NYITCOM student Nikki Maddie and Assistant Professor Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda


Medical Student Awarded Competitive AHA Scholarship

June 13, 2022

Pictured: NYITCOM student Nikki Maddie, right, is working under the mentorship of Assistant Professor Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda to study the link between obesity and hypertension.

Nikki Maddie, a student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), has secured a prestigious Scholarship in Cardiovascular Disease from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Each year, the Scientific Councils of the AHA award $2,000 scholarships to students researching cardiovascular disease topics within basic, clinical, translational, or population sciences.

Working under the mentorship of Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda, Ph.D., BSN, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at NYITCOM, Maddie will study the link between obesity and hypertension. The project aims to explore one area of a larger research project from Sepulveda’s laboratory, which investigates how obesity negatively affects blood vessels. Specifically, the project will explore how the ‘hardening’ of large arteries, known as arterial stiffness, contributes to the development of hypertension.

“I am excited to continue my research in Dr. Sepulveda’s lab,” says Maddie. “Obesity has become a serious health problem, accounting for 70 percent of cases of high blood pressure. By 2030, half of Americans will be obese. The project I am working on will focus on understanding why obese individuals develop arterial stiffness and hypertension.”

Maddie, who aspires to pursue a career in pathology after graduation, plans to present preliminary data from the project at the AHA Hypertension Sessions Conference in September 2022.

“I will have the opportunity to discuss my results with experts in the field, and I also aim to share my scientific findings by publishing my results in an AHA journal,” she says.

Hypertension, which disproportionately impacts obese individuals in a sex-difference manner, affecting more women than men, is often called a ‘silent killer’ and is a leading risk factor for mortality worldwide. However, there are no specific anti-hypertensive therapies for these patients, making research in obesity-related hypertension critically needed.

“The ultimate goal of this project is to identify potential mediators contributing to arterial stiffness and hypertension in obese subjects. I am confident that the results from Nikki’s project will advance our knowledge of how obesity impairs arterial functionality,” says Sepulveda.

The scholarship is the second award sponsored by the American Heart Association that Maddie has received. In 2020, she received the Hypertension New Investigator Award, sponsored by the AHA’s Council on Hypertension, for another research project conducted in Sepulveda’s laboratory, which investigated the connection between obesity and the fat around the aorta, known as PVAT (perivascular adipose tissue).

“I am delighted to serve as a research mentor for an outstanding medical student like Nikki and to watch her scientific progress toward becoming a physician-scientist,” says Sepulveda. “Nikki joined my laboratory in 2018, even before she was accepted as a medical student at our College of Osteopathic Medicine. Since then, she has been an example of dedication, hard work, and commitment to her scientific career. She has made significant progress in my laboratory and continues to excel in everything she does in the lab.”

Maddie also realizes the value of her NYITCOM research experience and how working in Sepulveda’s lab has enhanced her understanding of how biomedical research impacts patient outcomes and care.

“As I desire to pursue a career in pathology, this unique research experience will help me to achieve my goals and prepare me for a career as a physician-scientist. I want to incorporate research into my future career and translate my preclinical findings to the bedside. This unique opportunity will allow me to dedicate more time to my research and hopefully improve our knowledge of obesity-related vascular complications,” she says.  

Maddie is the third medical student from Sepulveda’s lab to receive the prestigious AHA Scholarship in Cardiovascular Disease. NYITCOM student Risa Kiernan and alumnus Benjamin Kramer (D.O. ’19) also received the award.