The American Heart Association recently awarded Kevin Cummings, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, a Scientist Development Grant.
The four-year, $308,000 grants aim to support promising scientists in the early stages of their careers by encouraging and funding research projects that help prepare them for successful competition as independent investigators. Projects must be broadly related to cardiovascular function and disease and stroke.
Cummings’ research studies the role of the neurotransmitter serotonin in cardiovascular responses to hypoxia, or low oxygen, in young rodents. This effort is important because it focuses on a biological mechanism that could underlie Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants aged 1 to 12 months and the third leading cause of infant mortality in the United States.
“We know that some SIDS cases experience low heart rate and blood pressure just prior to death following a severely hypoxic episode, possibly the result of an airway obstruction or re-breathing of exhaled air,” Cummings said. “We also know from previous research that neurons in the brainstem that make serotonin are important for the proper control of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure in adult animals.”
He said the goal of his research is to reveal the importance of serotonin in early life for maintaining heart rate and blood pressure during hypoxia, as well as the neurophysiological mechanisms for its effects.
“Ultimately, we hope this work will open the potential for targeting serotonin pathways as a way to reduce SIDS risk,” Cummings said.
Cummings earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and his PhD in molecular endocrinology at the University of Victoria.