Professor Christine Hendon Wins NIH New Innovator Award

—Photo by Eileen Barroso

Christine Hendon, assistant professor of electrical engineering, has won a $1.5 million five-year New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), under its High Risk-High Reward program for scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. She is one of 50 researchers to receive this prestigious award, established in 2007 for young investigators to conduct exceptionally innovative research.

“I am very pleased and honored that my work has received such recognition from the NIH,” says Hendon, whose research is focused on developing optical imaging and spectroscopy instruments for applications in cardiac electrophysiology and interventional cardiology. “With this grant, we are developing tools for imaging the myocardium, which will provide cardiologists and heart surgeons a view of the heart wall both to aid in disease diagnosis and to guide therapy.”

Diseases and abnormalities of the myocardium result from problems of the heart muscle, ranging from infections to abnormalities in conduction, structure, and contraction. For these conditions, Hendon explains, catheters are inserted into the heart chambers, without a direct view of the heart wall to obtain electrical measurements, take biopsies to detect cellular changes, or delivery energy to treat arrhythmias. Real-time imaging at the cellular level will provide additional insights into tissue remodeling for better disease diagnoses and targeted therapeutic interventions.

“There are a large range of diseases and therapies of the heart that can benefit from the information provided by a high-resolution, real-time imaging modality,” notes Hendon, who directs the Structure Function Imaging Laboratory.

Hendon’s goal for her NIH New Innovator project is to develop high-resolution optical imaging modalities and image analysis for diagnosis and therapy monitoring of diseases of the heart wall. Applications of optical imaging in the myocardium range from assessment of transplant rejection by preforming an optical biopsy to monitoring radiofrequency ablation therapy. She is focused on establishing a platform imaging modality that includes designing optical catheters and developing classification algorithms for real-time imaging of the heart.

“It is my hope,” she says, “that with further development, our technology will be adopted in the future as another standard medical imaging modality for assessing heart disease and their associated interventional procedures.”

“We aim to demonstrate that Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) can address unmet clinical needs of cardiac imaging by providing cellular-level imaging of the myocardium,” Hendon continues. Her approach is multi-scaled and includes developing a high-resolution OCT system for myocardial imaging, as well as prototyping high resolution catheters to perform optical biopsy and provide three-dimensional imaging of myocardial substrates. With these tools, she will develop a protocol for obtaining cellular-level views of the human heart in real time with processing algorithms to identify disease state and evaluate therapeutic effectiveness.

—by Holly Evarts

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