Cohort IX – 2021

photo of Forgive Avorgbedor, PhD, RN

Forgive Avorgbedor, PhD, RN

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Nursing

University: University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Location: Greensboro, NC

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: As a nurse researcher, my primary interest is to launch an independent research career focused on maternal cardiovascular (CV) morbidity and mortality. Through my undergraduate, doctoral, and postdoctoral training I gained research experience by completing research in lifestyle and behavioral interventions in pregnant women and the hypertensive resistant population which helped me form a solid foundation for clinical and translational research. My long-term career goal is to lead an independent program of research focusing on biobehavioral, biological CV disease risk factors, and lifestyle interventions to reduce and prevent maternal postpartum CV morbidity and mortality. Specifically, I am interested in women with recent history of pregnancy cardiometabolic complications.

photo of TJ Exford, PhD

TJ Exford, PhD

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Kinesiology

University: North Carolina A&T State University

Location: Greensboro, NC

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: Hypertension has an association with endothelial dysfunction and is a co-contributor in the development of cardiovascular disease. My small research project (SRP) relates directly to the cardiovascular health of African Americans (AAs) in the United States and addresses key scientific gaps in the examination of stress management and exercise on hypertension in AAs. Specifically, the proposed work addresses the need for the examination of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) intervention influence on blood pressure and stress in AAs.

photo of Luz Garcini, PhD, MPH

Luz Garcini, PhD, MPH

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Medicine

University: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Location: San Antonio, TX

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: Broadly, my research focuses on the use of innovative methodology to identify and understand CVD-related disparities among vulnerable populations facing trauma, loss, and grief. Specifically, my research has three primary foci: 1) incorporate culturally and contextually sensitive frameworks to inform innovative approaches, methodology, and assessments to the study of health disparities; 2) identify mechanisms underlying the development of disease among vulnerable populations and the psychosocial determinants that influence their health outcomes; and 3) identify protective factors that facilitate resilience and promote health in the face of adversity.

photo of Itsaso Garcia-Arcos, PhD

Itsaso Garcia-Arcos, PhD

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Medicine

University: SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: My current research interests include cardiovascular disease (CVD), lipoprotein metabolism and pulmonary lipid metabolism. I have a strong background in CVD and lipid metabolism since I dedicated my PhD and most my postdoctoral training to this area. I later trained in pulmonary science, and naturally gravitated towards the lipid metabolic processes in the lung, surfactant metabolism. At the same time, I realized that despite the existing relationship between CVD and pulmonary disease, these two fields of Medicine are seldomly viewed together and that few researchers explored the mechanistic links between them. This background sets the pillars for my short- and medium-term career interests, with a dual focus on pulmonary lipid metabolism and the crosstalk between CVD and pulmonary disease.

photo of Onyedika Ilonze, MD, MPH

Onyedika Ilonze, MD, MPH

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: School of Medicine: Cardiology

University: Indiana University

Location: Indianapolis, IN

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: I am interested in the pathogenesis of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, especially underlying presence of cardiac amyloidosis and other cardiomyopathies in these patients and COVID-19 myocarditis, COVID-19 infection in heart transplant recipients and interaction between immunosuppressants in heart transplant therapies and antiviral therapies. Future interests include studying the cardiovascular effects of hemoglobinopathies especially sickle cell disease and thalassemias.

photo of Saria Lofton, PhD, RN

Saria Lofton, PhD, RN

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Population Health Sciences

University: University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Nursing

Location: Chicago, IL

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: I am a health disparities nurse researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the College of Nursing. I am deeply committed to research focused on health promotion and dietary needs in the Black community, locally and internationally. My interest in diet and the food environment emerged when I was a school nurse. I became interested in how the school environment shaped dietary behavior and obesity in children. In seeing that diet was only one aspect that needed to be addressed to reduce chronic disease risk, I have used a community-based participatory research approach to engage with communities to understand better ways to improve dietary behaviors. I wanted to continue building on what I have learned about food access and dietary intake in predominantly Black communities to prevent cardiovascular disease. Also, I am interested specifically in Black women who are at significant risk for a low-quality diet, obesity, and hypertension.

photo of Sabrina Sales Martinez, PhD, RDN

Sabrina Sales Martinez, PhD, RDN

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Biological Sciences and Geology

University: Queensborough Community College

Location: Queens, New York

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: Research focuses on stress-induced
cardiomyopathy. The working Hypothesis is: Chronic stress hormone exposure of human-
induced pluripotent stem cell cardiac micro tissues that are over expressing X-linked escapee genes will lead to the development of dilated cardiomyopathy.

photo of Youssef Roman, PharmD, PhD

Youssef Roman, PharmD, PhD

Academic Title: Assistant Professor

Department, School:  Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science

University: Virginia Commonwealth University

Location: Richmond, VA

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: My research interests have been focused on elucidating the prevalence of genetic risk factors of cardiometabolic disorders across different racial minorities. Also, my research has been interrogating the effect of genetic variability on the response to medications. With an emphasis on the management of cardiometabolic risk factors, I have developed a special interest in gout and high urate levels as cardiometabolic disease modulators. Specifically, my research has been using a candidate gene research approach to characterize the effect of genetic polymorphisms in major urate transporters on the risk of developing hyperuricemia and gout as well as the response to urate-lowering therapy. These transporters primarily include GLUT-9, URAT1, OAT4, ABCG2, and NPT1. My research approach involves using principles of drug metabolism, pharmacogenetics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics, along with a community-engagement approach to address health disparities.

photo of Ashley Shaw, PhD, MPH

Ashley Shaw, PhD, MPH

Academic Title: Research Assistant Professor

Department, School: Department of Neurology, KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center

University: University of Kansas Medical Center

Location: Fairway, KS

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a serious public health problem that disproportionally affects African Americans. Research suggests that up to 50% of AD cases are a result of cardiovascular risk factors related to diet such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, all of which disproportionately affect African Americans. Additionally, research suggests that cardiovascular risk factors are associated with memory loss. Given the high percentage of cardiovascular risk factors impacting the African American community, prevention strategies are needed to reduce the impact AD has on African Americans. Therefore, my research interest includes developing culturally tailored brain healthy diets aimed at reducing cardiovascular risk factors among older African Americans. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how culturally tailored diets impact cardiovascular health and cognition throughout the life course.

photo of Helene Vilme, DrPH, MPH, MS

Helene Vilme, DrPH, MPH, MS

Academic Title: Medical Instructor

Department, School:Population Health Sciences

University: Duke University

Location: Durham, NC

Research Interests as they relate to CVD: My research interest includes developing, implementing, and evaluating sustainable community-based interventions to reduce racial disparities in cardiovascular disease. Currently, my interest lies in developing policy, systems, and environmental interventions to reduce cardiometabolic risk among Black young adults in the university setting.