August 16, 2006 —
Researchers from three University of Southern California Schools have received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how biomechanical and biochemical factors initiate atherosclerosis, a plaque formation process in the arteries that leads to acute heart attacks and stroke.
The researchers hope to find a way to identify and treat clinically asymptomatic at-risk individuals, who are often in the prime of life, before they turn up in emergency rooms with acute coronary syndromes.
Principal investigator Tzung “John” Hsiai of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will work with Enrique Cadenas of the USC School of Pharmacy and Howard Hodis of the Keck School of Medicine at USC.
“Hemodynamics or blood flow, a host of biochemical reactions, and inflammatory processes play important roles in the nature of coronary artery disease,” said Hsiai, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and of medicine. “The integration of biomedical engineering and oxidative biology as well as the testing of hypotheses with dynamic models strengthen our cross–disciplinary research.
"Ultimately, our goal is to develop micro- and nano-sensors that will enable prediction, early detection, and prevention of acute coronary disease,” continued Hsiai, who holds the Robert G. and Mary G. Lane Early Career Chair in the Viterbi School's department of biomedical engineering.
The project harnesses the unique thinking of divergent research groups. Cadenas, who like Hsiai holds both MD and PhD degrees, is the Charles Krown/Pharmacy Alumni Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Hodis is the Harry J. Bauer and Dorothy Bauer Rawlins Professor of Cardiology and is also director of the USC Atherosclerosis Unit.
While the NIH grant is the first for Hsiai as principal investigator, Cadenas and Hodis have each had consecutive NIH funding for their work for more than 15 years. Cadenas, who is a professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences, and Hsiai both have secondary appointments at the Keck School where Hsiai is also an attending cardiologist. Hodis is professor of medicine and preventive medicine with a secondary appointment as a professor of molecular pharmacology and toxicology at the School of Pharmacy.
“Our labs are working closely on this exciting project, with the work of each group enhanced by the collaboration,” said Cadenas. “Dr. Hsiai’s engineering and medical backgrounds offer a distinctive approach to heart disease, a tremendous complement to the perspectives offered by Dr. Hodis’ and my groups.”
The investigators will study the fluid mechanics of blood flow in parallel with vascular oxidative stress and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) in an attempt to identify the mechanisms that allow potentially harmful lipid deposits to move through blood vessels, ultimately being deposited at curving or branching points. This process lays the foundation for atherosclerosis.
"This project provides especially unique cardiovascular research as it studies the molecular and signaling processes involved in response to flow dynamics in the arteries. Potentially, we'll find new intervention targets for early prevention of cardiovascular disease," said Hodis.
Hsiai notes that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and as former Third World countries climb the ladder to developed nation status, is emerging as a global health crisis.