Editor's note: All of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Heart School 2015 events scheduled the week of Feb. 16 were postponed because of winter weather. This Virginia Tech news story will be updated when new dates have been selected.

Building a heart: Inaugural heart school launches

ROANOKE, Va., Feb. 6, 2015 – The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute kicks off its first heart school this month and the public is invited to learn more about heart development and cardiovascular research during four free sessions.

The program starts Feb. 16 and continues through Feb. 19, with a public talk each day from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. There's no cost but space is limited so preregistration is required.

The theme for Heart School 2015 will be, “Building a Heart: What Goes Right and What Can Go Wrong.” Participants can expect an introduction to the normal structure and function of the heart, starting from the earliest embryonic stages through adulthood, including the onset and treatment of various disorders that may have a genetic or environmental basis.

Dr. W. Scott Arnold, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Carilion Clinic, will commence the series with an introduction to the normal anatomy and physiology of the heart, including how it pumps blood to the rest of the body. He will also present critical aspects of heart disease, including restriction of normal blood flow, heart attack, heart failure, and a range of interventions to treat these disorders.

James Smyth, a cardiovascular scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, will follow on Feb. 17 with an exploration of the micromachinery of the heart. Smyth will discuss how individual heart muscle cells contract and how electrical signals spread over thousands of cells through special junctions. He will address cardiac abnormal patterns of electrical activity and how the heart responds at the cellular level to stress, diet, exercise, and smoking.

John Chappell, a cardiovascular scientist at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, will continue the series on Feb. 18 by describing the rich network of blood vessels in the heart and how they function to provide oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. He will discuss how blood pressure affects the elasticity of vessels and how inflammation and blockages of the coronary circulation can affect the function of the heart.

Dr. Joelle Miller, a pediatric cardiologist at Carilion Clinic, will wrap up the series. Miller will present a case history of a newborn with severe cyanosis as an example of “blue baby syndrome.” She will discuss Tetralogy of Fallot, the congenital disorder most often responsible for blue baby syndrome, and how it can be repaired surgically. Miller will also explain the long-term challenges for patients with Tetralogy of Fallot.

“The heart is an incredibly complex biological machine,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “Peering into its inner workings and assembly is an opportunity for the community to learn about how this amazing organ is built and functions.”

The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute is home to the Center for Heart and Regenerative Medicine Research, directed by Robert Gourdie. Smyth, Chappell, and Steven Poelzing, along with Gourdie, make up the senior research team at the center, where they lead independent, yet linked, teams to answer basic research questions about the heart. 

Written by Ashley WennersHerron.
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