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The Medical College of Wisconsin was recently awarded a $2.7 million research grant from the American Heart Association to study why Black and African American women are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular complications after breast cancer.

MCW researchers aim to uncover what medical providers can do to affect, predict and prevent vascular damage among those patients.

The team will study the effect of cancer treatment on blood vessels and measure whether engaging in moderate physical activity and strength-training can minimize or prevent vascular damage.

“We don’t know what factors contribute to higher rates of heart disease among some populations of people versus others,” said Dr. Andreas Beyer, associate professor of cardiology at MCW. “So, we’re committed to doing the research and taking actions to close this gap and improve survivorship for all.”

The research is led by MCW’s Dr. David Gutterman, professor of cardiovascular sciences and Cardiovascular Center senior associate director, and Dr. Melinda Stolley, Ann E. Heil professor in cancer research and Cancer Center associate director.

The transdisciplinary team, which also includes researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago, brings together experts in population science, basic science and clinical studies around a single area of research focus – cardio-oncology.

“We know exercise can improve cardiovascular fitness and quality of life among cancer patients undergoing treatments,” said Stolley. “However, most studies have predominantly white patient samples and are not focused on assessing outcomes for women of color. Additionally, many of these same studies do not include long-term follow-up on patient response or look at the physiological pathways that link exercise to cardiovascular outcomes.”

The research program also includes a training program component, giving up-and-coming researchers and physicians opportunities to get collaborative research experience.

“The synergistic nature of this work will help propel science forward, stretch how we think about cancer disparities and enable us to make faster progress toward new discoveries,” said Gutterman. “Ultimately, it’s about advancing what we know to provide the best patient care possible.”