Research scientist Erica Gunderson recognized for study on gestational diabetes and cardiovascular disease
By Sue Rochman
Erica P. Gunderson, PhD, MS, MPH, a senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, was presented the American Heart Association’s annual award for best scientific publication on cardiovascular disease and stroke in women. She received the award November 6 during the Presidential Session of the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2022 held in Chicago and virtually.
The Dr. Nanette K. Wenger Research Goes Red® Award for Best Scientific Publication on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Women is given annually in recognition of the best research article or articles focused on cardiovascular disease and stroke in women published during the previous year in any of the Association’s 14 peer-reviewed, scientific journals.
“Cardiovascular research that specifically explores the risk factors and lifestyle impacts that are unique to women is critical to help improve prevention and early detection methods and to drive better outcomes for women with cardiac diagnoses,” said AHA President Michelle A. Albert, MD, MPH.
Gunderson’s research focuses on the impacts pregnancy and lactation may have on women’s future cardiometabolic health and their risks for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She is the principal investigator for the Study of Women, Infant Feeding, and Type 2 Diabetes after Gestational Diabetes (SWIFT), which is following more than 1,000 women and their children to evaluate early-life factors from before, during and after pregnancy with gestational diabetes and the effects on future health of mothers and children.
Gunderson was recognized by the AHA for her study, “Early Pregnancy Blood Pressure Patterns Identify Risk of Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy Among Racial and Ethnic Groups,” published in March in Hypertension. The study showed that blood pressure patterns seen during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy may offer critical clues to identify the patients most likely to develop high blood pressure complications later in their pregnancies.
“It is especially gratifying that the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative is recognizing my research on hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, an early harbinger of cardiovascular disease that is often overlooked.”
— Erica Gunderson, PhD, MS, MPH
“It is truly an honor to receive this research award named for Dr. Nanette Wenger, an esteemed pioneer in women’s cardiovascular health,” said Gunderson. “It is especially gratifying that the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative is recognizing my research on hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, an early harbinger of cardiovascular disease that is often overlooked.”
Gunderson’s study explores the potential correlation between blood pressure trends before 20 weeks gestation in women who historically have been deemed lower risk for developing hypertensive disorders during pregnancy, yet went on to develop gestational hypertension or pre-eclampsia later in pregnancy. Her article also explores how those relationships appear to differ among racial and ethnic groups. The research aims to provide additional tools to influence the frequency of blood pressure monitoring to improve risk mitigation strategies.
Preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal death in otherwise healthy, pregnant women, and worldwide it claims the lives of more than 70,000 women annually.
“We specifically focused on the majority of women who are designated low risk for pre-eclampsia based on our current methods for assessing risk,” said Gunderson. “I was determined to use the routinely available, repeated blood pressure measurements from outpatient prenatal care visits plus standard clinical and social risk factors to identify systolic blood pressure patterns related to hypertensive disorders.”
“This study is emblematic of the compelling research questions Erica has selected, and the rigorous scientific approach she has taken throughout her career,” said Tracy Lieu, MD, MPH, director of the Division of Research. “We are thrilled to see her recognized by the American Heart Association for this work.”
Read more: American Heart Association
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About the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
The Kaiser Permanente Division of Research conducts, publishes and disseminates epidemiologic and health services research to improve the health and medical care of Kaiser Permanente members and society at large. It seeks to understand the determinants of illness and well-being, and to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Currently, DOR’s 600-plus staff is working on more than 450 epidemiological and health services research projects. For more information, visit divisionofresearch.kaiserpermanente.org or follow us @KPDOR.