News Release: Research , School of Medicine

Jul. 15,  2009

NIH Bioengineering Grant Links Emory, Georgia Tech in Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Research

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are a major cause of illness and death in the United States. A widening and bulging of the large artery that runs through the body from the heart into the abdomen, these aneurysms - which can go undetected until they suddenly rupture -- are the 10th leading cause of death in men over age 55. Approximately nine percent of men over age 65 have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Through a Bioengineering Research Partnership (BRP), a team of scientists at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology will conduct in-depth studies of abdominal aortic aneurysms to discover exactly why and how they form and how they can be prevented. The partnership is supported by a new five-year, $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The new grant builds on an existing BRP between Emory and Georgia Tech, which originally was funded by the NIH four years ago to study the relationship between biomechanical forces and vascular diseases. The research team accomplished its goal of providing a better understanding of the basic processes involved in atherosclerosis. They also developed unique imaging, molecular and computational tools that will be directly applicable to their new research focus.

"Our five-year partnership has incorporated the expertise of engineers, biologists and clinicians from a wide range of clinical and academic areas, with very productive results," says W. Robert Taylor, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the grant. Taylor is professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and professor of biomedical engineering in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

"We are excited to extend this partnership to a focus on abdominal aortic aneurysms, which occur as a direct result of atherosclerotic disease," says Taylor. "The incidence of abdominal aortic aneurysm continues to increase as our population ages, and it is critical that we develop a better understanding of the basic biology and biomechanics of aortic aneurysm formation."

Abdominal aortic aneurysms often have no symptoms, but if the aneurysm ruptures, the patient often dies within minutes. Previous studies have documented the risk factors associated with the condition, but researchers do not understand exactly why and how it develops. The risk increases with age, so as people live longer the magnitude of the problem continues to increase.

A multidisciplinary approach to the research is an important aspect of the project, says Taylor. The team already has shown that areas of disturbed flow in the abdominal aorta are associated with increased expression of markers of vascular inflammation, suggesting a link between the local hemodynamics and the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

"These studies are virtually unique in their integration of biomechanics and biology to try to link the biology of aneurysm formation with the local vascular biomechanics at the formation site," he says.

Predicting the likelihood of aneurysm rupture is extremely difficult and patients often don't notice them until they already are leaking or ruptured, Taylor points out. Even small aneurysms often expand rapidly and progress to rupture. And although traditional cardiovascular risk factors are related to the formation of abdominal aortic aneurysms, the risk factors are different from those for coronary artery disease or peripheral vascular disease.

The research team consists of Taylor and colleagues from the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering: Don Giddens, Rudy Gleason, Hanjoong Jo and John Oshinski.  Additional team members are: Raymond Vito and Alexander Rachev from the Georgia Tech School of Mechanical Engineering; Alessandro Veneziani from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Emory College and Daiana Weiss from the Division of Cardiology in Emory School of Medicine. 


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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