NEWS | February 1, 2017

UC Davis experts: American Heart Month

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

UC Davis faculty are available throughout American Heart Month in February for interviews on the detection, treatment and prevention of heart and vascular disease. They can also discuss groundbreaking research that is leading to new methods of addressing common heart and vascular conditions, including heart failure, arrhythmia, atherosclerosis, valve disease, congenital conditions, coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease.

Clinical care and research

Reginald Low, chief of cardiovascular medicine, is an international leader in treating a wide range of heart conditions — from arrhythmia to aortic stenosis — and has led several investigations of the safety and efficacy on interventional devices and pharmaceuticals for coronary artery disease. A widely respected expert, he often demonstrates advanced practices for cardiologists worldwide and sets standards for cardiac care. Low can speak about the breadth of less-invasive approaches that have revolutionized treatment options for heart disease, greatly reducing the need for open-heart surgery. He can also comment on future directions and emerging technologies in cardiology.

Heart failure 

Cardiologist Kathleen Tong assures that heart failure patients have access to a meaningful quality of life and state-of-the-art therapies, including heart transplants and mechanical heart pumps (ventricular assist devices, or VADs) for those with end-stage disease. In addition to leading the Heart Failure and Left Ventricular Assist Device clinical programs at UC Davis, she is medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Preventive Cardiology, a program that helps people make lifestyle changes following cardiac events.

Arrhythmia

Uma Srivatsa is a UC Davis cardiac electrophysiologist who uses electricity to evaluate and heal problems with the heart, including irregular heart rhythms (or arrhythmias). She is a leader in using the newest technologies available to comfortably and successfully treat patients, including a magnetic-driven heart-mapping system that maximizes accuracy while minimizing radiation exposure and MRI-safe implantable devices. 

Children and heart disease

Jeanny Park is the only pediatric cardiac electrophysiologist in the Sacramento Sierra region. She treats children of all ages, including newborns, who have congenital heart disease or problems with abnormal heart rhythms. She also uses technologies such as catheter ablation, pacemakers and defibrillators to treat patients at risk of sudden death due to cardiac arrhythmias.

Gary Raff is one of an elite corps of highly trained and skilled pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons in the U.S. who perform complex surgeries on tiny, fragile patients with birth defects like hypoplastic left heart syndrome or transposition of the great arteries. He has a particular interest in minimally invasive approaches for treating congenital heart disease and related heart and chest disorders, and in using 3-D printing technology for surgical planning. He also has research interests in pulmonary hypertension and has worked extensively with collaborators worldwide to help better understand the mechanisms of pulmonary hypertension in congenital heart disease.

Women and heart disease

Preventive cardiologist Amparo Villablanca launched the nation's first program dedicated to women’s heart health. Her research interests include reducing gender-based disparities in heart disease and translating laboratory outcomes into novel models of care, outreach and prevention. She is actively engaged with women most at risk, including African-American women and Latinas, and in providing education and risk-behavior modification to reduce mortality from heart disease. She is a national spokeswoman for The Heart Truth campaign, an initiative of the National Institutes of Health to raise awareness of heart disease as the nation's leading killer of women.

Surgical treatments

Paul Perry is a cardiac surgeon and surgical director of the VAD (ventricular assist device) program, which offers hope for adults with end-stage heart failure. Patients whose symptoms cannot be improved with other medical therapies may be approved for the surgery, which involves implanting a battery-powered device to assist the pumping action of the heart. VADs can restore blood flow, reverse the course of heart failure and drastically improve quality of life.

J. Nilas Young is a recognized expert in surgical treatments for high-risk cardiac patients, including complex aortic surgery, valve repair, bloodless surgery and reoperations. As chief of cardiothoracic surgery, he leads a team that provides compassionate, advanced surgical care for adults and children with diseases of the heart. His research program is investigating ways to improve post-operative patient outcomes, perfect aortic surgical procedures, reduce post-operative complications and determine the potential of microRNAs in regenerating injured heart tissue. He has been recognized by the American College of Surgeons and with a World of Children Award for establishing the Heart to Heart International Children’s Medical Alliance, a medical philanthropy that brings lifesaving heart surgery to children in Russia and South America.

Endovascular treatments

John Laird, medical director of the UC Davis Vascular Center, is an internationally renowned interventional cardiologist and specialist in endovascular procedures for carotid artery disease, abdominal and thoracic aortic aneurysmal disease, renal artery disease and peripheral artery disease. He is known for leading innovative national clinical trials of the newest stents for treating vascular disease. His latest investigation is testing stem cells as a treatment for advanced peripheral artery disease, an approach that could reduce the need for leg amputations.

Structural heart disease

Jason Rogers, director of interventional cardiology, is recognized for his expertise in treating conditions that affect the mechanical structure and function of the heart, including holes in the heart (septal defects), narrowed valves (valvular stenosis) and leaking valves (valvular regurgitation). Rogers’ research focuses on advancing less-invasive, percutaneous procedures for both imaging and managing these conditions. His clinical programs involve unique devices, including the Mitraclip to close severely leaking valves and the Watchman to block the left atrial appendage and help prevent strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Telemedicine and TAVR

Interventional cardiologist Jeffrey Southard is developing a telemedicine program to establish links between UC Davis and geographic areas with limited access to cardiac specialists, including Greenland and Denmark. In 2012, Southard led the team that performed the region’s first transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), a minimally invasive treatment for aortic valve stenosis. His team currently offers three different mechanical valve options, one of which is under clinical investigation. He also was among the first cardiologists in the nation to offer the new bioresorbable — or dissolving — stent.

Cardiac imaging

Thomas Smith is a specialist in advanced imaging for diagnosing and tracking treatment efficacy in heart disease, including echocardiography, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. His research interests include echocardiographic guidance of minimally invasive cardiac procedures and the use of computed tomography to evaluate chest pain, valvular heart disease and coronary artery disease.

Biomedical engineering

Based on an R01 from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Katherine Ferrara is developing cellular therapies to reduce vascular disease and repair damaged heart tissue. Her current efforts target the receptor VCAM1, or vascular cell adhesion molecule 1, that is considered key to the onset and progress of atherosclerosis.

Scott Simon studies leukocyte function in inflammatory diseases. His group develops microfluidic diagnostics — known as “lab-on-a-chip” technology — that mimic the flow of cells in arteries and veins. Combined with high-resolution microscopy, the devices allow real-time observations of cellular interactions that model diseases such as vascular sepsis and plaque buildup in blood vessels. His goal is to use these devices, together with studies in human patients and animal models, to develop diagnostic tools for early detection of acute and chronic inflammation, including atherosclerosis.

Translational science

Donald Bers, chair of the Department of Pharmacology, researches the physiological factors that regulate cardiac contractions and electrical activity, with the goal of identifying treatment targets for heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms — both common causes of death. In 2013, he discovered a novel mechanistic link between high blood glucose and heart disease, which helped explain why diabetes is a significant independent risk factor for heart disease and paved the way for new therapeutic strategies that protect the heart health of diabetics. By using unique research models, focusing on quantitative techniques and synthesizing results across biological studies, his work over the past 30 years has dramatically expanded the understanding of heart-muscle dynamics. In 2012, Bers was recognized as Distinguished Scientist by the American Heart Association.

Lars Berglund, associate vice chancellor for biochemical research and director of the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, is a specialist in the biochemical process that transports fats through cells and its effects on cardiovascular health. His research has identified distinctions in the onset and progression of heart disease among different populations with the ultimate goal of tailoring therapies to meet patients’ specific needs. He discovered, for instance, that inflammation may be an important predictor of heart disease for African Americans. He is also an expert in the cardiovascular risks of long-term use of antiretroviral therapies used to treat HIV/AIDS and a leader in the research on genetic cardiovascular risk factors.