The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Steven Poelzing, an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, where he focuses on the number one cause of death in the United States – sudden cardiac death.
The most common form of fatal heart disease is a result of faulty electrical connections. When the electrical signal coordinating cardiac contraction is disrupted, fluctuations can make areas of the heart step out of line, sometimes spreading and knocking the whole system out of service.
Sudden cardiac death claims 400,000 lives each year and victims of such events die before they reach help 95 percent of the time.
Poelzing recently received a four-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to lead a research team to investigate how the microscopic spaces surrounding heart cells affect connections called gap junctions, which allow electrical impulses and small molecules to pass between cells.
The research team hypothesizes the size and nature of the space between cells can determine the risk of sudden cardiac death and, if it can be modulated, it could be a therapeutic target to protect the health of heart patients.
Poelzing earned a bachelor’s from Wright State University before earning his master’s and doctorate from Case Western Reserve University. All three degrees are in biomedical engineering. He joined the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute from the University of Utah, where he was a research associate professor of bioengineering. In addition to his position at the institute, he also holds an associate professorship at the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.