Take 5 with Vlad Zaha, M.D., Ph.D.

Vlad Zaha, M.D., Ph.D.
Vlad Zaha, M.D., Ph.D.

The Center for Translational Medicine (CTM) and Advanced Imaging Research Center (AIRC) are excited to introduce Vlad Zaha, M.D., Ph.D. In addition to his role as Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, Dr. Zaha will serve as the liaison between the AIRC and investigators on the UT Southwestern campus. Dr. Zaha will work with UT Southwestern Investigators to assist in collaborations with the AIRC.

Where are you from and where did you go to medical school?

I was born in Romania, and grew up in a rural part of the country, in a region known as Transylvania (may disappoint some – no vampires around there).

I completed my medical and scientific training at academic centers in Europe and the U.S.A. Chronologically:

  • M.D. – Carol Davila School of Medicine, Romania
  • Ph.D. – University of Freiburg, Germany
  • Fellowship – Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Utah
  • Internal Medicine Residency – Indiana University
  • Fellowship – Cardiology, Yale
  • Fellowship – Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging, Yale and University College London, U.K.

What is your research?

The heart is an amazingly complex system that does not stop working for a lifetime. When the heart stops, life ends. My overarching research goal is to identify, develop, and apply protective mechanisms against irreversible myocardial injury and heart function decline.

I am interested in building a translational bridge between clinical applications and proof of concept model systems to improve myocardial protection clinically.

At the bedside and in imaging labs I acquired specialized clinical expertise in diagnosis and treatment of patients with heart disease, as well as in evaluating and managing patients with deleterious effects of cancer therapies on the heart. At the bench I trained in cardiac scientific research ranging from myocardial physiology, cell biology, intermediate energetic substrate metabolism, mitochondrial respiration, cellular signaling, and gene expression.

I plan to integrate my expertise from bedside and bench with a novel bridging technology (dynamic nuclear polarization) that promises noninvasive and nonradioactive visualization of biochemical cellular processes in situ in humans to answer key questions about the early stages in the evolution of heart disease. Identification of these steps is likely to lead to the development of new therapeutic interventions that would protect the heart.

What brought you to UT Southwestern?

My vision is that the best chance to succeed in a difficult project is to start with the right team of people, at the right time, and taking the right route. It is a team effort. UT Southwestern has a vibrant collaborative network of scientists genuinely interested to push further the edge of medical knowledge, perpetuating a reputable track record. The accomplishments are well known. The investment in future discoveries is palpable. I think here we have the right combination to start this project and good chances to succeed.

How do you plan to help clinical investigators use the AIRC?

AIRC is a tremendous resource that excels in high level technical biochemical and imagistic expertise. The approach will be multidirectional and involve a close collaboration between AIRC, CTM, and clinical research teams. First, within AIRC I will work to optimize targeted investigational protocols to state of the art diagnostic level, such as cardiac MRI studies, based on input from clinical research teams. Second, I will be able to explore unique areas of expertise within AIRC that would match investigators’ needs.

Third, I will work to develop new investigational tools with wide applicability, such as biochemical/molecular imaging. Fourth, I will reach back to clinical teams with specific technical information to include targeted techniques in population based research protocols to test causality of observations and specific mechanisms.

How do you plan to generate collaborations between investigators in using the AIRC?

This is a time of significant cultural change in the scientific world, marked by a general trend toward collaborative projects. There is tremendous interest from both technical and clinical experts to initiate such collaborations, but sometimes the common language is not established. One of my roles will be to interface these teams. In one direction I will assist with experimental design and in the other help identify priority technical developments for new synergistic projects.

How do you plan to facilitate investigators getting connected with the AIRC?

My direct involvement in AIRC technical development will be key to increase my working knowledge of the various resources. My clinical involvement in the medical community will create then a natural link between the different clinical science groups and specific AIRC resources.

What is the best way for investigators to contact you?

There will be several opportunities at various conferences and seminars on campus, including the AIRC seminars on Mondays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 9 a.m. in NE2.5 classroom NE2M. Other than that email me. vlad.zaha@utsouthwestern.edu