Doctor gets grant

The University Children’s Foundation will hand over nearly $50,000 to a University researcher Friday. The grant will allow her to continue research on heart disease risk factors in children.
Dr. Julia Steinberger, assistant professor of pediatrics, received the University Children’s Foundation Scholar Award for her research tracking cardiovascular risk factors in children.
“She’s a bright young faculty member in the department who is looking at a very important scientific issue,” said Dr. James Moller, the head of the pediatrics department and one of the members of the selection committee. “Her findings will have important roles in the understanding of heart disease.”
More than 40 percent of U.S. deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, which includes strokes and heart attacks.
Steinberger’s research is part of an ongoing study tracking participants with high traditional risk factors from childhood to adulthood. Factors tested include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and large hearts.
If cardiovascular risk factors are found to continue from childhood to adulthood, Steinberger says modifying lifestyles, such as diet and exercise, might be easier in children than in adults.
“It’s not realistic to assume we can modify adult lifestyles easily,” Steinberger said. “I look at this as immunizations, (which) have prevented so many epidemics.”
Steinberger’s research is the third step in an ongoing University study begun in 1978, and continued in 1986 by Dr. Alan Sinaiko, professor of pediatrics and pharmacology. He began testing children in junior high for obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and increased heart size, all high risk factors for heart disease.
A second step of the study followed the children through adolescence.
“The study we’re doing here is unlike anywhere else,” Sinaiko said. “Dr. Steinberger’s study is very important because she has data back from when the children were 13.”
Researchers will also study the correlation between heart disease and insulin resistance in children, which Steinberger said is not being done anywhere else. Insulin resistance manifests diabetes-like symptoms, but is caused by a failure of tissues to absorb insulin rather than the body’s failure to produce insulin as with diabetes.
The new study will also test the parents of the participants for risk factors. Genetic studies will attempt to find a genetic link to the risk factors, something Sinaiko says is also new to the field.
“The next step would be to try to intervene in these families … with treatment and exercise,” Sinaiko said.
Steinberger’s study is also funded by a $9,000 grant from the Minnesota Vikings and a $700,000 National Institutes of Health grant.
The University Children’s Foundation Scholar Award is granted annually to a University researcher showing great promise, said Ann Benrud, assistant director of the foundation.