Funds will support heart disease study

Funds will support heart disease study by David Lias University of South Dakota researcher Martin Gerdes feels very lucky.

Not every person gets to work in a career that is his or her heart's desire.

Gerdes, the director of the Cardiovascular Institute at The University of South Dakota School of Medicine's Health Science Center in Sioux Falls, calls his work a "dream job."

He studies rats with high blood pressure in hopes of preventing heart failure in humans.

Thanks to Sioux Valley Hospital's $10 million investment in medical research at the USD School of Medicine, Gerdes will be able to continue his research.

He will also be joined by other medical specialists launching their own research projects. The journeys they make exploring the whys and hows of heart disease will be exciting enough.

What will be most satisfying, though, will be the results of the research � effective treatments, and perhaps even cures to heart disease and other major health problems.

Gerdes, who spent a five-year stint as head of the USD School of Medicine's anatomy department on the Vermillion campus, today feels he's truly in his element.

"I've been studying congestive heart failure ever since I was in grad school," he said. Sioux Valley's investment, he added, will allow the medical school to fund pilot projects, "so that we can get major funding that we need from the NIH (National Institutes of Health)."

Sioux Valley's investment, he said, is providing a meaningful amount of seed money to begin the process of establishing continuous, high level research at the school of medicine.

The NIH is made up of approximately 10 institutes that each have a goal of making new discoveries to alleviate major health problems.

But, at least as far as Gerdes knows, a director of one of the institutes has never paid a visit to South Dakota.

Until now.

Dr. Claude Lenfant, director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD, was present at Tuesday's press conference at the USD Health Science Center in Sioux Falls. Lenfant praised the Sioux Valley research venture.

Gerdes is in the process of preparing an application for a $1 million grant for continued research. Since 1976, he has worked on the mechanics of what causes heart failure in humans, thanks in part to funding from the NIH.

The South Dakota researcher has already made some exciting discoveries.

"Right before I moved to Vermillion, I was working with a heart transplant team in Florida," he said. "We learned that one of the things that happens during heart failure is the heart gets very big."

His research has discovered that, in some cases of heart diseases, contracting muscle cells in the organ grow at an abnormal rate.

"We've learned that the anatomy of the heart changes," Gerdes said. "We've isolated the cells that are growing abnormally."

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