Academics & Research

College of Pharmacy researches exercise, kidney relationship

Researchers at the College of Pharmacy are preparing to study the effects of exercise on systems within the kidney that affect hypertension in aging adults and elderly people.

This phase of their research is possible through a five-year $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

“The grant speaks highly of the quality of faculty members we have and the quality of research we do within the college and within the University of Houston,” said Mustafa Lokhandwala, executive vice dean of research in the College of Pharmacy and Director of the Heart and Kidney Institute.

“It gives us the prestige that comes with obtaining this type of competitive funding. That’s great.”

Assistant professor Mohammad Asghar is leading the initiative, which mainly focuses on two receptor systems within the kidney — dopamine and angiotensin II — that help regulate sodium concentration within the body.

“These two receptor systems play a major role in keeping the sodium homeostasis in our body,” Asghar said.

“Dopamine can get rid of excess sodium which is retained in the body and try to normalize it. Angiotensin, if you are low in sodium, will try to preserve sodium into the body.”

In their test subjects — rats — Asghar’s team found that exercise led to an increase in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant defenses.

They are hoping to target the protein molecules involved in this process and create a single drug to help alleviate hypertension.

“Our goal is to target that protein, which can be used as a future therapeutic target, and we can make a drug out of it and … reduce hypertension,” Asghar said. “Just by using one drug, if we can have reduced the resistant hypertension in the elderly — that’s our major goal.”

The team’s hypothesis is that oxidative and inflammatory stress, components that commonly increase with age, are altering the two kidney systems and creating an imbalance.

Asghar said their research has shown that an imbalance in these systems causes bodily retention of sodium, which leads to hypertension.

“When sodium is retained in the body, your blood pressure kicks in because you have to have a basal amount of sodium,” Asghar said.

“If it goes beyond this (amount), then the blood pressure kicks in so that the excess sodium can be removed from the body. Different organs such as the kidney, heart, liver … can be damaged because of this retained sodium.”

This is an even bigger complication for those with resistant hypertension, which must be treated with multiple anti-hypertensive drugs to lower blood pressure.

“As we age, there are different changes that take place within the body, and most of them are changes that are not really desirable,” Lokhandwala said. “We can’t prevent them from happening, but we can certainly slow them down.”

The drug they hope to create would benefit people who cannot exercise, like the elderly and those with arthritis. For those that are physically capable, there are ways to help reduce the risk of hypertension.

“We can do certain things in terms of what we eat and whether we exercise and all that,” Lokhandwala said. “(In that case), what ends up happening to us is a process of healthy aging. You age, but you don’t acquire diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and many mental disorders.”

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