UNT researcher receives $1 million NSF grant for cardiovascular research
Dane Crossley, associate professor of biological sciences at UNT, recently received $775,000 of a three-year $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue his research in cardiovascular physiology in reptiles. His project, a collaboration with researchers at the University of North Dakota and California State University at East Bay examines the effect of developmental hypoxia — low levels of oxygen during fetal development — on juvenile cardiac function.
His research leads to an understanding of the evolution and development of the cardiovascular system and the impacts environmental stress can have on its function.
“The alligator heart has four chambers like the human heart but with only two aortas,” Crossley says, explaining this could make future findings potentially important for medical research.
When a human embryo is deprived of oxygen, it can develop cardiac disease later in life. However, reptiles that develop in environments with lower levels of oxygen do not acquire cardiac disease. In fact, alligators develop stronger hearts. Crossley’s research is focused on studying why alligators respond this way to fetal stress.
“The primary goal is to determine what the response is,” he says. “Then, we look for the mechanisms to explain how this animal responds to stress and survives it.”
Crossley has collaborated on similar studies of embryonic hypoxia in turtles. A recent study, conducted with researchers from the University of Manchester in the U.K. and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, explains how low levels of oxygen during embryonic development programs the animals’ hearts to be more resilient to hypoxia later in life.
Crossley, a comparative physiologist, also is a collaborator on a grant from the Leverhulme Trust in the U.K. to study how turtles breathe inside their shells. By studying how reptiles respond to low levels of oxygen in their environments, scientists may discover potential therapies for humans.
“A comparative physiologist investigates the physiology of an animal and compares the findings to other species. In this way possible advantages can be identified,” Crossley says. “What is the strategy that this animal uses? Can we learn something that we could use to understand human health?”
Crossley is quick to point out that any clinical applications for his alligator and turtle studies are a long way off, but the research his laboratory is conducting provides valuable data for others studying cardiopulmonary functions. By looking at isolated periods of developmental susceptibility to environmental stress, Crossley and his co-investigators hope to discover patterns that unify vertebrates.
“Once we have the data,” he says, “We can look for some kind of clinical application or intervention.