HEART Lab Receives Ursinus’s First AHA Grant

The funding from the American Heart Association will support ongoing research on heart health by Deborah Feairheller, an assistant professor of health and exercise physiology.

The Institutional Research Enhancement Award supports small-scale research related to cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Feairheller directs Ursinus’s HEART lab, which is focused on the effects of lifestyle modifications on cardiovascular health and, specifically, blood pressure. She and her students examine cardiovascular health in volunteer firefighters, athletes and adults.

The AHA grant will support a two-year clinical study at $76,000 per year, says Feairheller, who explains that the funding will also be used in part to purchase a pulse wave velocity system. The technology will allow Feairheller and her students to take the HEART lab on the road to area firehouses for continued research.

Pulse wave velocity is a measure of arterial stiffness, or the rate at which pressure waves move down the vessel. The new system that will be purchased for the HEART lab is the “gold standard” for collecting this type of data, Feairheller says.

“There’s recently been a lot of interest in firefighter health, particularly concerning cancer and cardiovascular-related deaths,” she says. “We’ll be able to go out and do fitness testing right there at the firehouses.”

“That will not only help us increase the education component of our research, but the adherence component [for firefighters], too,” she says.

The grant will also allow Feairheller to purchase new blood pressure monitors and blood pressure cuffs, as well as hire two students to work at the HEART lab on a part-time basis during each semester to continue to carry out the research, while bringing two students on board fulltime during the summer.

The HEART lab study typically includes 20-25 firefighters and non-firefighters per semester, as well as fitness challenges between local fire departments.

“If we implement exercise and diet programs within these firehouses, it helps us to get our firefighters to not only recognize the importance of their own health, but to understand it and appreciate that it can save their lives,” Feairheller says.

Feairheller is presenting her research at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis in April. —By Ed Moorhouse