Megan Cole Receives the Frieda D. Butler Award

Departmental News

Posted:  Oct 21, 2020 - 10:00am

Megan Cole, Doctoral student in Evolutionary Anthropology, has received the 2020 Frieda D. Butler Award. She will present her talk Healthy Cardiovascular Profiles Across the Lifespan in Wild-born Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)  on a future date to be determined. The Frieda D. Butler scholarship is given annually to honor the memory of Mrs. Butler whose grandson, Dr. Richard A. Barrett, is Emeritus Professor of UNM Anthropology, and provides support for graduate research.


Cardiovascular disease is a major source of mortality in humans and therefore a key issue for comparative research with closely related species such as chimpanzees. Current data suggests that chimpanzees have high levels of blood lipids that cause cardiovascular disease in humans. But most work to date is limited to laboratory chimpanzees whose lifestyles diverge from evolutionarily relevant contexts. In collaboration with researchers from the University of Michigan, I measured biomarkers of cardiovascular health in wild-born chimpanzees living in African sanctuaries, which are characterized by more naturalistic diets and opportunities for physical activity. We found that sanctuary chimpanzees exhibited lower body weights and lower
levels of blood lipids compared to laboratory chimpanzees, and that some of these disparities increased with age. These findings mirror effects from human populations, where healthy diets and exercise are associated with healthy cardiovascular profiles, particularly among the elderly. Further, wild-born chimpanzees exhibited low levels of adiposity and inflammation, which are involved in the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease in humans. Overall, these results suggest that we did not inherit an inevitable risk of cardiovascular disease from our ape ancestors, but rather that lifestyle effects on cardiovascular profiles are shared between humans and chimpanzees.