Imaging May Go to Heart of Cardiac Problems

Doctoral Student Uses Medical Physics at UT Southwestern to Unlock Secrets

Jan. 7, 2008

Crystal Harrison, a second-year doctoral student in UT Dallas’ School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is diligently working to solve the mysteries of the human heart.  She’s particularly interested in how the body’s hardest-working muscle metabolizes after a heart attack. 

“After an attack, the muscle’s recovery is important,” Harrison said.  “By understanding the metabolic processes and products, we can determine what area of the muscle is most injured, if it recovered fully and what treatment would best benefit the patient.”

A new paper co-authored by Harrison and published recently in the prestigious journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses how that metabolism process takes place.  The article is titled “Hyperpolarized 13C Allows a Direct Measure of Flux Through a Single Enzyme-catalyzed Step by NMR.”

By studying molecules in the cells of the heart, Harrison hopes to gain a better understanding of the body’s metabolism and how it is affected by heart disease.  Her research uses hyperpolarization, a newly available medical physics technique.

“I decided to join up with this project, because it’s on the cutting edge,” Harrison added.  “Hyperpolarization has only become accessible as a research tool in the last few years.  With my knowledge of physics principles, as well as my understanding of mathematics, I feel I can make a contribution to this valuable new practice.”

Medical physics is simply the application of physics to medicine, Harrison says.  It has only recently gained popularity as its own area of study in a few universities and medical schools.

Harrison conducts most of her studies in the 120,000-square-foot Advanced Imaging Research Center at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.  The center is a collaborative effort between the two universities and is home to a 7-Tesla molecular imaging machine — one of only a handful in the world.  

Harrison, a Tyler native, received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from UT Austin and UT Dallas, respectively.  She wants to continue her medical physics research after she completes her Ph.D. She names Dr. A. Dean Sherry and Dr. Roy Chaney as her key faculty advisers at UT Dallas.

Other authors on the paper include Dr. Sherry, Matthew E. Merritt, Charles Storey, F. Mark Jeffrey and Craig R. Malloy.  The article was edited by Robert G. Shulman.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is one of the world’s most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serial journals.  It publishes cutting-edge research reports, commentaries, reviews, perspectives, colloquium papers and actions of the Academy.  Coverage in PNAS spans the biological, physical and social sciences.


Media contact: Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu

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Crystal Harrison

“I decided to join up with this project, because it’s on the cutting edge,” doctoral student Crystal Harrison said.

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