• Press Release

Mount Sinai Researchers Receive $13 Million NIH Grant to Study Connection Between Stress-Associated Brain Activity and Cardiovascular Risk

  • New York, NY
  • (April 06, 2017)

Project aims to provide new guidelines for clinicians and researchers to provide more comprehensive risk assessment in patients

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have been awarded $13 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a five-year research program that aims to uncover the mechanisms by which stress contributes to cardiovascular risk. The program aims to improve our understanding of how the effect of stress on the brain can directly impact the immune system and cardiovascular disease, and to provide a scientific platform for clinicians and researchers to integrate this knowledge into patient care.

While abundant epidemiological data exists describing severe chronic stress as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the mechanism by which stress contributes to cardiovascular events is not fully understood. Preclinical preliminary data from the program's investigators describe a direct causal link between psychosocial stress, neural signals, and atherosclerosis, the chronic inflammatory disease that is the underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes. To better characterize risk of future cardiovascular events as affected by psychosocial stress, researchers will study the levels of macrophages—key immune cells contributing to the inflammation that characterizes atherosclerosis—within the arteries, blood, and organs of the immune system.

The program consists of three distinct studies. The first will use mouse models to explore how the brain reacts to stress and affects the immune system to increase cardiovascular disease risk.    The second study will translate discoveries from the first to develop non-invasive imaging methodologies, such as combined MRI and PET scans, in order to study these same processes in larger mammals and humans. The third study will then use these imaging technologies to examine the link between increased emotional stress and increased cardiovascular risk in human subjects diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“A better understanding of non-traditional risk factors to cardiovascular disease, such as psychosocial stress, allows for a more comprehensive risk assessment in patients,” says Zahi A. Fayad, PhD, Mount Sinai Endowed Chair in Medical Imaging and Bioengineering, Professor of Radiology and Medicine (Cardiology), and Director of the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute (TMII) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the Principal Investigator of the study. “The development of non-invasive imaging technology to assess cardiovascular risk in relationship to brain and immune system activation opens new opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.”   

“The findings from this pioneering study will have significant impact on current and future research in cardiovascular disease, psychiatry, and imaging,” says Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and President for Academic Affairs, Mount Sinai Health System. “We appreciate the NIH recognition of our efforts and are excited to be part of this groundbreaking endeavor.” 

The research team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is composed of Dr. Fayad (overall PI, PI Project 3 and Administration/data Core); Willem Mulder, PhD, Professor, (PI Project 2); Venkatesh Mani, PhD, Assistant Professor (PI Imaging Core); Cheuk Tang, PhD, Associate Professor; Claudia Calcagno, MD, PhD; James Murrough, MD, Assistant Professor; Dr. Charney; Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD, Director, Mount Sinai Heart; Emilia Bagiella, PhD, Professor; and Helena Chang, MS, Senior Biostatistician. Other institutions involved in this program include New York University and Massachusetts General Hospital. The research team includes multidisciplinary investigators in cardiac and neuroimaging, psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, neurology, cardiology, immunology, and nanotechnology. 

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest integrated delivery system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai's vision is to produce the safest care, the highest quality, the highest satisfaction, the best access and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,480 primary and specialty care physicians; 11 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 410 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools", aligned with a U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" Hospital, No. 12 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding, and among the top 10 most innovative research institutions as ranked by the journal Nature in its Nature Innovation Index. This reflects a special level of excellence in education, clinical practice, and research. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of top U.S. hospitals; it is one of the nation's top 20 hospitals in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Gynecology, Nephrology, Neurology/Neurosurgery, and Orthopedics in the 2019-2020 "Best Hospitals" issue. Mount Sinai's Kravis Children's Hospital also is ranked nationally in five out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 12th nationally for Ophthalmology and Mount Sinai South Nassau is ranked 35th nationally for Urology. Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke's, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai South Nassau are ranked regionally.

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