Three Questions for Sandra Rugonyi

05/19/15  Portland, Ore.


Sandra Rugonyi, Ph.D., is an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the OHSU School of Medicine.

What's been the most interesting development in your area in the last two years?

There have been tremendous advances in the understanding and treatment of cardiovascular disease over the past several decades. Most recently, the availability of advanced imaging and computational technologies have provided a boost in the diagnosis of cardiovascular pathophysiology. There has also been interesting advances in predicting cardiovascular disease progression by understanding how different players (genes, blood flow, medications and biochemical factors) contribute to cardiovascular health and disease over developmental stages and beyond. Environmental factors that affect an embryo/fetus during gestation seem to have a more important impact on later risks of cardiovascular disease than previously thought, and understanding the developmental origins of cardiovascular disease can be a key to prevention and treatment management.

What projects are you currently working on and are there opportunities for fellow faculty to participate? 

I am currently working on three main projects, with the following objectives: 1) understand the effects of blood flow on early cardiovascular development, and how altered hemodynamics can lead to congenital heart disease (a defect in the heart of newborns); 2) develop infant-specific computational modeling of babies with cyanotic heart disease or "blue babies" (a form of congenital heart disease) that will eventually lead to a virtual surgery tool that could guide pediatric cardiac surgeons in planning interventions; 3) understand how blood flow mechanics affects abdominal aneurysm growth and rupture to better assess and manage patient risks. While apparently disparate, these projects all share the need to understand how mechanical forces from blood flow affect tissues, from heart formation to the progression of aneurysms; and the need to quantify the underlying mechanics and biological effects. There are lots of opportunities for interested colleagues to participate in the goal of understanding how exactly mechanics affects biology – and whether effects can be reversed!

A hypothetical: If you could have one tool that would solve a seemingly impenetrable problem in your work, what would it do? You have unlimited resources to design this tool, so think big.

It is very well accepted that blood flow plays a critical role in cardiovascular disease progression. A dream tool will be a device (or app) that, based on known patient data (including blood flow), can predict clinical cardiovascular-disease outcomes. This device will allow virtual surgery planning, as well as manage steps in preventing progression of cardiovascular disease. While we are working on this tool, and we think it will eventually be a reality, we are still far away from understanding how blood flow mechanics affects tissue biology and the progression of cardiovascular disease.

This Q&A series features OHSU School of Medicine faculty members talking about their work with the goal of getting to know them and different areas across the school. View past articles.