Researchers target hypertension in Black populations

Oct 02, 2023

Research out of th

Kinesiology professors Cheri McGowan, Kevin Milne, and Paula van Wyk

are conducting research on isometric handgrip training as a treatment for high blood pressure.

Researchers out of the Faculty of Human Kinetics aims to improve the health of villagers in Uganda and the Black community here at home.

Kinesiology professor Cheri McGowan, Université de Montréal epidemiologist Kate Zinszer, and Ugandan physician Henry Isabirye have been awarded nearly $365,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to investigate the effectiveness of isometric handgrip training (IHT) to lower blood pressure. The study will be run through the Allan Stone Community Clinic in Kyabirwa, Uganda, where hypertension is the leading condition treated.

Kinesiology professors Paula van Wyk, Kevin Milne, and Dr. McGowan will run a similar $25,000 study for Black residents of Windsor and Essex County in research funded by the University of Windsor and the WE-Spark Health Institute.

“Hypertension is a global silent killer,” said McGowan, a pioneer in IHT research. Of the project in Uganda, she said, “This is an incredible opportunity to use our expertise to help people who need effective blood pressure control in a part of the world that could use it the most.”

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, can cause serious heart damage and stroke, often resulting in death. People of African descent have higher rates of hypertension, with Uganda and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa having the highest instances of uncontrolled hypertension in the world.

In both the African and local studies, participants will perform IHT under supervision. IHT is a form of resistance training in which you squeeze an object and repeatedly maintain that static hand contraction for a small amount of time. The static contractions are interspersed with short periods of rest.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association calls IHT one of the best non-pharmacological treatments for high blood pressure. Despite this, IHT is not widely prescribed in clinical practice.

McGowan said she hopes this pair of studies will change that.

“IHT is simple, inexpensive, time-efficient, and highly tolerable. People need therapies that do not cost a lot of money and that they will likely stick with over their lifetimes.”

The Ugandan project involves a large team of researchers from Canada, the United States, and Africa. Dr. van Wyk will collaborate on the project as will Jessie Stone who founded the clinic in Uganda; Charles Kalumuna and cardiologist Stella Nabiyre who work there; Ugandan researcher Geofrey Msinguzi; Wayne State researcher Phillip Levy; Canadian biostatistician Katia Charland; and Gerald Mutungi, assistant commissioner in charge of the non-communicable disease program at the Ugandan Ministry of Health.

“This research answers an urgent call for Black populations,” van Wyk said. “Past studies have lacked diversity among participants. Our study takes an important first step in addressing this key gap.”

IHT research is a cornerstone of ground-breaking work out of the Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Research Lab in the Faculty of Human Kinetics.

“To see our laboratory-based research potentially impact clinical practice within my career is something truly remarkable,” McGowan said.

“I am so very grateful for the unwavering belief in this work by our Ugandan colleagues, and for the support of the University of Windsor over the last 15 years. I would also like to acknowledge my incredible students, our amazing research participants, our student volunteers and research assistants, and my incredibly encouraging colleagues and mentors. By working together this bench-to-bedside realization is becoming possible.”

The researchers hope to begin recruiting participants in Uganda and from the local Black community in the new year.