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Matters of the Heart Topic of Research at UH

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February 10, 2009-Houston-
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 ranging from heart disease to relationships, 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.

RESEARCHERS EXPLORE FAT CELLS AS A HEART ATTACK THERAPY
For those of us trained to read nutrition labels, conventional wisdom tells us that fat isn't good for the heart. But a team of UH researchers has set out to use fat cells to beef up heart muscles damaged by heart attack - and it's using an out-of-this-world device to do it. While associate professor Stanley Kleis and his research team at the Cullen College of Engineering's mechanical engineering department aren't advocating a fried-food free-for-all, they do see the promise of using adipose-derived stromal cells, which are found in fatty tissue, as a therapy for heart attack patients. &Contact Kleis at 713-743-4536 or kleis@uh.edu.

TOO MUCH COMMITMENT CAN UNDERMINE RELATIONSHIPS
Romantic relationships establish special bonds between partners. Oftentimes, passionate rapport leads to permanent partnerships and, ultimately, the start of families. Sometimes, however, one or both partners place too much emotional weight on their relationship. As a result, men or women may tend to evaluate their self-worth solely based on the outcomes of their romantic interactions. This is what psychologists term as relationship contingent self-esteem, and according to UH researcher Chip Knee, it's an unhealthy factor in romantic relationships. Contact Knee at 713-743-8524 or knee@uh.edu.

NEW DRUGS FOR HEART PROTECTION, INFLAMMATION RELIEF
A UH College of Pharmacy professor's research into the controversial anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, which was pulled from the marketplace in 2005 over concerns that it raised patients' risks of heart attack and stroke, has led to the development of a new combination enzyme that may yield a new class of drugs to combat heart disease and inflammation. Dr. Ke-He Ruan, director of the college's Center for Experimental Therapeutics & Pharmacoinformatics, has engineered an enzyme that boosts the production of a key molecule that opens blood vessels and breaks down blood clots while inhibiting the activity of another molecule that constricts bloods vessels and promotes clot formation. Using 3-D computer modeling, virtual screening technology and molecular biology techniques, Ruan's research is being supported by nearly $1 million in support from the National Institutes of Health. Contact Ruan at 713-743- 1771 or khruan@uh.edu.

USING MATH TO BENEFIT HEART RESEARCH
Suncica Canic is a mathematician, not a medical doctor, but her research could save the lives of heart patients. By developing complex mathematical models evaluating how blood flows in pulsating arteries and how artery stents behave when inserted into the human body, Canic is working to create more biocompatible devices that can keep arteries open. Canic is director of the newly formed Center for Mathematical Biosciences that aims to integrate advanced mathematics with medical research to achieve medical breakthroughs. The center is comprised of three dozen UH researchers, including 14 bioscience mathematicians, as well as Rice University and Texas Medical Center collaborators. Contact Canic at 713-743-3466 or scanic@uh.edu.

STUDY URGES HEALTHY EATING, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY WITH LATIN BEAT
A healthier lifestyle may be a salsa step away. Researchers at the UH Department of Health and Human Performance have launched the SALSA study - Saving Lives, Staying Active. The three-month study for women of color aims to increase their physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables, using salsa dancing as fun motivation. Contact Rebecca Lee at 713-743-9335 or relee@uh.edu.

HOW ANTIOXIDANTS, STRESS AFFECT BLOOD PRESSURE
A UH College of Pharmacy researcher is investigating how the function and activity of a specific receptor in the body is affected by anti-oxidants and oxidative stress, which could provide new insights into such conditions as high blood pressure - a key risk factor in heart attack and stroke. Anees A. Banday recently received a $300,000 grant from the national American Heart Association to study the molecular mechanisms of AT1 receptor signaling during oxidative stress, which is a biochemical imbalance in the body that can damage cells and plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular diseases and events, including heart failure and heart attack. Contact Banday at 713-743-1230 or abanday@uh.edu.

DETECTING A HEART ATTACK TIME BOMB
Ioannis Kakadiaris, computer science professor and director of the Computational Biomedicine Lab at UH, and his team are collaborating with Dr. Morteza Naghavi and other cardiologists and engineers from the Association for Eradication of Heart Attack to break new research ground in the area of cardiovascular informatics. Their goal is to uncover a potential ticking "time-bomb" in the heart. The collaboration focuses on analyzing large volumes of imaging data to quantify information that will help the physicians detect patients who are at risk of heart attack in the next 12 months and develop a new "cardiovascular risk score." The work has recently enabled physicians to detect "in-vivo" microvessels linked to plaque inflammation, which represent regions of blood vessels prone to future rupture and sudden blockage. Such early detection is essential in cardiology to reduce the number of fatalities occurring every year because of unpredicted heart attacks and strokes. Contact Kakadiaris at 713-743-1255 or ioannisk@uh.edu.

ALTERNATIVE ARTIFICIAL HEART TECHNOLOGY HOLDS PROMISE
There soon may be more options for those needing a heart transplant thanks to a new device being developed by the Texas Heart Institute in collaboration with two UH professors. The device emulates how the natural heart responds to physiological conditions within the body. Existing devices mimic the pulsating pump action of the natural heart. This proposed total artificial heart replaces the pulsatile feature with two pulseless continuous flow pumps, each about the size of a C battery. Matthew Franchek and Ralph Metcalfe, both mechanical engineering professors in the Cullen College of Engineering at UH, are part of the biomedical research team working to create this pulseless total artificial heart. Contact Metcalfe at 713-743-4503 or metcalfe@uh.edu and Franchek at 713-743-4502 or mfranchek@uh.edu.

'MARRIAGE LAB' DOUBLES AS RESEARCH AND CLINICAL SERVICE
Julia Babcock, associate professor of psychology, conducts research on couples' communication and psychophysiology. As director of the new Emotions in Marriage Laboratory, her group seeks couples who want an objective opinion about their relationships. They collect and analyze data ranging from interviews and questionnaires to actually observing live arguments and physiological reactivity during those arguments. The information is then compiled into a comprehensive report and presented to couples in a feedback session, where the psychologists point out strengths and weaknesses in communication patterns, as well as offering self-help tips or referrals to couples therapy, if necessary. Contact Babcock at 713-743-8621 or jbabcock@uh.edu.

CENTER TACKLES MECHANISMS IMPACTING HEART DISEASE, HYPERTENSION
Faculty and student researchers of the College of Pharmacy's Heart and Kidney Institute and colleagues at fellow Texas Medical Center institutions study the pathophysiological mechanisms that impact cardiovascular disease, hypertension and other diseases and disorders related to the heart, as well as develop potential pharmacological therapies to treat them. Current research projects include engineering an enhanced enzyme as a potential new drug for heart disease and inflammation, effects of antioxidants and oxidative stress on such conditions as hypertension and the biochemical function and cell communication processes related to heart muscle contraction and relaxation. Contact the institute's director, Mustafa F. Lokhandwala, at 713-743-3777 or mlokhandwala@uh.edu.

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. Contact Dryer at 713-743-2697 or sdryer@uh.edu.

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. Ralph Metcalfe, a mechanical and biomedical engineering professor, and his research students at UH are working with Dr. Goetz Benndorf in the department of radiology at The Baylor College of Medicine to investigate the effects of intracranial stents on blood flow in cerebral arteries. Stents are wire mesh tubes implanted in arteries to stabilize brain aneurysms before they create strokes. New, ultra-high-resolution MicroCT imaging scans are being used to illuminate detailed aspects of realistic stent deployment not previously available. Computational fluid dynamics simulations of blood flow based on this imaging data have demonstrated the existence of unusual flow behavior associated with adverse stent mechanics accompanying deployment. This methodology has now enabled the direct comparison of the fluid-dynamic performance of different existing stents and will become a powerful tool for investigating and refining current and future stent designs. Contact Metcalfe at 713-743-4503 or metcalfe@uh.edu.


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Categories: Health, Research