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Feb. 9, 2021

Need an expert for American Heart Month?

February is American Heart Month, a time to highlight the top cause of death in Americans: heart disease. This year, the American Heart Association is highlighting the “Don’t Die of Doubt” awareness campaign, which focuses on reminding people that, even during the pandemic, hospitals are the safest place to go when symptoms of heart disease crop up.


Included is a list of researchers with expertise on a variety of topics related to heart health, heart medicine research and more. For more experts, contact Zach Richardson, MSU public relations manager, at


Bryan Smith: Smith is an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering within the Engineering School and a member of MSU’s Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering. His lab blends engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and medicine to develop new imaging and therapeutic approaches. Recently, Smith and his research team developed a nanomedicine that works as a kind of trojan horse, targeting cardiovascular disease.


“The enzyme we’re targeting with the drugs is inside the cell, so you want to release the drugs inside the cell only,” said Smith, who is also the director of the Translational NanoImmunoEngineering Lab located at the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering.


George Abela: Abela is a clinician-scientist who treats patients with heart disease and conducts research. His work has demonstrated for the first time the underlying mechanism of how cholesterol expands in volume when crystalizing and tears up the arterial wall causing heart attacks. Abela is laboratory director and Chief of the Division of Cardiology as well as Program Director for Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program.


“In previous studies, we showed that when cholesterol goes from a liquid to a solid, or crystal state, it expands in volume like ice and water,” Abela said. “This expansion inside the wall of the artery can tear it and block blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke.”


J. Adam Oostema: Oostema is associate professor of emergency medicine and director of neurological emergency medicine research at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. His research interests include the diagnosis and treatment of transient ischemic attack, which is a brief stroke, and stroke, as well as prehospital medicine and the application of research evidence to clinical practice. He recently collaborated on a project looking into the rise of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests during the pandemic.


“Early in the pandemic, people were appropriately advised to stay at home,” Oostema said. “Unfortunately, some people may have taken this too far by failing to seek necessary medical attention. Out of fear of contracting COVID-19, or concern for overwhelming hospitals, some patients likely delayed routine primary care or waited too long to seek emergency help when they experienced symptoms of a heart attack.”


Aitor Aguirre: Aguirre is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. His team at the Aguirre Lab has a focus on cell plasticity and tissue remodeling in health and disease. Recently, Aguirre and his team created the first functioning mini human heart model, a breakthrough with wide-ranging applicability for further research in cardio-vascular diseases.


“This process allows the stem cells to develop, basically as they would in an embryo, into the various cell types and structures present in the heart,” Aguirre said. “We give the cells the instructions and they know what they have to do when all the appropriate conditions are met.


Additionally, his team was awarded a grant to study prevention of congenital heart disease in newborns.


“What this grant will enable us to do is dig into more details about how lipids, a type of molecule that includes fats work and identify others,” Aguirre said. “If we can link congenital heart disease cases to dietary lipids, then, from a clinical standpoint, it could be very easy to prevent — maybe even treat — mothers at risk. It could be as easy as a supplement pill, similar to vitamins currently prescribed to pregnant women.”


Matthew Reeves: Reeves is a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. His research is focused on chronic diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cancer and chronic pulmonary diseases. His recent work has been focused on strokes and sex differences affecting outcomes of stroke research. Reeves also collaborated with a team researching out-of-hospital cardiac arrests during the pandemic.


“Several signals in the data suggest these were directly COVID-related,” Reeves said.

By: Zach Richardson

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