The vibrant, diverse brain health community at Illinois is working to find solutions to some of today’s most pressing societal health challenges in fields including aging; learning, memory and plasticity; nutrition and cognition; neuroengineering; neuro-and socio-genomics; bioinformatics; and more. More than 300 faculty and staff on the Urbana-Champaign campus identify as researchers in the brain health space—regardless of their home department affiliation. These researchers are using leading-edge imaging tools, pioneering studies that progress from the lab to clinical applications with the goal of improving the health and lives of people everywhere.
Issam D. Moussa, MD, MBA
Medical Director, Carle Heart & Vascular Institute
Clinical Professor of Medicine & Interim Department Head of Clinical Sciences, Carle Illinois College of Medicine
Issam D. Moussa, MD, MBA, is the medical director of the Carle Heart & Vascular Institute as well as a clinical professor of medicine and the interim department head of clinical sciences at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine. Dr. Moussa earned his MD at Damascus University Medical School in Syria and his MBA in health administration at the University of Colorado. Currently, Dr. Moussa's research priorities are focused on the brain-heart axis with particular emphasis on translational and clinical applications.
What is your research in brain-heart health about?
Significant progress has been made in understanding the structure and function of the brain and the heart as separate organs. Emerging experimental evidence, however, points to the presence of a heart-brain axis that operates in intimate coordination in health and disease. Significant gaps remain in deciphering the exact mechanisms of heart-brain interaction and its impact in humans. Our neuro-cardiology research group aims to discover the novel mechanisms governing those interactions and translate these findings to impactful diagnostic and therapeutic advances.
How are you conducting your research?
Existing gaps in understanding the heart-brain axis emanate, in part, from the lack of organized interdisciplinary research teams that include diverse disciplines and expertise capable of addressing the basic science, translational, clinical, and bioengineering aspects of heart-brain interactions. To ensure that our research team will have the organizational rigor and diversity of disciplines and expertise, we will propose establishing the Carle Illinois Center for Neuro-Cardiology Research (CI CNCR) with membership from physician-scientists, bioengineers, translational scientists, post-doctoral fellows and medical students. This team has already begun working on putting together a strategic and operational plan to conduct translational and clinical studies aimed at discovery of novel mechanisms of heart-brain interactions. Of course, this endeavor cannot succeed without establishing external collaboration with national and international research groups that have led discovery in this field. We are in the process of establishing those relationships.
How does being part of the Illinois community support and enhance your research?
The Illinois community provides an ideal environment to build an effective interdisciplinary research team capable of addressing the most complex research questions. The Carle-Illinois strategic relationship in education and research augments this capability and extends our ability to ask clinically impactful questions. The neuro-cardiology research initiative is a result of this collaborative effort between the Carle health system and the Beckman Institute. The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine will also be instrumental to this effort.
How will your research or work improve society or reach people?
New discoveries of heart-brain interactions in health and disease will provide meaningful insights into human behavior and human health. These insights will lay the foundation for identification of new diagnostic methods and therapeutic targets to preserve and improve heart-brain health.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study?
Several years ago, I started practicing meditation. What initially motivated me is the mounting evidence that meditation relieves stress and enhances emotional resilience. Over time, I have become curious about the mechanisms of how meditation impacts physical and emotional well-being. The exploration of this question led me to some literature about heart-brain interactions. The more I read the more curious I became! Further reading led me to the work of the UCLA neuro-cardiology research group under the leadership of Dr. Kalyanam Shivkumar. Subsequently, I contacted Dr. Shivkumar and arranged a visit to UCLA to learn about their work. Meeting Dr. Shivkumar and his team and learning about their innovative work inspired me to adopt the cause and begin this exciting journey!