Dr. Marie Maynard Daly: A love for the heart
Participants in the WholeMe study—a first-of-its-kind population health study aiming to learn more about genetics and health through sequencing 10,000 Floridians—receive a free ancestry analysis as a thank you for participating. In addition, consenting participants will have their DNA analyzed for genetic factors that predispose them to a specific heart condition, known as Familial Hypercholesterolemia. This is a potentially lethal genetic condition in which a person’s body cannot process cholesterol as it normally would, leading to chronically high cholesterol in seemingly healthy individuals. High cholesterol can be problematic for many reasons, and we know this much thanks, in part, to the work of great scientists like Dr. Marie Maynard Daly. In fact, Daly’s work helped to shape much of what we now know about the biochemical aspects of cardiovascular health.
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance found in our circulatory systems. It plays a vital role in metabolism, is a precursor to many hormones, and helps build cell membranes. Our bodies produce cholesterol on their own, but we also consume it when we eat animal products such as meat, poultry, and dairy1. In order to regulate the distribution in our bodies, lipoproteins transport cholesterol through our circulatory system and deposit it in the liver, where it can be metabolized. We know that there are two types of lipoproteins that perform this task: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs) and High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs). LDLs are considered “bad” because they contribute to cholesterol buildup in blood vessels, which can ultimately result in restricted blood flow and an increased risk of heart attack or stroke1. Dr. Daly’s research contributed to identifying the link between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, which led to a better understanding of the causes of heart attacks2.
As a woman of color, Dr. Daly overcame financial, gender, and racial hurdles to eventually become the trailblazer that she was. She came from a family that placed great value on education; in fact, her father had enrolled at Cornell University with the goal of becoming a chemist, but had to withdraw due to the high cost of tuition1. Daly continued her father’s legacy by becoming the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry in the United States.
Notably, Daly made significant contributions to the field of biochemistry while also advocating for increased enrollment of students of color in medical schools and science graduate programs1. In honor of her father, she even created a scholarship program for minority students pursuing science degrees at Queens College2. Dr. Daly’s impact on future generations of scientists extends far beyond her scientific contributions—her memory continues to inspire individuals from all walks of life to pursue careers in STEM.
Thanks to the work of Dr. Daly and other researchers like her, we’re able to improve public health by working to prevent high cholesterol in our communities. For this reason, we’re offering free analysis to participants in the WholeMe study. With this, we hope to make a positive impact on the lives of many, just as Dr. Daly did.
2Carey Jr, Charles W. African Americans in Science: An Encyclopedia of People and Progress, Volume One. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.
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