Researchers Seek Clues to Hypertensionís Origins, Impacts

September 14, 2009

Understanding how hypertension develops is the focus of a new study being conducted at Penn State. Dr. Lacy Holowatz, assistant professor of kinesiology, is the principal investigator on a five-year, $1.7 million grant funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; $750,000 of the grant is part of the National Institutes of Health's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

“One quarter of the population in the United States has undiagnosed or is being treated for essential hypertension. Not only is it pervasive, but it takes an emotional, physical, and financial toll on the people it affects,” says Holowatz. “The results from our studies should provide new and important information on the how hypertension impacts the body’s cardiovascular system.” Essential hypertension, also known as primary hypertension, is high blood pressure with no identifiable cause (secondary hypertension, in contrast, is high blood pressure that results from another condition or disease).

Researchers will be using a dual-examination approach that will analyze hypertension and blood flow in the body (in vivo) and in a more controlled situation outside of the body (in vitro).The in vivo portion, which will take place on the University Park campus, will use a process known as microdialysis. Researchers can insert a microfiber into a tiny portion of skin (about the size of a quarter) and infuse certain drugs or solutions to affect only that portion of skin. For the external examination portion, Holowatz has teamed up with researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, who will be analyzing skin biopsy samples.

Holowatz will use localized heating and cooling of the skin to examine blood vessel function, and how this functioning differs in someone who has hypertension compared to someone who has normal blood pressure. By providing insight into hypertension, Holowatz hopes to shed light on potential therapeutic intervention strategies for people with hypertension. The work is an extension of previous work performed by Holowatz and her colleagues that gave a better understanding of how hypertension impacts the body’s vascular system.

Other key individuals working on the project include Dr. Larry Kenney, professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State; Dr. Mosuk Chow, associate professor of statistics at Penn State; Jane Pierzga, research assistant in Penn State’s Department of Kinesiology; and Dr. Daniel Berkowitz, associate professor of anesthesia and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University.


Editors: Lacy Holowatz can be contacted at or 814-867-1781. For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or