Researcher Examines Connection Between Thyroid Function & Heart Failure

Martin Gerdes, Ph.D.

Professor, Chair, Department of Biomedical Sciences

NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine

What is your area of research?

I’ve been doing translational research on heart failure for the past 35 years. My work has focused on the correlation between thyroid conditions and heart failure and exploring how extremely small doses of thyroid hormones could be used to improve cardiac function and reverse or prevent cardiac pathology associated with myocardial infarction, diabetes, hypertension, and idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Because thyroid hormone blood tests may underestimate the extent of low thyroid levels in the heart that likely accelerate progression of heart disease, part of my research includes trying to identify a serum biomarker for cardiac tissue hypothyroidism that would indicate those who may benefit from treatment.

What is the impact of this kind of research?

One example: A five-year NIH-funded study of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) in rats found that tiny doses of a thyroid hormone prevented 80% of inducible arrhythmias, improved survival of contracting muscle cells, prevented gene alterations associated with heart failure, and dramatically improved heart function. Half of all cardiac-related deaths are from sudden arrhythmias, so a treatment to effectively prevent these cases could have a significant impact on mortality rates from heart failure. We are optimistic that these exciting results from animals will someday translate to humans.

How did you come to work at NYIT?

I was recruited to NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2011 to build stronger basic science research programs here. The institution has been very supportive in terms of both funding and fostering a conducive environment for research. Because of this support, I’ve had the opportunity to bring in many talented faculty to work with me and to foster an interest in basic science research with our extremely dedicated students.

Over your career, what is your experience with funding for basic science research?

I have 30 years of funding from the NIH as principal investigator totaling more than $30 million in grants. But it’s become harder for young researchers to get their work funded and talented scientists spend more and more of their time preparing and submitting grants for funding. Typically, it takes about 3 years to move an NIH grant through the system and obtain funding if you are lucky, and overall, only about 1 in 5 grants are funded — that means many promising studies never get off the ground.