Cardiovascular Branch

The Cardiovascular Branch conducts research on diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. Specific projects aim to answer clinically relevant questions using methods ranging from molecular level studies to clinical projects in diagnostics, therapeutics, and interventions. The Branch places a strong emphasis on creating an environment where scientists and physician scientists can work together on disease-specific issues using the most appropriate approaches available in the spectrum between the bench and the bedside. This basic research helps fuel scientific discovery that may one day help advance research related to heart, lung, blood, and sleep conditions or other fields.

Our Labs

Cardiac Physiology

In the heart, interruption of the blood supply can result in cardiac cell death and irreversible muscle damage. The Laboratory of Cardiac Physiology, led by Dr. Elizabeth Murphy, studies the molecular mechanisms involved in cardiac cell death, as well as the mechanisms that protect the heart against damage. The knowledge gained from these studies may help identify novel therapies to reduce cardiac injury during ischemia and reperfusion. Dr. Murphy’s laboratory is currently examining whether selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs), can mediate cardioprotection in a similar fashion to endogenous estrogen, opening up a possible therapeutic avenue to reduce heart attack damage in women.

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Cardiovascular Biology

Ischemic heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S.  Cardiomyocytes (CMs) derived from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have been studied as a therapy to improve cardiac function following acute or chronic ischemia. The Laboratory of Cardiovascular Biology, led by Dr. Leslie Kennedy, investigates pathways and mechanisms that can be exploited to ultimately benefit patients prone to cardiovascular pathologies. More specifically, the lab focuses on identifying novel regulators of CM maturation, establishing mechanisms by which these proteins function in Cardiomyocytes (CMs) maturation, and assessing improvements in maturation that result from perturbing expression or function of these proteins.

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Cardiovascular and Cancer Genetics

Earlier work in Dr. Hwang’s lab revealed that p53, one of the most commonly mutated tumor suppressor genes that controls multiple pathways involved in cell growth, also regulates the mitochondria as part of its adaptive activities against oxidative and other cellular stresses. The research group has performed basic and translational studies focusing on this link between cancer and mitochondrial metabolism and provided mechanistic insights for developing new cancer prevention strategies. Their work has also shown that p53 can protect the mitochondrial genome and prevent chemotherapy-induced heart failure, an observation that they are further dissecting molecularly and translating to the clinics. While continuing to examine the role of p53 in cardiac muscle homeostasis, they have recently identified specific mitochondrial genes that regulate the skeletal muscle for exercise adaptation and in chronic fatigue syndrome. The goal of these studies is to translate them for developing new strategies for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health.

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Cardiovascular CT

Computed tomography (CT) is a non-invasive advanced imaging test that uses x-rays to make three-dimensional pictures of the body. The Cardiovascular CT Program is focused on the development of and implementation of new imaging techniques to better diagnose heart disease and plan treatment options. This program, led by Dr. Marcus Chen, utilizes state-of-the art scanner hardware, advanced image reconstruction methods, and computational resources with a goal to reduce the overall radiation exposure needed to image a patient and detect cardiovascular disease. These new imaging techniques are not confined to the heart and vascular system, but also are being applied to other parts of the body such as the lung.

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Cardiovascular Intervention

Catheterization is a minimally invasive approach to treating cardiovascular disease and uses increasingly sophisticated combinations of catheter tools to maneuver in the vasculature and imaging technologies to track them. In the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Intervention, led by Dr. Robert J. Lederman, the goal is to enhance and expand the capabilities, safety, and effectiveness of catheterization by using real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to enable non-surgical catheter-based treatments for adults and children.

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