The research laboratory of Virginia M. Miller, Ph.D., focuses on conditions specific to women: ovarian function, preeclampsia of pregnancy and menopause. These conditions are associated with dramatic changes in one of the sex steroids, estrogen, and can accelerate development of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease and aging processes.
Dr. Miller's work evaluates how estrogen affects progression of atherosclerosis, and changes in brain structure and cognition at menopause. For these studies, she works collaboratively with other researchers associated with the Rochester Epidemiology Project, the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, the Center for Translational Science Activities and the Women's Health Research Center.
Her group utilizes state-of-the-art imaging modalities and is developing a technique to detect early stages of calcifying processes.
- How do sex hormones affect progression of cardiovascular disease in menopausal women? Dr. Miller is examining how the sex steroid hormone estrogen affects the lining of the blood vessels, which is called endothelium; the activity of platelets, which are required for blood to clot; and the formation of small cell-derived vesicles in the blood.
Together, the interaction of these cells and vesicles can lead to vascular changes associated with pregnancy or later in life may cause formation of lesions in the arterial wall, leading to heart attack, stroke, cognitive decline or formation of blood clots in the veins.
- How does infection alter the risk of developing cardiovascular disease? Dr. Miller's group is interested in learning how bacteria interact with cells of the blood vessel wall and cells in the blood that fight infection.
Her group is examining whether small vesicles shed by bacteria that contain bacterial proteins and DNA alter the function of human cells, leading to the development of calcium deposits associated with "hardening" of the arteries and formation of kidney stones.
- Can monitoring small membrane-derived vesicles released from activated cells and nano-sized particles containing proteins and minerals be developed as a diagnostic for calcifying diseases? Deposits of calcium in the wall of blood vessels accumulate over many years without any outward signs or symptoms.
Dr. Miller and her collaborators are working to develop a test to detect the ongoing calcification process so that treatments can stop or retard the calcification before the artery becomes blocked or the calcium deposit is released to cause a heart attack.
Significance to patient care
Dr. Miller's research into how sex steroid hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, affect blood flow to the brain, heart and kidneys has direct application to understanding the benefit and harm of using these hormones to treat symptoms of menopause in women; "low testosterone" in men; and chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline and osteoporosis, in both women and men as they age.
- Principal Investigator, Specialized Center for Research of Sex Differences, Mayo Clinic, 2012-present
- Principal Investigator, Mayo Clinic's Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (a National Institutes of Health-funded training program for junior faculty), 2010-present
- Member, Board of Directors, Bethesda Lutheran Communities, 2010-present
- Member, Cardiovascular Network of the Society for Women's Health Research, 2009-present
- President, Organization for the Study of Sex Differences, 2010-2012
- Member, Council, American Physiological Society, 2002-2005
- Current Member, Editorial Board — American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology; Biology of Sex Differences; Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism; Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine