By Dirk Hoffman
Published November 1, 2023
Aras obtained a K99/R00 five-year grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute while he was at George Washington University.
Its first two years were focused on continued postdoctoral training, and the remaining three years were activated after he transitioned to a tenure track faculty position at the University at Buffalo in 2022. The NLBI’s funding for years 3-5 totals $750,000.
The study, titled “Role of Epicardial Adiposity as a Local Mediator of VT/VF Dynamics in Donor Human Hearts,” takes a look at the role of obesity, a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Aras notes that in the clinical setting, there is an obesity paradox phenomenon, where obese patients (based on Body Mass Index (BMI) status) seem to have better clinical outcomes for various cardiovascular diseases compared to normal BMI patients.
“Why this is the case is not clearly understood. What we found was the amount of fat accumulated on the heart surface does not always correlate with BMI, which suggests that instead of BMI, perhaps, the fat on the heart may be a better predictor of cardiovascular fitness,” he says.
“To that end, my lab focuses on investigating the role of fat on the heart and its role in promoting and/or protecting against cardiovascular diseases,” Aras adds. “We use a combination of animal models and donor human hearts as well as technologies including cardiac electrophysiology, bioinformatics, adipose biology, and bioelectronics to investigate the mechanisms of obesity mediated cardiac arrhythmias.”
Ventricular tachyarrhythmias are responsible for 300,000 sudden cardiac deaths a year in the U.S.
The study by Aras uses a multi-modal and multi-scale approach to characterize how obesity induces ventricular arrhythmias in donor human hearts and will use that knowledge to potentially develop new markers to predict and treat ventricular arrhythmias in a clinical setting.
“Over the last century thanks to active research in the field of cardiovascular disease (CVD) mechanisms and treatment, we were able to see a downtrend in heart disease related mortalities from 1950s to 2000s,” Aras notes.
“However, that trend has since gone up again, reclaiming the top spot for mortalities, and this seems to coincide with the growing epidemic of obesity, which suggests that obesity is playing a role in the resurgence of CVD mortalities,” he adds.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demographic maps show strong correlation between areas with high rates of obesity and areas of high rates of CVD mortalities.
“The overarching questions we are investigating is whether cardiac obesity promotes or protects against cardiac arrhythmias and what are the underlying mechanisms,” Aras says. “My research will help understand how obesity, and in particular, cardiac obesity impacts cardiovascular fitness and hopefully identify new therapeutic strategies for treatment of obesity mediated arrhythmias.”