Gregory Hoeker, a postdoctoral research associate at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, was named a recipient of the 2016-2017 Heart Rhythm Society Clinical Research Award.

Given to only five researchers in the United States each year, the renewable award provides $50,000 to fund one year of research. Hoeker’s award was given in honor of Mark Josephson and Hein Wellens, who spearheaded the field of cardiac electrophysiology.

Hoeker is the first honoree to hold a doctorate of philosophy degree. Previous honorees have all held medical degrees.

Hoeker, a native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, earned his doctorate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham before moving to Roanoke, Virginia, to complete his postdoctoral training. He will use the award funds to study, in a rodent model, how the composition of fluids administered to patients who have suffered cardiac arrest or myocardial infarction affects whether or not they survive and how well they recover from the event.

Heart disease, which can lead to blockages of the circulation to the heart muscle and heart attacks, is the number one killer in the United States. Some of the most common procedures are to correct damage caused by heart disease and heart attacks. Reperfusion procedures, in particular, aim to restore blood flow to the heart — which critical for saving patients’ lives and preventing damage to heart tissue. Administration of intravenous fluids is an integral component of care during and after reperfusion to help stabilize the patients.

 “Resuscitation fluids, such as 0.9 percent normal saline, are a medicine. The differences in the composition of clinically available resuscitation fluids can impact patient outcomes,” Hoeker said. “Our research shows that the relative concentration of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, can influence the electrical communication between cells in the heart. By purposefully designing resuscitation fluids with optimal compositions and combining them with reperfusion techniques, I hope our research will lead to new therapies and improve patient survival and functional recovery.”

Hoeker conducts his research in the laboratory of Steven Poelzing, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

 “I am really excited for Greg,” said Poelzing. “He is taking our work from things happening in structures much smaller than a cell and translating it to treat an incredibly important clinical problem.”

This is the second fellowship awarded to a postdoctoral research associate at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Rengasayee Veeraraghavan, who conducts research in the laboratory of Robert Gourdie, a professor who directs the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute’s Center for Heart and Regenerative Medicine, was recently awarded a prestigious grant from the American Heart Association.

“This is a well-deserved and impactful honor for Greg and his mentor, Steve, and for the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership,” said Michael Friedlander, director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “It is yet another example of the recognition that the researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Center for Heart and Regenerative Medicine continue to receive in study areas including sudden cardiac death, ischemic heart disease, dynamic revascularization, and repair of the damaged heart.”

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