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January 16, 2013 - USA College of Medicine Scientist Receives Grant from the American Heart Association

Dr. Xiangming Zha, assistant professor of cell biology and neuroscience at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently awarded a Scientist Development Grant from the American Heart Association to study how pH levels contribute to stroke-induced brain damage. The four-year award totals $308,000.

Dr. Zha explained that diseases in the nervous system cause brain tissue to become more acidic. His study focuses on the acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs), which are the channels that sense pH reduction in the brain.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving it of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die. Depending on the region of the brain affected, a stroke may cause paralysis, speech impairment, loss of memory and reasoning ability, coma, or death.

“Previous studies have tested the ion channels by inhibiting them, which established the importance of the acid sensing ion channels,” he said. “We want to see if the regulation of these channels specifically refer to where ASICs travel in the brain cells and affect the outcome of stroke-induced neuronal death.”

Dr. Zha said that currently this area of research is very poorly understood, and his team will use models to observe how the ASICs travel to different parts of the neuron and affect brain damage during a stroke.

The grant focuses on understanding the pH changes in stroke, but a pH change also occurs in other conditions such as seizures, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.

“Several mitochondria and neurodegenerative diseases decrease brain pH,” he said. “Understanding the basic mechanisms of how these channels behave will give us a better understanding of the makeup of these diseases.”

Dr. Zha said that his research aims to ultimately decrease fatalities in patients with these types of diseases.

The USA College of Medicine has collaborated with other researchers to gather preliminary data needed to receive this grant. Dr. Zha said that he is grateful to his colleagues at Morehouse College of Medicine and the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He also invites graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who are interested in this research to participate in the four-year study.

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