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Two faculty members in the USA College of Medicine Department of Physiology and Cell Biology have been recognized as Expertscape “World Experts” on the topic of myocardial reperfusion injury.

Published Mar 16th, 2021

By Lindsay Lyle

Two faculty members in the USA College of Medicine Department of Physiology and Cell Biology have been recognized as Expertscape “World Experts” on the topic of myocardial reperfusion injury.

Michael V. Cohen, M.D., professor of physiology and cell biology, and James M. Downey, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physiology and cell biology, are among the top 0.1 percent of scholars writing about the subject over the past 10 years, awarding them the highest level of expertise.

“The Cohen and Downey team has been among the worldwide leaders in their field for decades,” said Troy Stevens, Ph.D., professor and chair of physiology and cell biology. “We are privileged to work alongside them, and to see firsthand how they continue to impact the future of medicine. They are great role models for faculty and students alike.”

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a blood clot forms in a coronary artery and obstructs the flow of blood to the heart. Without enough oxygen-carrying blood supply, a condition known as ischemia, heart muscle cells begin to die. Myocardial necrosis can cause fatal rhythm disturbances or leave the patient with a permanently weakened heart, which often leads to heart failure.

The current therapy is to reopen the artery and restore blood flow with the use of catheter-based techniques or thrombolytic drugs to dissolve the blood clot. Counterintuitively, the resumption of blood flow to the heart, known as reperfusion, causes its own myocardial damage, known as reperfusion injury.

Clinicians and researchers, including Cohen and Downey, have labored to develop an intervention that would block, or at least reduce, reperfusion injury.

“Like detectives, we followed leads and slowly built up a plausible construct of how reperfusion damaged ischemic tissue,” Cohen said. “And then this understanding allowed us to propose how one might interfere with the process and ultimately block reperfusion injury.”

Cohen, who is also a cardiologist at USA Health, said researchers have been successful at blocking myocardial necrosis in animal models of ischemia/reperfusion. They are now working to develop clinically applicable approaches.

Reducing reperfusion injury would "significantly reduce the amount of cardiac muscle that becomes necrotic and promote better residual cardiac function,” he said. “This would decrease both mortality and morbidity, and improve patients' prognosis.”

Reflecting on three decades of research devoted to this topic, Cohen said, “it has been an exhilarating journey.”

“Our work has stimulated others to become involved and other scientists have made significant advances both in tandem and in parallel, so we have not been working in a vacuum,” he said. “We are pleased that our work has formed a foundation on which others can build. We are delighted that others have recognized our accomplishments.”

In addition to Cohen and Downey, two other investigators with ties to the USA College of Medicine ranked in the top 0.1 percent: Gerd Heusch, Prof. Dr. med., Dr. h.c., of Essen, Germany; and Derek Yellon, Ph.D., D.Sc., of London, England. Both are adjunct faculty members in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology.

Cohen and Downey’s work has been supported by external funding agencies and grants from pharmaceutical companies. Cohen said they are grateful for the financial and institutional support from their colleagues and mentors in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology, namely the late Aubrey Taylor, Ph.D., professor emeritus and chair of physiology; Thomas Lincoln, Ph.D., professor emeritus; and Stevens.

Expertscape objectively ranks researchers and institutions by their expertise based on data from the National Institutes of Health’s PubMed database, hosted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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