November 26, 2018

Digitizing interactions between the brain and the heart

UC Davis Health team to create a vivid new view of cardiovascular disease


UC Davis Health researchers have been awarded $5.2 million over four years from the National Institutes of Health to develop the first computerized model of the relationship between the nervous system and cardiovascular disease.

Colleen Clancy Colleen Clancy

The tool is expected to lead to new understanding of conditions such as hypertension, arrhythmia, heart failure and stroke, along with how those conditions change in response to treatment.

“We know that imbalance between the nervous and cardiovascular systems contributes to heart disease, however we don’t fully understand how,” said principal investigator Colleen Clancy, professor of physiology and membrane biology. “Our new suite of tools will showcase those interactions in a real-time, visual way and could lead to new interventions for preventing and even reversing heart disease.”

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Eleonora Grandi, associate professor of pharmacology, and L. Fernando Santana, professor and chair of physiology and membrane biology.

Clancy specializes in using high-performance computing to understand the onset and progression of disease. Her work includes a groundbreaking study showing how an anti-arrhythmia drug actually created rather than resolved abnormal heart rhythm. Her new funding expands that work, while making it more personal at the same time.

“The new system will integrate anatomical, cellular and functional neuro-cardiovascular data with individual differences in an unprecedented way, leading to a uniquely predictive tool for each patient,” Clancy said.

Christine Nguyen

In addition to bringing a novel modeling approach to the study of cardiovascular disease, the project is notable for the diversity of the research team, which aligns with NIH workforce diversity goals for including women and underrepresented minority investigators from a range of career levels and fields, including physiology and membrane biology, pharmacology, cardiology, mathematics and bioengineering.

In addition to Clancy, Grandi and Santana, the team includes Crystal Ripplinger, Timothy Lewis and Chao-Yin Chen of UC Davis, and Andrew McCulloch of UC San Diego. Their project is funded through grant OT2OD026580, which must be renewed annually through 2021.

More information about UC Davis Health, including the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, is at