‘Heart Month’ Tip Sheet: UH Researchers Put a Lot of Heart Into Their Work

Lisa Merkl
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HOUSTON, February 9, 2006 – Matters of the heart dominate in February with Valentine’s Day and the American Heart Association’s ‘Heart Month’ topping the list. As you consider story ideas about heart disease, stroke and heart attack prevention, keep in mind these resources from the University of Houston. For more information, or if you are unable to reach a professor, give us a call at 713-743-8192.

A computational medicine breakthrough is helping pave the way to uncover a ticking “time-bomb” in the heart. UH computer science professor Ioannis Kakadiaris and doctoral student Sean O’Malley are collaborating with Dr. Morteza Naghavi and other cardiologists and engineers from the Association for Eradication of Heart Attack in this research effort. This group has developed computer technology with the potential to alert physicians to heart attack risk. For the first time, Kakadiaris and his collaborators are enabling physicians to detect microvessels linked to plaque inflammation that represent regions of blood vessels prone to future rupture and sudden blockage. Its early detection is essential in the practice of cardiology in order to reduce the number of fatalities occurring every year due to unpredicted heart attacks and strokes. Kakadiaris can be reached at 713-743-1255 or ioannisk@uh.edu.

Roughly 25,000 people in the United States suffer hemorrhage each year from cerebral aneurysms, which are ballooning weak spots in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain. Mechanical engineering professor Ralph Metcalfe and his research students at UH are working with physicians at The Methodist Hospital Research Institute on new medical technology to identify brain aneurysms before they create strokes. Metcalfe, who is working primarily with Dr. Charles Strother’s research group, is attempting to develop methods to identify which patients are most at risk. Metcalfe believes that the day is not far off when a fully integrated computational-medical tool will be commonly used in diagnostics and prevention, as well as remedial treatment of this serious medical problem. Metcalfe can be reached at 713-743-4503 or metcalfe@uh.edu.

Biomedical engineering student Hassan Khalil is conducting research that pumps new life into artificial organs and fosters collaborations between UH and the Texas Medical Center. His model of the human vascular system allows for new experimentation in artificial organ control that aims to maintain important physiological parameters, such as total blood flow, and makes experiments more flexible, easier, more predictable and less expensive. Collaborators on the project include doctors at the Texas Heart Institute and UH biomedical engineering professors Matt Franchek and Ralph Metcalfe. Khalil can be reached at 832-355-7244 or hkhalil@uh.edu.

The University of Houston Spirit of Houston Marching Band is stepping to the beat of a healthy drum. Members of the band, along with the cheer squads and dance teams, are part of an ongoing study to assess the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and obesity-related conditions. The study is a project of the UH Department of Health and Human Performance. Professor Jill Bush and her team assess students twice a year and introduced them to a regular exercise program to incorporate into their regular practice routine. She’ll present her findings at the American College of Sports Medicine National Conference in Denver this summer. Bush can be reached at 713-743-9869 or jbush@mail.uh.edu.

Carrying out research with Dr. Bob Bryan at Baylor College of Medicine on mechanisms that control dilation of blood vessels in the brain, Stuart Dryer, UH professor of biology and biochemistry, says his research may provide a new basis for developing drugs for stroke. The discovery that activation of certain channels in cerebral smooth muscle causes vessels to dilate, provides a possible pharmacological strategy to develop drugs to selectively dilate blood vessels in the brain that may be useful in certain kinds of stroke or pre-stroke conditions. The work also could generate leads to develop drugs for migraine. Dryer can be reached at 713-743-2697 or sdryer@uh.edu.

Over the course of a 30-year period, tens of millions of heart patients died prematurely before beta blockers were finally discovered to decrease the mortality rate of congestive heart failure (CHF) patients, says UH pharmacology professor Richard Bond. A proponent of paradoxical pharmacology – the theory of using drugs that cause an initial downturn in one’s condition before long-term improvements occur – Bond has turned his attention to treating asthma this same way. He found beta blockers ultimately allow air to flow more freely in asthma sufferers by forcing the smooth muscle lining the airways to relax and dilate. The work suggests that asthma and CHF patients both exhibit the beneficial effect with long-term treatment. Bond can be reached at 713-743-1210 or rabond@uh.edu.

In an effort to develop improved vascular prostheses, called stents, to treat arteries damaged by aneurysm, UH math professor Suncica Canic is collaborating with researchers at the Texas Medical Center, using complex mathematical models to perfect stent design. Working closely with doctors at the Texas Heart Institute and Baylor College of Medicine, she has initiated interdisciplinary alliances to address issues related to this type of medical treatment. The main goal of her work is to help cardiologists gain deeper insight into the problems related to the medical treatment of aortic abdominal aneurysm and the treatment of coronary artery disease. Canic can be reached at 713-743-3466 or scanic@uh.edu.

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering
UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts, 10 embers of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.