The Physical Heart
At UTA, where “health and the human condition” is a pillar of our Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact, cardiovascular research is a major interdisciplinary focus across the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, the College of Science, and the College of Engineering.
A central contributor in this area is Mark Haykowsky, the College of Nursing and Health Innovation’s Moritz Chair of Geriatric Nursing Research and a leading expert in heart failure rehabilitation. In 2018, Dr. Haykowsky was recognized for his achievement in heart research when he was elected a fellow of the American College of Cardiology (ACC). The fellowship is one of the ACC’s most prestigious designations.
“This honor is a resounding endorsement of our ongoing efforts to find solutions to health care challenges.”
“This honor is a resounding endorsement of our ongoing efforts to find solutions to health care challenges—in particular, heart failure with preserved ejection,” he says. Haykowsky also directs the College of Nursing and Health Innovation’s Integrated Cardiovascular and Exercise Physiology and Rehabilitation (iCARE) Laboratory.
Heart research is also a focus in the College of Engineering, where Yi Hong, a bioengineering professor, is leading a team of researchers in a project that aims to develop a biodegradable and bioactive hydrogel to repair heart tissue after heart attacks. His work is funded by a $460,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“Dr. Hong’s research in biomaterials and especially biogels is positioning UTA at the forefront of this burgeoning field,” says Michael Cho, bioengineering chair. “This new project will provide a platform for cross-institutional collaboration in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and strengthen our position even further in biomedical engineering research and potential clinical applications.”
Another UTA bioengineer, Assistant Professor Juhyun Lee, is managing two heart research initiatives, both funded fellowby the American Heart Association (AHA). For one, Dr. Lee received the AHA’s prestigious Career Development Award. The three-year, $251,000 grant relates to another grant that he received in March to develop a new microscope that can capture 3D motion, then add time to construct a 4D beating heart using optical imaging techniques with fluorescent nanoparticles in a zebrafish.
Lee will use the new grant to explore targeted delivery of messenger RNA, or mRNA, to reverse damage caused by congenital heart disease by modulating the mechanical forces to reduce gene expressions. Then, he will use nanoparticles to encapsulate the mRNA and deliver it to the heart. Once the mRNA is introduced, he will recover the gene expression to see if trabeculation occurs even in the absence of mechanical forces.
“This new grant, coupled with his current grant, will provide critical insight into how gene expressions can be used to jump-start heart growth or healing,” Dr. Cho says. “Promising discoveries could lead to major advances in how heart defects and damage from congenital heart disease are treated.”
In the College of Science, Subhrangsu Mandal, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is leading a project with co-investigator Linda Perrotti, associate professor of psychology, to investigate the link between ovarian hormones and blood cholesterol balance in the body. That balance is a key determinant of cardiovascular health. For their research, the co-principal investigators received a $439,360 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“The project is an example of how interdisciplinary projects among the sciences can generate new ideas and discoveries,” says Frederick MacDonnell, chair of chemistry and biochemistry. “In this case, it’s one that links directly to UTA’s strategic theme of health and the human condition.”
“When we build processes that help former offenders be successful with re-entry, it improves community safety and therefore helps all of us.”
The Heart of Our Communities
In order to succeed in the 21st century, universities are charged with creating innovative partnerships that spawn fresh approaches to community engagement. This happens at many levels of operation at UTA, where serving communities near and far is a designated Maverick Imperative, but perhaps none so prominently as in the School of Social Work.
A major focus of the school’s rigorous academics is community-focused learning, where students and professors alike devote countless hours to hands-on fieldwork. As part of the requirements to complete their degrees, Bachelor of Social Work students must complete 480 hours of supervised field education training. Students pursuing a master’s degree in social work must complete anywhere from 480 to 960 hours, depending on their academic background.
PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY
UTA’s multifaceted approach to care starts with a set of six core values, called the Principles of Community. Developed by our faculty, staff, and students, these principles serve as the heart and soul of our engagement with each other and the larger communities we serve. They unite every Maverick around our mission of teaching, research, and public service.
Outreach is also coordinated through the school’s many centers of research. One, the Center for Addiction and Recovery Studies (CARS), provides substance abuse services and training in the community, conducts research, and educates and trains social work students. A signature service of CARS is the Pregnant/Postpartum Intervention Program, which is based in Dallas and helps pregnant and postpartum women who are using drugs or recently in recovery. Through the program, women receive case management that includes treatment, social services, and supports. If possible, they are reunited with their children who may have been removed by Child Protective Services.
“One thing that we are really emphasizing going forward is working to strengthen the bond between the women and their newborns,” Debra Woody, director of CARS and senior associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Social Work, said in a recent interview with Texas Health Journal. “The research shows that the stronger the bond, the more likely the mother is to provide a safe, caring environment, and it also contributes to her recovery.”
In a multidisciplinary research effort led by Anne Nordberg, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, a team of UTA researchers is working to help former criminal offenders successfully reenter society. Research indicates that strong networks of support reduce recidivism, but most communities remain ill-equipped to successfully support former offenders. In addition, the lack of access to transportation has been identified as a major barrier to reentry for former criminal offenders.
Through a grant from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, the research team is linking former inmates with transportation to needed services like employment centers, educational opportunities, and medical access.
“When we build processes that help former offenders be successful with reentry, it improves community safety and therefore helps all of us,” Dr. Nordberg says.
Other professors involved with the project include Jaya Davis, associate professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Stephen Mattingly, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering.
The team is partnering with Dallas-based Unlocking DOORS, a reentry brokerage firm that coordinates services including housing, health services, job retraining, transportation, and parole/probation obligations. Unlocking DOORS assists former offenders in navigating a patchwork of logistic hurdles.
“They did the right thing by our community and nation. Now it’s our turn to do the right thing by them.”
“This project will transcend regional re-entry issues and create a framework that can be adapted to similar conditions in other areas statewide and nationally,” says Dr. Davis. “Ultimately, we’d like the project to assist in community planning. The team’s desire is to improve the quality of life for former offenders and community residents.”
The Heart of Our Campus
From research that keeps our hearts healthy to community outreach that keeps the hearts of our communities flourishing, UTA never loses track of the dynamic force that keeps the Maverick spirit strong—our students. An array of services and programs provides everyone equal access to higher education at UTA, an imperative that boosts Texas’ workforce and helps the state continue to thrive as an economic leader on a worldwide level.
A particular focus for the University has been to ensure that those who served or continue to serve our country through the military can gain an education that helps them transition to successful civilian life. UTA’s more than 5,000 veterans and veteran dependents make up about 12 percent of the on-campus student population. Services for our veterans include Veterans Upward Bound, VetSuccess on Campus, MavVets, and the Veterans Assistance Center. Together, these programs provide access to numerous resources for personal, academic, and professional support.
UTA has earned national accolades for its service to service members. Military Times ranks the University No. 1 in Texas and No. 7 in the nation as a 2019 “Best for Vets” college, and in 2018, Victory Media ranked UTA No. 9 in the nation as a “Military Friendly” university. A crowning achievement, late last year, was the University’s designation as a Purple Heart University. The honor recognizes universities that demonstrate distinguished service and support to their veteran students.
“The 5,000 veterans and veteran dependents we’ve seen this year offer the University a great opportunity,” says James Kumm, UTA’s executive director for veterans programs. “They did the right thing by our community and nation. Now it’s our turn to do the right thing by them. The Purple Heart is a noble award that represents true courage and valor.”
Ray Hennagir, a freshman kinesiology major, was on hand for the Purple Heart designation ceremony. He is also a veteran and a Purple Heart recipient for injuries he sustained on the Iraq battlefield.
“It really shows how much UTA thinks of the veterans,” Hennagir says. “I used the veterans office three or four times on just the first day of school. And I didn’t have to seek them out. They asked if I needed help.”