The applicant for this NIH Diversity K01 (RFA-HL-19-026) application is Dr. Mary Sheppard, an Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky, College of Medicine. Dr. Sheppard?s area of research interest is Marfan syndrome, and she has established an Aortic Clinic in the Department of Surgery. Her long term career goal is to develop new therapeutics for thoracic aortic aneurysm. This decision was influenced by her personal challenges with this diagnosis. Desiring more treatment options, Dr. Sheppard has decided to embark on additional training in basic science research. Her short term goals, which form the basis for the research plan, are: (1) to develop preclinical research skills that will enable her to identify new therapeutic targets to treat vascular diseases; (2) to establish herself as an expert in aneurysm research; and (3) to submit an R01 funding application upon this project?s completion. Dr. Sheppard has assembled an impressive mentoring team composed of Drs. Daugherty, Cassis, Graf, and Milewicz. Her primary mentor, Dr. Daugherty, has extensive expertise in animal models of aneurysm formation, and he has been a successfully funded NIH investigator for several decades. Co-mentor Dr. Lisa Cassis is an expert in the renin-angiotensin system and sexual dimorphism of aortic aneurysms. Co-mentor Dr. Greg Graf is an expert in cholesterol metabolism and statin pharmacology. Dr. Dianna Milewicz, an expert in medical genetics, has a career in translational studies focused on genetic predisposition to vascular diseases. All mentors are senior scientists with a track record of successfully mentoring new faculty to independent NIH funding. This mentor team will assist Dr. Sheppard in learning laboratory techniques which include advanced microscopy, subcellular fractionation, immunohistochemistry, and fluorescence activated cell sorting. The proposed research will examine the mechanisms by which statins attenuate thoracic aortic aneurysm growth in a mouse model of Marfan syndrome. The impact of Ras farnesylation on aneurysm growth, Raf/ERK expression, matrix metalloproteinase activity, elastin fragmentation, and leukocyte accumulation will be evaluated in Aim 1. The impact of statin combined with ?-adrenoceptor antagonist or angiotensin receptor blocker in thoracic aortic aneurysm will be investigated in Aim 2. The findings of these studies will form the preliminary data for an R01 research application which will transition Dr. Sheppard from trainee status to independent physician-scientist.
Marfan syndrome is a genetic condition that causes thoracic aortic aneurysm, a life-threatening dilation of the largest blood vessel in the body. This research project will examine how statin medicines prevent thoracic aortic aneurysm growth and whether they add benefit to the medicines currently used to treat thoracic aortic aneurysm in Marfan syndrome.