The Center

Cardiovascular diseases are the most common cause of death and disability in the United States, and they cost hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Congestive heart failure, hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke and vascular auto-immune diseases kill or reduce the quality of life for millions of our citizens. Research in this area has expanded our understanding of the basic elements of cardiovascular development, anatomy, pharmacology and control; with this knowledge, it has been possible to establish new approaches to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.


In order to achieve our goals, the Center utilizes funds derived from a variety of sources including a University endowment established by the Dean of the School of Medicine based on patent income derived from the efforts of Center researchers, and private donations from interested citizens, foundations, and corporations. These funds supplement and complement the grants and contracts from many funding institutions earned through the efforts of our investigative faculty.

Current Activities

The Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center is supported by funds derived from an endowment created by the School of Medicine. Activities include: administration of the Vascular Biology Training Program , seminar programs, shared facilities support of faculty recruitment’s and equipment, and seed grants for new faculty. In addition, each year the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center offers a special competitive fellowship to be awarded to one or two postdoctoral trainees in cardiovascular research.

The Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center has programs in gene transfer and gene therapy in the Cardiovascular System. We are focusing our efforts on conditional gene expression in model organisms. More recently, small interfering RNA’s (siRNA’s) have been developed that can silence almost any expressed gene. Imagery technology at the cutting edge of research include 2-Photon microscopy, cardiovascular MRI, molecular ultrasound imaging, SPECT and PET imaging as well as intravital microscopy and live cell imaging.


The Center Director is Dr. Gary Owens , who directs the center in collaboration with the Scientific Advisory Board and the Dean of the School of Medicine. The Center Office is on the first floor of Medical Research Building 5 (MR5) on Lane Road and offers a site of coordination for initiatives in cardiovascular research within the Medical School. Research programs are carried out under the auspices of program projects grants, investigator initiated grants and training grants. The Vascular Biology training program is funded by an NIH training grant that provides support for eight postdoctoral members and ten pre-doctoral students from multiple departments within the School of Medicine.


The Center is an evolving organization based on a web of scientific interactions of basic and clinical investigative faculty with a broad interest in research in diseases of the cardiovascular system. It attracts ongoing research in cardiovascular function, as well as stimulating new initiatives. The Center is designed to respond quickly to exciting new research opportunities by providing financial and administrative assistance. Such assistance offers innovative investigators the possibility to adapt rapidly to new directions in their research programs, a capability that becomes ever more important as the pace of technology places greater importance on rapid reaction to scientific opportunity. The Partner’s Award Program is a flagship activity priority research seed assistance to faculty in order to attract larger grants from other sources. The NIH-funded Vascular Biology Training Program provides financial support and mentorship necessary to the successful training of young investigators interested in the study of cardiovascular function and pathology.


Much remains to be done, and the cardiovascular research community is fortunate to be at the beginning of a new era in cardiovascular research. Molecular and genetic approaches allow us to look more deeply into cellular function than could have even been imagined only a decade ago. The cellular functions of cardiac myocytes, smooth muscle cells, endothelial cells, leukocytes, and platelets can be defined in remarkable detail, and with this knowledge has come the discovery of many new modes of cellular signaling. Superimposed on these biological findings are methodological advances that provide breathtaking opportunities to the biomedical investigator. New methods of visualization such as magnetic resonance imaging molecular ultrasound imaging and confocal and 2-photon microscopy allow the interior of organs, tissues, and cells to be probed and visualized with unprecedented clarity. New analytical methods allow the measurement of the chemical composition of biological structures in incredibly small samples. Genomic and protronic approaches have deepened and broadened understanding of vascular health and disease.

Though the tools of the modern investigator are remarkable, success in the present research environment also requires new patterns of interaction among biomedical scientists. Success and depends on the combination of the skills and talents of many investigators bent to the solution of a common problem. In the face of the current technological explosion, and the diversity of experimental approaches that must be applied during the course of a research program, group efforts are crucial to research success. With the preceding ideas in mind, the University of Virginia Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center was formed as a means of providing institutional support for interdisciplinary and cooperative research investigations in both clinical and basic cardiovascular sciences.