Farish Fund Supports Collaboration to
Study Plaques That
Cause Most Heart Attacks
Program Pairs UT's Institute for Computational Engineering
and Sciences with Texas Heart Institute
Houston, Texas (July 31, 2013) – The William Stamps Farish Fund in Houston has donated
$400,000 to a collaboration between the Institute for Computational Engineering
and Sciences (ICES) at The University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Heart
Institute (THI) to study life-threatening vulnerable plaques, the cause of at
least two-thirds of all heart attacks, and new ways to prevent them.
The gift will underwrite two, three-year research positions
for a Ph.D. student and a postdoctoral fellow assigned to the ongoing
"We are very grateful for this important gift from the
Farish Fund. It comes at a time when interest in computational medicine and
particularly in modeling functions of the cardiovascular system are at an
all-time high," said J. Tinsley Oden, director of ICES and professor of
mathematics, and aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics. "And we are
excited for this gift's part in building a strong collaboration between ICES
and a leading national heart center, the Texas Heart Institute."
"Our thanks to the Farish family and the foundation for
this generous support of our work," said Dr. James T. Willerson, THI president
and medical director. "Being able to detect vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques
noninvasively and intervene before they rupture and cause heart attacks or
strokes is important to everyone, and this support will help us in our quest to
achieve that goal."
Vulnerable plaques are fatty lipid pool deposits in the
inner layer of the arterial wall. Unfortunately, standard medical imaging tests
such as MRIs, CT-scans, external ultrasound and coronary angiography fail
to detect them since they often do not cause significant narrowing of the coronary artery. ICES Professor Thomas J.R. Hughes and ICES JTO Faculty Fellow and THI Research Scientist / Assistant Professor
Shaolie Hossain, created a 3-D model of a heart drug delivery system that
demonstrates how new patient-specific imagery and nanoparticles can be used to potentially detect vulnerable plaques and precisely deliver
supplemental drugs tailored to each patient's anatomy and physiology.
"Everybody hears about heart disease and heart attacks, yet
vulnerable plaques are often the source — they are very insidious," says Hughes,
a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics.
New imaging technologies have yielded promising results. For
example, virtual histology intravascular ultrasound (VH-IVUS) generates images
of an artery cross section from an ultrasound catheter tracked through the
vasculature. It can distinguish between low-risk artery wall thickening and a
high-risk lesion. Once identified, current drugs such as statins prevent about
30 percent of vulnerable plaque heart attacks or strokes.
"Both detection and treatment of vulnerable plaque represent
huge unmet clinical needs," says Hughes. "If a vulnerable plaque ruptures and blocks flow to
an area of the heart, it's a heart attack; if it blocks an artery in the brain,
it's a stroke."
New studies propose supplementing statins with drugs
delivered directly to diseased arteries to rapidly stabilize vulnerable plaques
and prevent rupture.
"Using this newly available information from a patient's
VH-IVUS, we can generate models showing the specific geometry of a patient's
arterial wall, as well as the fine junctures among arteries," says Hossain.
"The methodology will allow a physician to identify the location of the
vulnerable plaque and inject a customized amount of the drug at a specific site
tailored to the patient's artery structure and blood flow features for the best
"To model these very complicated systems takes millions of
equations that need to be solved at each of millions of time steps to do simulations, so the computational
burden is enormous," Hughes says.
The treatment represents a continuation of decades of work
by Hughes and his students to develop effective patient-specific heart disease
Pre-clinical validation of the methodology is the next step.
"This will take us closer to the clinical work
to help develop new, noninvasive procedures for new drugs," Hossain says.
The Institute for
Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES) at the University of Texas at
Austin (https://www.ices.utexas.edu/) is an organized research unit
created to foster the development of interdisciplinary programs in
computational sciences and engineering (CSE), mathematical modeling, applied
mathematics, software engineering, and computational visualization. The
Institute currently supports eleven research centers and alliances and six
research groups, and with additional units still in the planning stages.
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Director of Public Affairs
Texas Heart Institute
Frank Michel ♦ 832-355-9510 ♦ firstname.lastname@example.org
For THI media profile, see Public Affairs.