Deborah C. Vela, MD, MS

Deborah Vela is an Associate Research Investigator in the THI Cardiovascular Pathology Research Department. Holding a Medical Degree from Universidad de Guayaquil and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences from The University of Texas-Health Science Center at Houston, she joined THI in 2005, and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the McGovern Medical School, University of Texas at Houston. Her research interests include atherosclerosis, with special focus on novel imaging technologies for early detection of the disease, and experimental therapies for the treatment of acute and chronic heart disease. Show full bio

Dr. Vela earned her Medical Degree from Universidad de Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1996. After validation and certification through the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), in 2002 she joined the Vulnerable Plaque Research Laboratory led by Dr. S. Ward Casscells, at University of Texas–Health Science Center at Houston, where she worked on the histopathology of coronary artery disease and atherosclerotic plaque characterization and detection through non-invasive imaging modalities.

In 2010, Dr. Vela earned a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences from the MD Anderson
Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School at The University of Texas at Houston. Her graduate
studies were carried out in the lab of Dr. Heinrich Taegtmeyer, focusing on the gene expression
and protein degradation pathways in a rat model of cardiac hypertrophy.

During her tenure at Texas Heart Institute, beginning in 2005, Dr. Vela’s work has continued to
focus on the histolopathology of cardiovascular disease, with particular interest in
atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction. Her work in the field of atherosclerosis continues to
focus on plaque characterization and early detection of the disease through novel non-invasive
and endovascular imaging modalities, and often consists of collaborative, interdisciplinary
projects with research groups from both in and out of state. Much of this ongoing research is
related, but not limited to, the development of endovascular imaging catheters, either uni- or
bi-modal in nature, often with the aid of novel molecular imaging agents and algorithms for
post-acquisitional analysis. Dr. Vela’s interest in myocardial infarction has allowed her to work
in varied pre-clinical projects, predominantly in large animal models, exploring new therapies
for the treatment of acute and chronic heart disease. In these projects, she has focused mainly
in the tissue dissemination and healing patterns, and the inflammatory and immunologic
response to such therapies.

Additionally, since 2007 Dr. Vela has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of
Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the McGovern Medical School, University of Texas at

See Publications

Texas Heart Institute Positions


  • Atherosclerosis


  • Postgraduate:

    The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

  • Medical School:

    Universidad de Guayaquil

Academic & Clinical Affiliations

  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston


  • Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates


Klegerman, M. E., Moody, M. R., Huang, S.-L. et al. (2022). Demonstration of ultrasound-mediated therapeutic delivery of fibrin-targeted pioglitazone-loaded echogenic liposomes into the arterial bed for attenuation of peri-stent restenosis. J Drug Target, 1–10.
Barker, C. M., Meduri, C. U., Fail, P. S. et al. (2022). Feasibility of a no-implant approach to interatrial shunts: preclinical and early clinical studies. Structural Heart 6, 100078.
Zemzemi, C., Phillips, M., Vela, D. C. et al. (2022). Effect of thrombin and incubation time on porcine whole blood clot elasticity and recombinant tissue plasminogen activator susceptibility. Ultrasound Med Biol 48, 1567–1578.
Li, K., Vela, D., Migliati, E. et al. (2021). Pilot study of endovascular delivery of mesenchymal stromal cells in the aortic wall in a pig model. Cell Transplant 30, 9636897211010652.
Davogustto, G. E., Salazar, R. L., Vasquez, H. G. et al. (2021). Metabolic remodeling precedes mTORC1-mediated cardiac hypertrophy. J Mol Cell Cardiol 158, 115–127.
Bec, J., Vela, D., Phipps, J. E. et al. (2021). Label-free visualization and quantification of biochemical markers of atherosclerotic plaque progression using intravascular fluorescence lifetime. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging 14, 1832–1842.
Li, K., Wagner, L., Moctezuma-Ramirez, A. et al. (2021). A robust percutaneous myocardial infarction model in pigs and its effect on left ventricular function. J Cardiovasc Transl Res.
Ghaghada, K. B., Ren, P., Devkota, L. et al. (2021). Early detection of aortic degeneration in a mouse model of sporadic aortic aneurysm and dissection using nanoparticle contrast-enhanced computed tomography. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 41, 1534–1548.
Baruah, V., Zahedivash, A., Hoyt, T. et al. (2020). Automated coronary plaque characterization with intravascular optical coherence tomography and smart-algorithm approach: Virtual histology OCT. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging 13, 1848–1850.
Kee, P. H., Moody, M. R., Huang, S.-L. et al. (2020). Stabilizing peri-stent restenosis using a novel therapeutic carrier. JACC Basic Transl Sci 5, 1–11.

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