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Megan Wenner, PhD, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at the University of Delaware, and Director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Research Laboratory

Dr. Wenner’s research focus is on cardiovascular health in women. She studies vascular function and autonomic function in women throughout the lifespan to understand the influence of both aging and fluctuations in sex hormones on cardiovascular function. Her current R01 examines the role of endothelin-1 in contributing to the declines in endothelial function in women during the menopausal transition, and how estrogen modulates this response.

  1. What is the importance of this research?

Cardiovascular disease (or CVD) remains the leading cause of death for both women and men. Although mortality rates from cardiovascular disease have declined over the past 20 years, recently there has actually been an increase in mortality in younger women (between the ages of 35-54yrs). During this time frame / age range is when women transition through menopause. Our laboratory is interested to see how changes in hormones like estrogen contribute to declines in cardiovascular health in women during the menopausal transition as well as what are some of the mechanisms involved. We also are interested to identify which menopausal stage is most optimal for interventions. Our studies are important to help improve cardiovascular health for women throughout the lifespan.

2. Why did you want to conduct this research?

Women have been under-represented in research studies for a number of years. It is well known that there are physiological differences between men and women, and that as we age, regulation of the cardiovascular system does not change the same in women and men, which could partially explain the differences in CVD prevalence and mortality between men and women. Therapies and interventions that are effective in men may not be as effective in women. Also, until recently, a majority of studies did not focus on women until after they went through menopause, but we know now that the menopausal transition – or the time prior to when a woman becomes postmenopausal – is a critical timeframe when cardiovascular health can start to decline. We wanted to conduct a trial solely focused on women to identify specific mechanism that were important in regulating cardiovascular health for women to better understand how to improve cardiovascular health as women age and experience menopause.

3. How does this research relate to your other work?

Our primary focus is on cardiovascular health in women as they age, and the contribution of changing hormone levels (like estrogen and progesterone) on the regulation of the cardiovascular system. To do so, we study women during their natural menstrual cycle or different phases of hormone exposure, as well as conduct intervention studies where we administer hormones to women at various phases of the menopausal transition. Since our focus is understanding female-specific mechanisms for regulating cardiovascular health with aging, we also conduct studies to compare women and men.  

4. What aspect of the DE-CTR was most helpful to you for this research?

The DE-CTR was instrumental to my research trajectory. This was one of the first grants I received as a new junior faculty member. This allowed me to support graduate students and provided me with funding to collect pilot data that was critical to successfully receiving an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant as well as my current R01. The network and support provided by the DE-CTR also was very helpful and allowed me to connect with other scientists and clinicians.  

5. What advice would you give to a junior researcher?

(1) Take advantage of the resources and opportunities available through programs such as DE-CTR (or INBRE). There is a lot of support available to help junior faculty (funding, grant writing, grant review, networking, mentoring, other research-related trainings).
(2) Make sure you get feedback.
(3) Don’t give up! If a grant isn’t funded the first time through, go back to #s 1 and 2 (use resources/opportunities and get feedback). Re-work the application and try again with submission to various agencies. Remember what Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”