Advisory: WFU researchers assist with ‘paradigm breaking’ Nitrite study

Scientists in the Wake Forest University physics department have collaborated with researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham on a new study that shows that nitrite, a common salt found in the body, can open blood vessels and improve blood flow in parts of the body.

The study, which will be published in the December issue of Nature Medicine, indicates that nitrite can be converted into nitric oxide, a compound known to expand blood vessels and regulate the circulatory system. The finding changes the previously held belief that nitrite had no major function and indicates that it could play a role in the treatment of sickle cell anemia and other diseases like heart and blood vessel disease.

“The paper published by Nature Medicine suggests that nitrite serves as a pool for nitric oxide and can thereby help regulate blood flow,” said Daniel Kim-Shapiro, associate professor of physics and one of four researchers at Wake Forest who worked on the study. “This study is paradigm breaking regarding the role of nitrite in expanding blood vessels. At the very least it holds promise as a new therapeutic agent for sickle cell anemia and other diseases that include pathophysiological blood flow.”

Researchers at Wake Forest participated in the study by focusing on the reaction of nitrite in blood. Those involved with the project include Kim-Shapiro; Howard Shields, professor emeritus of physics; Kris Huang, a medical student who is also pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering; and Xiuli Xu, a doctoral student in the physics department.

Their experiments measured the amount of nitric oxide bound to hemoglobin made when nitrite was added to blood as a function of time.

The researchers measured the amount of nitric oxide-bound hemoglobin found in volunteers that had been administered nitrite at the National Institutes of Health. The results were consistent with the findings at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, suggesting that hemoglobin reduces nitrite to nitric oxide and increases blood flow, Kim-Shapiro said.

Kim-Shapiro’s work is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The nitrite study was led by Mark Gladwin, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and an author of the paper that will appear in Nature Medicine.

Kim-Shapiro is available for comment about the study and about his ongoing research into treatment methods for sickle cell anemia. To arrange an interview, contact Jacob McConnico at or 336-758-5237.

Categories: Research, University Announcement