A nurse, an educator, and a scientist: Cindy Anderson’s three roles focus on improving mother and child health.
|Cindy Anderson, nursing educator and researcher.
Cindy Anderson spends most of her time as an educator teaching young men and women to become highly professional nurses and family nurse practitioners. These days she also finds herself on the front lines of biomedical research.
An assistant professor of family and community nursing who specializes in high-risk obstetrics, Anderson is deeply involved in the search for discoveries she hopes will help prevent vascular dysfunction and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy that, in their severest forms, kill an estimated 76,000 infants and mothers worldwide every year.
One such disorder is preeclampsia, affecting at least 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies. The rapidly progressive condition, marked by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, can prevent the placenta from getting enough blood, causing low birth weight and health problems for the baby. In severe cases, the condition can lead to seizures in the mother and serious health concerns in the child.
A Massachusetts native, Anderson came to UND to pursue a master’s degree in nursing. She joined the faculty of the College of Nursing in 1990, initially as a supervisor of clinical instruction, and received her master’s degree the following year. Typically, the next step would have been a doctorate in nursing, but she chose another path: the Ph.D. in physiology, awarded to her by UND in December 2003. Her dissertation topic was “Altered Vascular Function in a Rat Model of Reduced Utero-Placental Perfusion.”
Anderson’s research fits into a broad category known as the developmental origins of adult diseases, a relatively new field that studies the effects of poor nutrition and other stresses during pregnancy on the next generation. She expects her future work to involve evaluation of vascular function and blood flow in the offspring of mothers who experienced pregnancy-induced hypertension, and to look at the long-term implications in the development of hypertension in the offspring.
According to Vice President for Research Peter Alfonso, Anderson is representative of a growing number of promising young researchers at UND who are being encouraged by the institution through such programs as the Faculty Research Seed Money Plan initiative and through mentoring by seasoned researchers. Among Anderson’s mentors was Graduate School Dean Joseph Benoit, who has co-authored two scientific papers with her.
As a doctoral student, Anderson continued to teach nursing students while she did research in Benoit’s laboratory in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Therapeutics at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Benoit helped her make connections to learn a surgical technique she continues to use to study human disease with an animal model.
Anderson is studying the long-term effects of reduced perfusion to the placenta in rats, a condition similar to preeclampsia in humans. She found that two generations of offspring experience hypertension as early as four weeks of age, roughly the equivalent of 5 to 6 years of age in humans. By using animal models, Anderson can study development of a disease and its effects across generations.
While rats are physiologically very similar to humans, clinical trials will be needed to verify the correspondence with human disease, and that is Anderson’s goal. She’ll get a start down that road as the result of a new collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center (see Page 13 for a description of this world-class facility on the east end of the UND campus).
There, she’ll be working with Jack Saari and Tom Johnson to investigate the effects of inadequate fetal nutrition in the offspring. Her goal is to apply her findings in animal research to improving the health of mothers and their children.
“It’s the perfect marriage of basic science and human studies,” Anderson said. “Ultimately I want to improve human health. I’m a nurse first and foremost.”
And, she adds, the fact that she is both a basic scientist and a nurse may help attract the attention of grantors willing to support her research interests.