Plumbing the connection between vascular function and bone health
In the body's vast network of interconnected systems, the function of one can impact the function of another in many ways—some of which have yet to be discovered. Uncovering those ways is an important focus of research for Rhonda Prisby. The associate professor and rising star in the Department of Kinesiology is working on a discovery that could shed light on the causes of some strokes, heart attacks, or other instances of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Prisby found in 2014 that blood vessels in bone marrow progressively convert to bone tissue with advancing age. When that happens, there could be a loss of blood supply to the bone, which negatively affects the health of bone tissue. More recently, she discovered what appeared to be bone particles in the blood of every person in a small sample of people aged 26 and older.
"If you have these small particles of bone circulating in your blood, and some of them are large enough to clog up your smallest blood vessels, the question is, ‘Are they contributing to strokes or heart attacks?'" Prisby says. "That's what we will look at next. First we have to confirm that it is bone. We believe it is."
Prisby's research on vascular function in bone is critical now because it relates to health issues that are prevalent in older populations. Over the next 10 years, the population of people age 65 and older throughout the world will increase by 236 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
David Keller, associate dean and chair of the Department of Kinesiology, says Prisby's research—which largely involves animals—uses elegant techniques that are unique worldwide.
"Her study on the impact of vasculature on bone disease or the potential role it plays is extraordinary," he says. "She's really becoming a world leader in that area. She definitely complements our department, and we're excited to have her."