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Cardiovascular Diseases Research

Research Overview

Cardiovascular research at UC San Diego is rooted in a strong history, dating back to the founding of the School of Medicine when Dr. Eugene Braunwald moved from his position as clinical director of the National Heart Institute at NIH to become the founding chair of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Braunwald was joined by Dr. John Ross Jr. who led the cardiovascular research and training program. From this seminal beginning came our tradition of maintaining research as a core aspect of our training programs. All fellows are actively involved in research from early in their training and are afforded extensive opportunities to participate in basic, translational, or clinical research, including clinical trials. Their participation in this work frequently leads to publications in high-impact academic journals and presentations at national academic conferences including those sponsored by ACC, AHA, HFSA, HRS and SCAI. UC San Diego is at the forefront of evaluating emerging techniques and technologies that will have great impact on clinical care, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital health. Basic science labs utilize cutting edge techniques such as Crispr, single cell genomics, and metabolomics, frequently performing collaborative work with the extensive network of laboratories at UCSD. Clinical research studies can capitalize on access to large scale data sets for epidemiological and observational research, as well as clinical trials in areas including interventional cardiology, electrophysiology, cardio-oncology, heart failure and transplant, adult congenital heart disease, and amyloidosis. The Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) is a state of the art research facility available to cardiovascular fellows that provides access to a wide array of research resources and tools.

Recent Selected Publications by Fellows
A list of recent publications by cardiovascular fellows in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.

Fellow Research Day 2020
Each year, UC San Diego hosts a Fellows Research Day which highlights research by residents, general fellows, and advanced fellows. 

Research Structure

Protected research time is provided to all fellows throughout the three years of the training program. Each fellow is expected to identify topics of interest, speak with a range of potential faculty research mentors and ultimately participate in a longitudinal research project. First and second year fellows have approximately 6 weeks of research time allocated to research each year. Third year fellows then have approximately 8 months of elective / research time to focus on these projects. In addition, there are several options for continuing research beyond the third year including positions on the Division of Cardiovascular Medicines NIH sponsored T32 Training Program (see below), as well as as T32 fellowship positions offered through the Integrated Cardiovascular Epidemiology Fellowship housed in the Division of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health.

Previous fellows have also received independent extramural grant funding through the NIH, AHA, ACC and other sources. Fellows have gone on to become junior faculty and launched independent investigative careers with the support of competitive funding such as NIH Career Development K-series Awards and AHA Fellow-to-Faculty Awards. Some have also become investigators on NIH R01 grants.

Research conferences offered weekly through most of the year include Grand Rounds, and the Cardiovascular Science Conference featuring local, national and international leaders in the field. Fellows also frequently present at these forums. A highlight of our research efforts is the annual Fellows Research Day (see below). The Schulman Research Award is presented annually to recognize outstanding research in cardiovascular medicine performed at UC San Diego, by individuals at early stage in their careers. Previous winners have included individuals now having prominent leadership positions in cardiovascular medicine worldwide.

Molecular Cardiology Research Program

The UC San Diego Molecular Cardiology Research Program is directed by Drs. Ju Chen and Robert Ross and consists of more than 15 Principal Investigators, whose work focuses on understanding cardiovascular development, postnatal cardiac growth, function, and disease. The group utilizes cutting edge molecular, cellular and biochemical techniques, together with genetics, multi-omics and bioengineering approaches, along with classical methods that elucidate the cardiac physiology and pathophysiology of the various models under study. Investigators use model systems ranging from mouse to zebrafish and stem cells, along with investigation of human samples. Our group draws from efforts not only from our own laboratories, but collaborates extensively with the wide range of investigators on our own campus as well as others in the rich scientific environment in the greater Torrey Pines Mesa. With this the PIs investigate the cardiovascular system from the molecular and cellular level all the way up to human clinical trials that aim to develop novel cardiac therapeutics. The outstanding work of the faculty and staff of the Molecular Cardiology Research Program has been widely recognized, in national and international news, through honors and awards, and by attracting significant extramural support from the NIH, the Veterans Administration, the American Heart Association, the Leduq Foundation, CIRM, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the UC Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.

The program also features the annual John Ross, Jr. Lecture in Cardiology. For this distinguished lecture we invite a prominent physician-scientist that has had a significant impact on the field of cardiology, following in the steps of the titled honoree who lead our division for many decades. The speaker visits with clinical fellows and other trainees from our program. Notable John Ross, Jr. lecture laureates include Drs. Howard Rockman, Douglas Mann, Gerald Dorn, and Kenneth R. Chien.

NIH T32 Training Program on Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology

The Division of Cardiovascular Medicine also hosts one of the longest continuously funded NIH T32 Training Programs on our campus titled the Cardiovascular Physiology and Pharmacology program, though its breadth of investigations is quite wide. It has been in place since 1976.

Since its inception, this NHLBI T32 training program has provided critical support for over 140 postdoctoral and predoctoral trainees in cardiovascular sciences at UC San Diego. Among all supported trainees from the last four decades, 80% continue in research-oriented careers, with 50% currently in academic faculty positions and 30% pursuing careers in industry, with many attaining significant leadership positions worldwide. These include five former trainees that serve as Chiefs of Cardiology or other senior leadership positions, including Wilbur Lew (San Diego VA Hospital), Kirk Knowlton (previously Chief at UCSD, now Director of Research, Intermountain Heart Institute), Douglas Mann (UT Baylor followed by Washington University), and Howard Rockman (Duke University). Several other physician-scientist trainees also maintain high-profile academic positions with independent extramural support and continue to pursue cardiovascular research, including Jeff Holmes (Dean of Engineering, U. Alabama at Birmingham), Kirk Hammond (Professor of Medicine, UCSD), and Sam Tsimikas (Professor of Medicine, Director of Vascular Medicine, UCSD). Trainees also maintain other high-profile academic positions at universities worldwide, including Ken Boheler (Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Hong Kong) and Peipiei Ping (Professor of Physiology, Cardiology, and Bioinformatics, UCLA), as well as at UCSD, including Jeff Omens, Hamel Patel and Francisco Villarreal, all of whom have achieved the rank of full tenure-track Professors. These faculty recognize the profound influence the T32 training grant has had upon their academic careers and scientific accomplishments, and they continue to serve the training program, including as key preceptors. Within industry, a number of former trainees continue to hold significant leadership positions. The impact of this program across cardiovascular sciences cannot be overstated. 

Besides hands-on training and mentoring in the laboratory, our T32 training program incorporates a weekly Cardiovascular Science Conference to provide an opportunity for our trainees to interact with well-recognized scientists and physician-scientists from throughout the United States and the world. Each outside speaker meets with the fellows and trainees supported by our training grant for a lunch discussion regarding academic careers and research.