CLAS faculty member receives $3.7 million NIH grant to study heart health

The five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will support research on the connection between childhood psychosocial stress and cardiovascular health.
Monday, December 4, 2023

By Charlotte Brookins 

Nate Jenkins, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, recently received a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund his research investigating the link between early life psychosocial stress, disrupted sleep, and cardiovascular risk.  

Nate Jenkins
Nate Jenkins

“It’s still a little surreal,” says Jenkins on earning the grant. “When I got the email, I ran out into the hallway and yelled; my coworker thought I had broken a piece of equipment or something. I can’t tell you how much time, effort, angst, and long nights go into something like this.” 

Jenkins’s research considers the possible connections between adverse childhood experiences and vascular dysfunction. Two years ago, he and his team confirmed a direct link between the two variables through their use of a combination of psychosocial assessments and specialized physiological tests. In addition to this connection, they also found disrupted sleep patterns to be a common complaint among participants. 

“The disruption of sleep is also associated with reduced vascular function, so we’ve been conducting a pilot study over the past two years to try and figure out how important of a role disrupted sleep is playing in the cardiovascular health of these patients,” Jenkins explains. “This grant will allow us to pursue this question with high rigor and focus, which is very important to our participant population and also to me and the laboratory at this point in my career.” 

Spread across five years, the grant will allow Jenkins to ascertain whether or not improving sleep quality will cause improvements in cardiovascular health.  

Jenkins says he was drawn here to the University of Iowa in 2020 because of its scientific and research environment. He previously held a position as an assistant professor at another university, but ultimately ended up finding a home here at Iowa. 

“I realized that for me to grow as an investigator and a scientist, I needed to go to a better environment, one where I had colleagues and people who could provide mentorship to me,” Jenkins adds. “I think my success can be attributed to the environment and resources here.” 

Jenkins also wants to express his gratitude to those who have helped him not only with this particular research, but also with all of his goals and accomplishments during his time at the university. 

“A lot of people have supported me: family, mentors, colleagues, my students,” Jenkins says. “All of the people along the way have made this a possibility.” 

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.