Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences researcher Bruce Benjamin, Ph.D., is using a holistic approach to understand the impact aging and disease have on the cardiovascular system.
“When a doctor measures a patient’s blood pressure, heart rate or respiration, they are collecting information on the combined output of the body’s different systems,” said Benjamin, OSU-CHS vice provost for graduate programs, associate dean for biomedical sciences and associate professor of physiology. “We are attempting to decode what that systematic information means in terms of a person’s overall cardiovascular health.”
Since all body systems work together and rely on one another, he is looking at how heart disease interrupts the normal functioning of the complex systems that make up the human body. His primary goal is to use knowledge gleaned from his research to develop new medical treatments and diagnostic tools to reduce cardiovascular disease
“When I look at the patterns that are occurring and the ‘coupling’ of systems, I get a signature of what is healthy and what is not healthy,” he said.
As part of his research, Benjamin collects long-term measurements of the body’s feedback, such as blood pressure and heart rate, to identify patterns indicating disease or health.
“If we can decipher information provided by the body, then perhaps we could develop medical interventions so doctors can interrupt these patterns and reduce or eliminate specific heart diseases,” he said.
Using Benjamin’s research, a physician could compare a healthy heart rate to a person who is having a heart attack. For a moment, both may have a heart rate of 70 beats a minute, but the heart rate pattern over time indicates whether or not a person has heart disease.
“When someone has a heart attack, the pattern of the heartbeat changes trajectory,” Benjamin said. “The heart rate may be the same, but the way the heart gets from one beat to the next is different when you are sick than when you are healthy.”
Oklahoma had the nation’s third highest death rate for heart disease in 2012, according to the latest data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. It is the leading killer for both men and women in the state.
To learn more about Benjamin’s research into how aging and disease affect the cardiovascular system, visit the OSU Center for Health Sciences Research Spotlight website.