Dec. 13, 2023

Research team hopes to better predict, prevent and treat cardiovascular disease

Group investigating role of fatty tissue in cardiovascular conditions
Vaibhav Patel
Vaibhav Patel

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of premature death globally, and its prevalence is expected to grow because of an increase in metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Research is revealing that epicardial adipose tissue (EAT), the fatty tissue surrounding the heart, is linked to cardiovascular problems like inflammation and scarring. The evidence suggests that EAT plays a crucial role in the onset and progression of heart and vascular conditions such as atrial fibrillation.

However, critical knowledge about the impact of EAT on health, including the underlying molecular mechanisms, hasn’t yet been puzzled out. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute is looking to decipher the roles of EAT in cardiovascular disease and find imaging-based biomarkers that could help identify patients at risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

The team, led by Dr. Vaibhav Patel, PhD, will examine the crosstalk between EAT and the heart and blood vessels in obese and/or diabetic individuals. They hope to prove their hypothesis that this crosstalk, the process by which inputs from multiple cells work together to cause a biological response, is critically involved in the onset of heart and vascular diseases.

In addition to gaining a clearer understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind this crosstalk and its impact on the body, researchers will examine if and how inflammation and extracellular material, such as that found in the pericardial space (the sac surrounding the heart), are involved in disease development and progression. The team will also look for potential differences between the sexes in these processes. 

Professor Dr. Robert Rose, PhD, a basic scientist on the team, says understanding the biological processes is critical.

“Understanding how EAT leads to cardiac dysfunction will help us develop new treatment strategies or new tools to predict who is most susceptible to disease development and progression,” says Rose.

Patel says the project is possible only because of a collaboration between numerous scientists and clinicians. The team consists of a variety of experts in such areas as imaging, biomarkers, inflammation, atrial fibrillation, data science and cellular mechanisms.

“Our Institute has a lot of strengths that makes it possible for us to take on such complex projects,” says Patel. “We are one of the largest, best-organized groups and this gives us a tremendous advantage.”

Rose says collaboration is of the “utmost importance.”

“It brings together investigators with different backgrounds and areas of expertise so that we can work synergistically to advance the project,” he says. “Collaboration is an effective way to enhance the scope and impact of the work being done.”

This research team is one of two recently awarded an inaugural Michael and Terry Wilson Cardiovascular Research funding through the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. The funding will help get their project off the ground and pave the way for future projects.   

Patel is excited about the project, explaining the goal is to better predict, prevent and treat disease.

“This project truly has tremendous potential, and we are immensely grateful for the donors who are making it possible for us to get the project underway,” he says.   

Vaibhav Patel, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

Robert Rose is a professor in the departments of Cardiac Sciences and Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine. He is the Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s deputy director and holds the D. G. Wyse/Libin Cardiovascular Institute Professorship in Cardiovascular Research.