UH Researchers Put a lot of Heart into their Work


Matters of the heart dominate in February with Valentine's Day and the American Heart Association's ‘Heart Month' topping the list. Below are some of the heart-related research projects UH faculty are working on.

DETECTING A HEART ATTACK TIME BOMB
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. 

NEUROSCIENCE DISCOVERY COULD LEAD TO DRUGS FOR STROKE
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. 

PREVENTING ANEURYSMS FROM RUPTURING
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.

IMPROVING CEREBRAL ANEURYSM TREATMENT
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.

PUMPING NEW LIFE INTO ARTIFICIAL HEARTS
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.

PREFERRED TREATMENT FOR HEART DISEASE NOW TURNED ON ASTHMA
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.

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