Translational research focuses on new devices to treat structural heart disease

An interview with Zachary Gertz, expert in valvular disease

As a dedicated physician and renowned researcher, Zachary Gertz, M.D., is focused on making a difference in the lives of his patients at the Virginia Commonwealth University Pauley Heart Center.

Gertz’s No. 1 goal is taking the most basic concepts of how the heart functions and applying them to test a new device that can benefit his patients’ health. This is the work of a translational researcher.

Gertz is striving to find ways to treat heart problems without the need for open heart surgery, using innovative methods such as a new parachute device, which is being tested in this country for the first time.

Gertz joined the VCU Pauley Heart Center in 2012 as the director of structural heart disease and an assistant professor in the School of Medicine with a specialization in interventional cardiology.

His research focuses on valvular heart disease, which is damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves: the mitral, aortic, tricuspid or pulmonary. He has researched patience physiology in the assessment of valve disease severity to original devices for the treatment of heart failure.

His clinical expertise includes coronary artery disease, aortic valve disease and mitral valve disease with research interests in aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation and cardiac hemodynamics.

Gertz is a prolific researcher who has written articles published in highly respected journals and presented his work at national conferences.

Below, he discusses his current research as well as his short- and long-term goals. February is American Heart Month. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

You have been instrumental in establishing the VCU Pauley Heart Valve Center – VCU’s first structural heart disease program. Please discuss the goals of the program.

Structural heart disease typically includes everything that can't be categorized as electrophysiology, coronary disease or heart failure. For me, it primarily involves valvular disease and other heart problems that can be treated invasively but without requiring open heart surgery.

What is the parachute device? How does it work?

The parachute device is an excellent example of an invasive therapy that does not require open heart surgery. After certain large heart attacks, a portion of the heart muscle turns into a scar. That area of the heart does not beat, and blood can pool there and possibly inhibit the proper function of the remaining normal heart. The parachute device looks sort of like a basket, and it is designed to partition off the non-functioning heart. Right now we are studying the device as part of a large randomized trial, to see if it benefits patients.

What brought you to the research field?

I have always been interested in research. I consider it an extension of patient care. Research is crucial to understanding everything we do for our patients, from diagnosis to treatment.

Is translational research fulfilling to you? Why?

Research is very fulfilling. Translational research for me means taking basic pathophysiology concepts and applying it to patient care. I am most proud of being involved in proving that a certain heart condition, irregular heartbeats, could lead to a specific type of valvular heart disease and that informed both how we examined and treated patients with atrial fibrillation. Some of my research into patient physiology led to new formulas that I use when I measure blockages in the aortic valve. It is great to generate research questions, find ways to answer them, and then be able to directly apply those findings when I care for patients.

What are your short- and long-term research goals?

I would like to continue my current research trajectory. I continue to be lucky enough to work on a variety of fronts in cardiology, and my current projects include how we decide to order stress tests, deformities in heart arteries, and how we look for holes in the heart. I certainly would like to continue to be at the forefront of new devices to treat structural heart disease. And I want to continue to be able to apply everything I learn through my research directly to caring for my patients.


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Zachary Gertz, M.D.
Zachary Gertz, M.D.