Our research is based on how cardiovascular function is affected under different disease states, in particular diabetes. Our laboratory uses isolated myocyte preparations to study the organ at the cellular level, with endpoints including real-time function, intracellular calcium concentration and intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) signaling. The use of myocytes allows us to assess the “functional unit” of the heart under disease states and determine how alterations in myocyte function can translate into changes in whole heart function. I have also become interested in how the heart responds to environmental stressors, including particles within the air.
While doing a postdoctoral fellowship in Los Angeles, we performed a study showing that particles from the air, termed ultrafine particulate matter, were able to traverse the endothelial lining of a blood vessel and travel through the bloodstream. This allowed the particles direct access to the heart, with resultant depressions in cardiac function. We also know from the clinic that on days of high air pollution, there is a significant increase in sudden cardiac death, which is exacerbated in patients with pre-existing heart conditions (such as seen in diabetics). Currently, we are interested in the signaling mechanisms involved in this functional change, as well as how particles directly effect isolated cardiomyocytes.
Our lab work is funded by the American Heart Association, National Affiliate (Scientific Development Grant, “Ultrafine particle-induced heart dysfunction”) and we have submitted a project to the National Institutes of Health examining how exposure to particulate matter affects heart function in animal models of obesity and/or insulin resistance.
This image shows isolated cardiomyocytes from a rat. Note the striations and unique structure of the cells. These cells make up the "functional unit." of the heart.