Hypertension And Kidney Disease Linked

July 26, 2002

Heather Heilman

There's an epidemic of hypertension and kidney disease, and Louisiana is ground zero," said Lee Hamm, professor of medicine and director of Tulane's new Hypertension and Renal Center of Excellence.

More than 50 million people in the United States have high blood pressure, but many of them don't know it. Those numbers are concentrated in the southeastern part of the country, for reasons that have largely to do with lifestyle but may also be genetic in part. Blacks are disproportionately burdened with high blood pressure, and are by some estimates 50 percent more likely to suffer from the condition than whites.

Besides being a major risk factor for heart disease, uncontrolled hypertension leads to kidney disease and kidney failure. Hypertension and kidney disease are inextricably linked. While high blood pressure damages the kidney, kidney disease can contribute to the development and progression of hypertension.

Investigators focused on hypertension and renal research have something of a natural laboratory in New Orleans, as well as plenty of evidence of the need to stem the tide of the epidemic. With the establishment of the Hypertension and Renal Center of Excellence, they also have the means to collaborate and integrate their work.

The idea behind the center is to bring together the faculty from disparate departments at Tulane and other regional institutions in order to facilitate the development of new research initiatives and new strategies for the treatment and prevention of hypertension and kidney disease.

"At Tulane, we have the largest group of hypertension experts in the region," said L. Gabriel Navar, chair of physiology and the co-director of the center.

Thirty-eight researchers at Tulane are already involved in hypertension research. Navar and the new center recently received a $3.4 million grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents' Millennium Trust Health Excellence Fund, which allows them to establish the facilities and infrastructure to encourage collaboration and enhance their research.

Basic research on the biological mechanisms associated with hypertension and kidney disease will be a major focus of the center, but there also will be studies focusing on the interaction between genetic and environmental causes of high blood pressure. Epidemiological investigations will look at the effects of lifestyle modification on the prevention and treatment of hypertension. And patient care and community education also will be part of the center's mission.

"We plan to build on the ongoing research, working cooperatively, to compete successfully for funding by larger research programs including support from the National Institutes of Health," Hamm said. "With our hypertension investigators under one umbrella, we should be able to make an impact in this city and the state."

Heather Heilman may be reached at

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000