Of Arteries and Analysis—Life as a Women’s Cardiovascular Health Researcher

Estrogens are associated with protection against cardiovascular disease in women; however, past research on this question has typically focused on lean women. My goal for the summer was to investigate how estrogen affects cardiovascular health among young obese women. To investigate a woman’s underlying cardiovascular health, I used Ultrasound to visualize the brachial artery in her upper arm to measure its response to different stressors. I tested each woman’s arterial responses at her natural hormone levels, and then again after she had taken a week of estrogen pills. I hypothesized that obese women have underlying cardiovascular health impairment relative to lean women, but that estrogen treatment can reduce this dysfunction.

The Ultrasound probe is placed over the subject’s brachial artery. The image on the Ultrasound screen displays blood flow through the artery in red. Image courtesy of Women’s Health Research at Yale.

Realities of Research

This summer, I learned that data analysis can be much more time-consuming than the data collection itself, and that scientists often have to analyze their data more than once. When I first joined the lab, we acquired a new software program to analyze our Ultrasound data. I worked on piloting the software so it could be used to meet our lab’s goals, and developed a PowerPoint presentation and a detailed guide so that future lab members will be able to use the software to obtain accurate results. After I finished analyzing my data, I read a recent paper that used a similar program, but analyzed their data in a way that seemed more objective than the technique I had developed. I went back and re-analyzed all of my own data and re-wrote the How-To guide. It took a lot of extra time, but it was worth it to me to feel confident in the accuracy of my results.

Life of a Scientist

My job often demanded empathy and adaptability in order to record accurate data from living, breathing human beings. For example, our participants have to stay as still as possible for a couple of hours so we can obtain accurate measurements, so I always ask if there’s anything I can do to help them feel more comfortable. One day, a participant’s allergies were acting up, but both of her arms were immobile because of the equipment we were using. I ended up blowing her nose a few times between trials…My favorite part about being a scientist is that I can always continue to learn about new techniques to refine my work as I go. I enjoy reading papers so I can apply different methods and ideas to my own questions. My goal is to think creatively and design innovative experiments that illuminate the underlying physiology in interesting new ways.


  1. Celermajer, D. S., Sorensen, K. E., Gooch, V., Spiegelhalter, D., Miller, O., Sullivan, I., . . . Deanfield, J. (1992). Non-invasive detection of endothelial dysfunction in children and adults at risk of atherosclerosis. The lancet, 340(8828), 1111-1115.
  2. Miner, J. A., Martini, E. R., Smith, M. M., Brunt, V. E., Kaplan, P. F., Halliwill, J. R., & Minson, C. T. (2011). Short-term oral progesterone administration antagonizes the effect of transdermal estradiol on endothelium-dependent vasodilation in young healthy women. American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 301(4), H1716-H1722. doi:10.1152/ajpheart.00405.2011.
  3. Olson, T. P., Schmitz, K. H., Leon, A. S., & Dengel, D. R. (2006). Vascular Structure and Function in Women: Relationship with Body Mass Index. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(6), 487-492.
  4. Torgrimson, B. N., Meendering, J. R., Kaplan, P. F., & Minson, C. T. (2007). Endothelial function across an oral contraceptive cycle in women using levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. American Journal of Physiology – Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 292(6), H2874-H2880.
Tessa Adler recently graduated from Yale University in New Haven, CT with a degree in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. She received an Undergraduate Research Excellence Fellowship funded by the APS to continue her research in Dr. Nina Stachenfeld’s lab at the John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven, CT. Tessa plans to pursue a career as a medical scientist focusing on the interactions between reproductive hormones and women’s cardiovascular health.

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