Associate Professor Jennifer Dungan, PhD, MSN, is reimagining health equity. Recognizing that no two bodies are the same, Dungan took a deeper look at why the many different lab tests for heart disease do not accurately reflect known differences between men and women. Thanks to a collaborative effort between Dungan and other UF cardiovascular researchers, she discovered that our own genes may play a role in these differences.
“A specific gene named RAP1GAP2 is a strong candidate for effects on women’s heart disease outcomes,” Dungan said. “Markers in this gene are thought to manage the activity of platelets, colorless blood cells that help our blood clot. But an overactive gene in women may cause too many platelets to respond, which could block the flow of blood and oxygen, leading to a heart attack.”
According to her, if gene differences for RAP1GAP2 mainly affect women, that information could be used to improve how we care for women’s heart disease.
An expert in cardiovascular disease genetics, Dungan is exploring ways to detect these genetic effects more accurately in different groups of women. Her current project is finding the specific RAP1GAP2 gene markers that most strongly correlate with heart disease symptoms, heart attacks and death in women from various racial and ethnic groups, launching a long-term research campaign to ensure heart health for all.
“Having more accurate biomarkers for women would save lives and improve health equity for all women,” Dungan said. “I hope that through this work cardiac researchers, such as myself, will get one step closer to eliminating heart health disparities.”