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Vol. LXIV, No. 2
January 20, 2012

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Clinical Center Alumni
Scientist Sisters Join Intramural NINR

Everyone’s favorite indulgence and treat, chocolate, is increasingly recognized for its heart-healthy properties due to the high amounts of flavonoid compounds. These micronutrients promote beneficial effects on blood vessel function, antioxidant activity and immune response.

New NINR intramural senior clinicians Drs. Mary (l) and Marguerite Engler

New NINR intramural senior clinicians Drs. Mary (l) and Marguerite Engler

Photo: Michael Spencer

Nurse scientists and sisters Drs. Mary and Marguerite Engler have conducted studies exploring the effects of dark chocolate and cocoa, as well as a wide range of other dietary components, on cardiovascular function and related physiologic properties. Their research has improved our understanding of the complex links between diet and health.

Both scientists started their clinical careers locally, first as critical care nurses at Suburban Hospital, then at the Clinical Center in the Cardiac Surgery Branch, NHLBI. Both pursued graduate studies at American University and Georgetown University, receiving Ph.D.s in physiology. For over 20 years, they have been with the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing as professors, where they built programs in teaching and research. Now, they have returned to the area as senior clinicians in the NINR Intramural Research Program.

Their 2006 paper in Nutrition Reviews provided an in-depth discussion of the cardiovascular and other health benefits associated with flavonoids found in cocoa, as well as other foods and beverages such as berries, cherries, beans, red wine, tea and even celery and broccoli. The various components are thought to play many roles, including promoting vasodilation to improve blood flow and lower blood pressure; inhibiting platelet aggregation that can lead to circulatory blockages; and modulating the inflammatory response to decrease arterial plaque development.

As they wrote, “It would be practical to advise consumption of a wide range of flavonoid-rich foods and beverages, especially those that contain substantial amounts of the same flavonoids… found in cocoa and dark chocolate.” Few would argue that point.

The Englers developed an interest in research while working as clinical nurses in the CC. Dr. Marguerite Engler’s first published study involved the effects of various intravenous therapy devices on patient complications. In her doctoral studies, she investigated the role of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on blood pressure regulation. Later, she was funded by NINR as a PI for the international, multidisciplinary Endothelial Assessment of Risk from Lipids in Youth (EARLY) study. Her recent research has focused on the effects of the Mediterranean diet and omega-3 fatty acids on vascular health in hyperlipidemic children.

Dr. Mary Engler’s early nursing career at the CC included research on the effects of magnetic resonance imaging on intravenous infusion devices. From there, her primary research focus has been on nutritional interventions and vascular biology in the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. She has led NINR-funded studies on the vascular effects of omega-3 fatty acids (the main bioactive components of fish and fish oil) and the mechanisms of how they relax smooth muscle and promote blood flow. She served as a co-investigator in the EARLY study and co-PI with her sister on recent studies with the Mediterranean diet and omega-3 fatty acids. She was also among the first to investigate the vascular benefits of small daily doses of dark chocolate in healthy adults.

The Englers have been widely published and have received numerous awards for their research, teaching and leadership. They each bring a unique perspective to their research and hope to further their studies at NINR.

Marguerite, who will work in the cardiovascular symptoms unit, has a particular interest in the role of nutrition and diet in helping improve cardiovascular health for children with conditions that make them at high risk for atherosclerosis. She will also continue her work using non-invasive tests of arterial function and explore new biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, Mary, working in the vascular biology unit, plans to further her studies in the area of nutritional genomics, examining the interaction between nutrition and the human genome and the molecular-genetic events underlying tissue injury and cardiovascular disease risk. She is also looking to reduce risk factors of cardiovascular disease and improve symptom management through personalized nutrition.

Both are also looking forward to collaborating with the Biobehavioral Branch to study the effects of changing lifestyle behaviors, such as promoting healthy lifestyles and diet choices, on overall health. NIHRecord Icon

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