Research | UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program

Research and the Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program

The UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program is a nationally recognized model for women's heart care and the first program of its kind in the nation. The research expertise of the program faculty ranges from prestigious, large-scale national clinical trials to laboratory studies of the cellular and molecular foundations of heart disease in women.

UC Davis was one of the clinical centers in the country participating in the Women's Health Initiative study. Other research projects have investigated the role of sex steroid hormones on the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis, antioxidants and estrogen in cholesterol uptake, soy estrogens in lowering cholesterol, hormone replacement therapy in platelet function and hormonal regulation of vascular genes.

UC Davis Center for Women’s Cardiovascular and Brain Health

Women are more likely to develop dementia, die from cardiovascular disease (CVD), and have substantially more differential risk from CVD risk factors than men, but the bases for these differences, and rising disease toll, are poorly understood. Heart and brain health represent a lifetime of exposures and influences, and it is increasingly recognized that the same vascular risk factors that predispose to heart disease (unhealthy diet, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure) also compromise brain health.

Heart and brain connected

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of women and dementia, the fourth leading cause of death for women. By working at the intersection of both cardiovascular disease and dementia, Dr. Villablanca, professor of cardiovascular medicine and director of the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program and the new award, leads a multidisciplinary team of cardiovascular basic scientists, neuro-pathologist, behavioral and population health scientists, and bioinformatics and computational scientists, in the new UC Davis Center for Women’s Cardiovascular and Brain Health.

The research center was established in 2022 and funded by a five-year $4 million award. It emphasizes the effects of vascular dementia and cardiovascular diseases on marginalized and diverse communities in California, and economically disadvantaged communities where UC Davis has a unique strength in its outreach and catchment area. This research has the unique potential for discovery of novel therapeutic targets for cardiovascular disease and dementia in women.

The UC Davis Center for Women’s Cardiovascular and Brain Health is one of four UC Davis Health programs funded as part of a $24 million award to UC Davis Health for women’s health research in breast cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease. The UC Davis initiative is known as the HEAL-HER (Heart, BrEast and BrAin Heath Equity Research) Program. The Cardiovascular Disease Program, led by Villablanca, is a multidisciplinary team of UC Davis scientists participating in the new center conduct research to:

  • Study the role of the overlapping risk factors for cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and brain health related to sex and gender across the lifespan in under-represented women.
  • Address the effect of the impending epidemic of dementia, and sex disparities in prevalence and death.
  • Enhance our mechanistic understanding of fundamental molecular male-female differences in how CVD risk factors differentially affect the brain’s predisposition to vascular dementia.

The center is also focused on training the next generation of scientists who can be content experts in the field, and test and deploy new models of engagement to enhance the participation of women in clinical research studies.

Participating in national research projects

To find out more and learn how you can participate in a research study, contact the UC Davis Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at 530-752-0718.

Past Research Projects

The UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program received a two-year, $315,000 award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health entitled "Improving, Enhancing and Evaluating Outcomes of Comprehensive Heart Health-Care Programs in High-Risk Women." The overarching goal was to demonstrate improved clinical outcomes in over 200 high-risk women receiving comprehensive heart care in a model women's cardiovascular program. UC Davis was competitively selected as one of six national sites and served as the data coordinating center for all participating sites.

The project provided women with seamless, state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary cardiac care that comprehensively addressed the cardiovascular needs of high-risk women, including older women, women in ethnic minority groups and women in rural communities. Participating sites included the Round Valley Indian Health Center linked to UC Davis by telemedicine technology, the UC Davis Medical Group in Colusa, Calif., and Alliance Medical Center in Healdsburg, Calif.

Other activities broadened the experience of women, health professionals and community organizations served by the program, and emphasized the importance of continuous, integrated services. The program tracked clinical outcomes, knowledge and risk awareness in women, all of which were linked to Healthy People 2010 goals.

The UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program, in partnership with a national community organization The Links Inc., participated in a two-year, national community cardiovascular disease prevention program to reduce cardiovascular disease mortality and morbidity among high-risk women in the United States. The program focused on both counseling and risk behavior modification.

The program targeted high-risk women aged 40-60 years who were members of at least one women-of-color population, focusing on African-American women. All women, however, were eligible to participate. The program, one of four nationwide, was implemented in 10 community-based sites across the U.S., including rural and urban areas, during four phases from September 2006 to February 2008.

The main goal was for participants to increase their levels of physical activity and establish or maintain a healthy weight. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health. The other awardees were the Association of Black Cardiologists, Black Women's Health Imperative and Jacobs Neurological Institute at Buffalo State University.

To implement the program, UC Davis partnered with The Links Inc., an international women's public service organization that fosters health and wellness, education, civic involvement and cultural enrichment in the African-American community. The Links Inc. has served the Sacramento region since 1952. Since 2002, its outreach efforts have focused on educating the African-American community about heart disease and other disorders that disproportionately affect people of color. Participating Links, Inc. chapters were Eastern Shore, NY; Fresno, Calif.; Jackson, Tenn.; Missouri City, Texas; Phoenix, Ariz.; Prince Georges County, Md.; Sacramento, Calif.; Selma, Ala.; Shelby County, Tenn.; and Windy City, Ill.