, which play a critical role in clotting and are an integral part of thrombosis research. The duo has studied the roles of platelets and other blood cells for nearly 20 years and looks forward to building on that research, Weyrich said.
In addition to research, the center will include programs to train additional investigators and physicians.
"Now we're in a position to exercise our established strengths and experience in research training, in addition to our ability to make new discoveries relevant to thrombosis in diabetes and other metabolic diseases," he said. "Both new knowledge and a pipeline of new investigators in the field are greatly needed."