Major Research Initiative: Cardiovascular Engineering
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As the foremost health care problem in the industrialized world, cardiovascular diseases impose tremendous economic and emotional burden on society. Research in the field of cardiovascular engineering at the University of Utah aims to contribute to an improved basic, scientific understanding of the mechanisms of cardiovascular disease, as well as to promote innovative technologies in cardiovascular diagnosis and treatment applications. For example, we seek to understand basic mechanisms of the electrical and mechanical behavior of cardiovascular cells, tissues, and the complete organs; and to apply this knowledge to the mechanisms of cardiovascular pathology and understand their origins, etiology, diagnostic features, and treatments. Our unique perspective is to apply advanced experimental and simulation approaches with emphasis on quantitative evaluation of the relevant parameters; to seek out and implement integrative, multidisciplinary approaches; and to translate our discoveries into practical clinical applications.

University of Utah has a long history of innovation in the domain of cardiovascular devices. This traces back to the late 1970s, when Dr. J. Andrade’s research team worked on the characterization and development of materials used in the fabrication of cardiovascular devices. 1982 saw the first permanent artificial heart implanted in a human patient under the supervision of Dr. Willem J. Kolff. A parallel development began in the 1970’s with the founding of the Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute (CVRTI), now a major independent research institute dedicated to the integrated study of cardiac electrophysiology from the cell membrane to the bedside. Researchers from this institute have also branched into the study of vascular physiology. Members of the CVRTI and the Bioengineering Department created the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute, a group whose mission is to investigate and develop computational methods and tools for a wide range of applications in biomedical sciences and engineering. Today, cardiovascular engineering remains an important research focus at the University with individuals from the College of Engineering, College of Pharmacy, School of Medicine, and several research centers (particularly CVRTI and SCI) collaborating on major projects that are at the forefront of this field. These projects deal with components of the cardiovascular system from the molecular, to the cell, and to the organ level. Current areas of focus include cardiac biophysics of membrane proteins/channels, cellular electrophysiology and ion transport, cell coupling and myocardial tissue behavior, whole heart pathophysiololgy (ischemia, arrhythmias, heart failure, and fibrillation), heart disease diagnosis and treatment (electrocardiography, cardiac mapping, biventricular pacing, ablation therapies), vascular mechanics, vascular development and dynamic remodeling, hemodynamics as a regulator of vascular biology, the role of the vascular system in such diseases as cancer and diabetes, and vascularization of engineered tissues.

Investigators all over the campus are engaged in the focus areas listed above and have developed many dedicated resources for cardiovascular research. Those resources include central facilities like confocal microscopes and the recently purchased dedicated small animal MRI system that can image hearts at breathtaking resolution. They include experimental, computational, clinical, and expertise resources that are housed within the various departments and institutes. A thread that is common to many of these resources and groups is the Bioengineering Department. Faculty from the department are members of all the leading groups and institutes across the campus and the largest concentration of cardiovascular expertise resides within the Bioengineering Department faculty. Bioengineering is creating a new educational track that supports graduate training in cardiac electrophysiology and biophysics, and other tracks (e.g., imaging,