The research goal of the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease is to establish the Physiology Research Program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth as an nationally and internationally recognized program of research and pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training. The core of the institute’s research is the physiology and pathophysiology of the cardiovascular system. Members of the Institute are nationally and internationally recognized in their specific areas of research. Faculty members of the Institute serve on grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, as well as the editorial boards of prestigious cardiovascular journals, and hold offices in several scientific and clinical organizations.

Current Research Projects

Steve W. Mifflin, Ph.D., Executive Director and Professor
(Ph.D., Physiology and Biophysics, University of Texas Medical Branch, 1983). Research focuses on brainstem neurons that regulate blood pressure and respiration. Of particular interest is how these neurons adapt following chronic changes in physiological state (high blood pressure, low oxygen levels, sleep apnea, high salt intake). Studies are conducted over the spectrum from conscious, freely moving animals to single cell electrophysiology. The goal is to better understand if alterations in central nervous system function in pathophysiological states are protective or contribute to the pathophysiology. This knowledge can guide new therapeutic approaches.

Rebecca Cunningham, Ph.D., Associate Professor
(Ph.D., Neurobiology, University of Texas at San Antonio, 2006). We investigate the role of steroid hormones, specifically androgens, on brain neuronal function. Current projects focus on the effects of the androgen, testosterone, using an animal model for sleep apnea, a common comorbidity of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. We also study the effects of androgens on cell signaling pathways that alter oxidative stress levels in neurons.

J. Thomas Cunningham, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Biopsychology, University of Iowa, 1988). We investigate the role of the central nervous system in body fluid homeostasis and cardiovascular regulation. Current projects focus on the physiological regulation of vasopressin release by visceral afferents and the roles of hypothalamic TRP channels and brain derived neurotrophic factors in syndrome of inappropriate ADH (SIADH). We also study hypothalamic mechanisms that influence sympathetic outflow in animal models of hypertension.

Ladislav Dory, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D. Biochemistry, McGill University, 1978).  Oxidative stress and disease (cardiovascular, lung, gut, innate immunity) with special emphasis on the role of extracellular superoxide dismutase; use of lactobacillus-derived probiotics expressing this enzyme. Use of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of diseases initiated by oxidative stress, including atherosclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and others.  Research focus is on Oxidative stress degrades many components of the body, not unlike it degrades iron to rust. In some cases some it can play a beneficial role by stimulating the body’s defense mechanisms to activate anti-oxidative stress components. Exposure to hyperbaric oxygen (pure oxygen administered at higher than normal pressure for brief periods) has been shown, in my laboratory, to significantly reduce or even reverse atherosclerosis in animals. I would like to extend these observations to other diseases that have the oxidative stress component

Stella Goulopoulou, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
(Ph.D., Exercise Physiology and Science Education, Syracuse University, 2010). Research focuses on vascular physiology and pathophysiology with a great emphasis on women’s cardiovascular health.  The main goal is to identify novel molecular mechanisms that are associated with maternal and offspring vascular dysfunction and discover new pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments that could be safely used during pregnancy.  Our research questions address: 1) the effects of placenta-derived factors on maternal vascular health during pregnancy, 2) the role of pre-existing obesity on maternal vascular adaptations and pregnancy outcomes, and 3) the role of pregnancy complications in the development of maternal and offspring risk for cardiovascular disease.  The laboratory uses integrative (e.g., physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, immunology) and translational (e.g., rodents, humans) experimental approaches, and a wide variety of techniques including cell culture (e.g., primary vascular smooth muscle cells), ex vivo (e.g., isolated vessels) and in vivo techniques (e.g., blood pressure measurements).

Patricia A. Gwirtz, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Physiology, Thomas Jefferson University, 1978). Informed consent applies the core principle of “Respect of Persons” to ethical research. Respect of research subjects implies considering and valuing the opinions and choices made by a subject having adequate knowledge. This requires that the subject fully comprehend the informed consent; otherwise their rights are compromised. A major barrier to comprehension occurs when the informed consent must be translated. Current research is examining the effects of these linguistic problems and other factors (e.g., education) on comprehension of the consent process.

Andras G. Lacko, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Biochemistry, University of Washington Seattle WA 1968), Research focuses on development and evaluation of targeted biocompatible transport systems for systemic drug delivery, particularly for cancer chemotherapy.  Of particular interest is the uptake of chemotherapeutic agents from lipoprotein type nanoparticles via a receptor-mediated mechanism that allows selective delivery of drugs to tumors vs normal tissues.

Rong Ma, Ph.D. , Associate Professor
(Ph.D., Physiology, University of Nebraska, 1999) Research focuses on Ca2+-conductive channels (TRP channels) in kidney (glomerular mesangial cells and podocytes) and vascular smooth muscle cells. Major interests include regulation of TRP channels by protein kinases and reactive oxygen species, physiological relevance of TRP channels in kidney and blood vessels, and the association of TRP channel dysfunction with kidney and vascular diseases, such as diabetic nephropathy and vasculopathy

Robert T. Mallet, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Physiology, George Washington University, 1986). Research emphasizes development of novel strategies to protect heart and brain from ischemic and inflammatory injury by modifying metabolic fuel supply to these organs, or by hypoxia conditioning. Current studies are defining mechanisms responsible for protection of the heart and brain by pyruvate during cardiac arrest-resuscitation, cardiopulmonary bypass surgery and hemorrhagic shock, and robust preservation of ischemic heart muscle and brain by intermittent, normobaric hypoxia conditioning.

Keisa W. Mathis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
(Ph.D, Physiology, LSU Health Sciences Center, 2009). The primary focus of the Mathis Laboratory is to investigate neuroimmune mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis of hypertension and renal injury. We are interested in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease with a high prevalence of hypertension that primarily affects young women. The autonomic dysfunction and chronic inflammation in SLE makes it an ideal disease model to study neuroimmune interactions that may lead to alterations in the kidney and ultimately hypertension. We are currently investigating the vagally-mediated, cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway and its role in the development of chronic inflammation and hypertension in a mouse model of SLE using integrative physiological approaches complimented with molecular, cellular and immunological techniques. Our research may lead to important clinical implications for not only patients with SLE and essential hypertension, but also for patients with other diseases of chronic inflammation.

Sangram Raut, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor
(Ph.D., UNT Health Science Center, Fort Worth). My background is in nanomedicine and fluorescence spectroscopy area. Our research efforts are focused on developing lipoprotein nanoparticles for delivery of anti-cancer drugs to solid tumors such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and glioblastoma to name a few utilizing the scavenger receptor type B1 (SR-B1). This unique interaction between HDL nanoparticles and SR-B1 forms the basis of our hypothesis of tumor-selective drug delivery and reduced side effects from currently used chemotherapy drugs.  Our lab utilizes cell and tissue culture, patient tissue samples and xenograft/orthotopic animal models to evaluate the nano-drug delivery platform. Moreover, I am also intrigued by the cholesterol and lipid metabolism in various cancers and how the expression of HDL and LDL receptors and cholesterol uptake contribute to cancer progression and metastasis. Thus,  I am also interested in utilizing fluorescence techniques to probe the cell membrane properties (such as fluidity or micro-viscosity) of cancer cells due to overexpressed SR-B1 receptors and enhanced cholesterol uptake as a consequence.

Peter B. Raven, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Scientific Basis of Physical Education, University of Oregon, 1969). Investigates cardiovascular regulation of the human during exercise and orthostasis. By using invasive and non-invasive procedures, integrative physiological mechanisms of cardiovascular regulation of the human are investigated during dynamic exercise and gravitational stress in both young and elderly individuals with varying levels of aerobic fitness.

Caroline Rickards, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
(Ph.D.,Doctor of Physiology, RMIT University Melbourne, Australia).  General research research interests encompass understanding the integrated cardiovascular, autonomic and cerebrovascular responses to hypovolemic stressors in humans, with an emphasis on hemorrhage and orthostasis. While working with the US Army at the Institute for Surgical Research in San Antonio, my research focused on the early detection of hemorrhagic injury in trauma patients, and characterizing physiological differences between individuals with high versus low tolerance to this stress.  My current projects in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Anatomy continue this line of investigation, with a particular focus on examining the role of hemodyamic variability (i.e., in arterial pressure and cerebral blood flow) on the protection of cerebral tissue perfusion and oxygenation.  It is anticipated that these studies will have potential clinical applications to stroke, traumatic brain injury, hemorrhage, migraine, and orthostatic intolerance.

Steven Romero, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
(Ph.D., Human Physiology, University of Oregon, 2014 ). The Human Vascular Physiology Laboratory has two primary research themes. The first research theme centers on investigating how the human vascular system adjusts and adapts to exercise and environmental stress in healthy and diseased populations. The second research theme centers on investigating the vascular and functional maladaptations that accompany various diseases (e.g. peripheral arterial disease, aging, burn survivors), in addition to identifying novel therapies or interventions that may mitigate such deleterious changes.

Ann Schreihofer, Ph.D.Associate Professor
(Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Research efforts focus on how the brain regulates the cardiovascular system in health and disease states.  The laboratory uses a combination of electrophysiological, neuroanatomical, molecular, and physiological approaches to investigate how the brain modulates the autonomic nervous system to maintain blood pressure.  Using rats, the laboratory is currently focused how obesity (and metabolic syndrome) and exposure to chronic intermittent hypoxia (as a model for obstructive sleep apnea) alter autonomic regulation of blood pressure to promote hypertension.

Michael L. Smith, Ph.D., Professor
(Ph.D., Biology, University of North Texas, 1986). Research efforts focus on the neural control of cardiovascular function relating to mechanisms of sudden cardiac death, syncope, exercise training effects, and mechanisms of the association between obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension.

Joseph P Yuan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
(Ph.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 2003).  Calcium (Ca2+) signaling mediates cardiac development and proliferation.  Aberrant Ca2+ signaling has been firmly linked to major diseases of the cardiovascular system; however, the molecular identities of the aberrant Ca2+ signaling have yet to be determined with certainty.  Abnormalities in store-operated Ca2+ channel (SOC) entry have been proposed to contribute to this aberrant Ca2 signaling.  SOC’s are Ca2+ channels that are activated in response to depletion of ER Ca2+ stores.  Thus, we are studying the molecular mechanism of gating of SOC’s toward better understanding the link between aberrant Ca2+ signaling and certain cardiovascular diseases.

This page was last modified on December 11, 2018