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

Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging

Coronary artery disease remains a leading cause of death and the primary cause of heart attacks. A sudden and severe decrease of blood supply to the heart muscle can cause a heart attack. Partial blockages of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle can lead to episodes of chest discomfort known as angina. The Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging Laboratory, led by Dr. Andrew Arai, focuses on understanding heart attack and ischemia. Dr. Arai is actively developing new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods that can be used to diagnose heart disease. The new technologies are validated in pre-clinical and clinical studies. These methods are improving our understanding of heart disease and are leading to practical new ways of diagnosing heart disease.

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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 and Cancer Genetics

The gene that encodes the tumor suppressor protein p53, TP53, is one of the most commonly mutated genes in cancer and is a key transcriptional regulator of multiple programs that control cell growth. Earlier work in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular and Cancer Genetics, led by Dr. Paul M. Hwang, revealed that p53 regulates the mitochondria which consume oxygen to produce cellular energy. This link between cancer and mitochondrial energetics has brought Dr. Hwang's research to the intersection of cancer and cardiovascular biology, where he has explored the role of mitochondrial function in normal and abnormal cellular processes. Dr. Hwang is also examining metabolism in patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS), a cancer predisposition disorder caused by diverse germ-line mutations in TP53. The goal of Dr. Hwang’s translational work is to provide insights into developing novel strategies for preventing cancer and improving 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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