Summer Study on Cardiovascular Diseases, Cytokines, and Telomeres

About the Author

My name is Srikar, and I am a university student interested in pursuing a career in medicine. I am very involved in biomedical research, and I work as a volunteer both in and out of the healthcare field. I am most passionate about using research and community service as tools to improve underserved patient health outcomes.

Doing research as part of the California Teachers Study under the leadership of Dr. Sophia Wang has enabled me to analyze large sets of data consisting of hundreds of biological measurements. I see the skills that I have gained through this experience as a great asset that will help me make a difference in medicine, a vast and complex field consisting of many simultaneously moving parts.

My Research Project

Over the summer, I investigated the biologic effects of select cardiovascular diseases in women. For example, myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and stroke are known to trigger inflammatory processes, but I wanted to know if this inflammation was sustained years after the actual event. In addition, I wanted to know if there were measurable effects on telomere length with these cardiovascular events. Inflammatory cytokines are proteins that trigger the immune system and cause inflammation to occur in the body; telomeres are regions of DNA found on the ends of chromosomes that are known to shorten with age.

To help answer this question, I analyzed data from the California Teachers Study to determine whether there might be differences in inflammatory cytokine levels and telomere length profiles between women with and without a history of hypertension, myocardial infarction (MI), or stroke. We hypothesized that we would observe significantly higher cytokine levels and shorter telomeres in participants with history of hypertension, MI, or stroke, compared to participants without a history of these conditions.

The study population consisted of 838 women who provided blood samples from which cytokines and telomeres had been collected and measured. These participants had also reported whether they had a history of hypertension, myocardial infarction, or stroke when they completed Questionnaire 5 (administered 2012 - 2015).

Among the population, we found statistically significant associations between having hypertension history and elevated levels of three immune markers, including two inflammatory cytokines—TNF-α and the TNF receptor—even after accounting for age and other conditions known to be associated with inflammation, such as diabetes and obesity. We also observed suggestive but similar associations for women having a previous myocardial infarction or stroke and elevated levels of TNF-α, but our numbers were somewhat limited for this evaluation. We did not observe associations between telomere length and any cardiovascular disease history.

Our research to date indicates that a history of hypertension, stroke, and/or myocardial infarction can result in elevated levels inflammatory markers detected in the blood, suggesting persistent levels of inflammation years after the initial event.

Future Goals

In the future, I will continue expanding upon this research by broadening the study to include women with previous heart failure or coronary artery disease. I will also examine hypertension in more depth, such as by determining whether inflammatory effects are abated among those who are on anti-hypertensive medication. Because inflammation is a pivotal biological mechanism for many diseases, understanding what causes inflammation and ways to reduce it would be of beneficial consequence.