Approximately one to two of every 100 Americans have a bicuspid aortic valve, which can lead to life-threatening complications such as aneurysm and rupture. Interested in the underlying mechanisms of cardiovascular diseases, Michael Markl, PhD, associate professor in Radiology/McCormick School of Engineering, recently published paper in Circulation investigating aortic blood flow in patients with a bicuspid aortic valve.
“The underlying mechanism that promotes the development of such aortic pathologies, whether it is genetic in origin or related to changes in blood flow through the bicuspid valve, and which patients are at highest risk is still the topic of ongoing debate,” Markl said. “In our study, we used a new Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technique, 4D flow MRI, to explore the impact of the presence and type of bicuspid aortic valve on 3D blood flow in the heart.”
What are your research interests?
A central objective of my research is to develop multi-parametric imaging techniques that can afford a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of cardiovascular disease development and the impact of therapy. The purpose of this approach is to merge different functional aspects of each anatomical region into a more complete picture of local and global anatomy and function of the heart muscle, valve systems, ventricular chambers and vessels throughout the human body. In this context, my research group has been instrumental in establishing ‘4D Flow MRI’ for the comprehensive assessment of cerebro- and cardiovascular hemodynamics. Further interests include the development, validation and application of novel imaging tools for the evaluation of structure and function of the heart.
What is the ultimate goal of your research?
The transfer of novel magnetic resonance (MR) methods into clinical studies and ultimately clinical applications is one of the key objectives of current and future research. To achieve these aims, interactions between basic scientists, engineers, industry partners, and clinicians are essential to enable this type of translational research. The ultimate goal is to develop clinical applications that can provide new insights and a better understanding of the specific relationships between disease, therapy, intervention, and functional changes within the heart and vascular system, critical for improving therapy management in a patient.
What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus?
This is a challenge for all research studies assembling the multi-disciplinary expertise that is needed to recruit and identify patients, implement advanced MR imaging within a clinical setting, and develop the data analysis to derive advanced metrics of disease morphology and physiology. Northwestern University provided a very fertile environment to successfully assemble such a team. For our research we closely work with investigators with expertise in radiology, cardiology, cardiac surgery, neurology, computer science, imaging physics, biomedical and mechanical engineering, as well as preventive medicine, industrial engineering and management sciences, and others.
How is your research funded?
Since my arrival at Northwestern University in April 2011, I have built a very active research group with 10 scientists and clinical investigators at the graduate, postdoctoral, and junior faculty level. In addition, I have brought together investigators from multiple disciplines, which enabled me to quickly translate ideas and innovative MR imaging techniques into novel clinical applications. Based on these accomplishments, my research group has received significant grant support, including two five-year NIH R01 grants as well as several American Heart Association awards, including pre- and post-doctoral fellowships and a scientist development grant.
Which honors are you most proud of and why?
As a highlight of my career to date, I have recently been selected for the Distinguished Investigator Award of the Academy of Radiology Research. This prestigious honor recognizes individuals for their accomplishments in the field of imaging research. Past recipients have gone on to introduce new technologies to the field that have fundamentally impacted patient care.