With a quickly aging US population, research to help us live a longer life is on the forefront. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the US, so finding ways to decrease cardiovascular disease risk could be the answer. At the Integrative Physiology of Aging Laboratory (IPA Lab) at the University of Colorado Boulder, we focus our research on finding ways to decrease this risk. A recent 5 year clinical research trial tested the effects of a sodium nitrite supplement on cardiovascular disease risk in middle aged and older adults. Sodium nitrite provides the body with a very important signaling molecule called nitric oxide, which specifically targets the blood vessels allowing them to dilate and increase blood flow. Nitric oxide production can decrease as a person ages. Past studies in the IPA Lab indicate that increases in nitric oxide are associated with improvements in the function of the blood vessels, thereby decreasing cardiovascular disease risk (1). Now that the 5-year study is complete, myself and a team of researchers are analyzing endothelial cells collected from subjects. Endothelial cells are found, on the innermost layer of blood vessels and control dilation and constriction of the blood vessels. We are hoping to find mechanisms that sodium nitrate may be acting through to decrease cardiovascular disease risk in middle age and older adults.
Realities of Research
In a perfect world, research would flow without any issues. There would be no problems, no set backs, and no recollecting data. The reality is that this is impossible. There are always mishaps along the way, but the key is overcoming and problem solving these mishaps. Working in the IPA Lab over the past summer, I’ve learned that imaging endothelial cells is an imperfect art. Even if you complete the procedure correctly there are still some slides that don’t stain as well as others or have no cells on them to analyze. Our research team is constantly trying to improve our technique with endothelial cell staining and we have recently made changes to the collection procedure hoping to provide better staining images for the future.
Life of a Scientist
Over the past summer I have also gained insight on what the real life of a physiology researcher is. At times it can be frustrating if your procedure doesn’t work or you don’t receive the results you were expecting, but that’s part of the job. As a researcher it is essential to develop problem-solving skills to work past these frustrating times and to work as a team of researchers helping each other solve problems in the lab. At the same time though it can be one of the most rewarding careers. When you finally finish a paper and publish in a journal, you feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and feel as though you and your team of researchers have made a true impact on the future of science.
After staining the endothelial cell slides, I use a microscope to visualize the immunofluorescence of the cells.
- Seals DR, Jablonski KL, Donato AJ. Aging and vascular endothelial function in humans. Clin Sci 120(9), 357-75 (2011)