Thousands of people, including teams from the University of Central Florida, will participate in the Greater Orlando Heart Walk hosted on campus on Saturday, Sept. 10. The American Heart Association walk is raising money to save lives from the nation’s  No. 1 and No. 5 killers —  heart disease and stroke.

In addition to hosting the fundraiser on campus, UCF has many researchers working to find treatment and cures for all types of heart problems. UCF’s Heart Heroes are working on everything from figuring out why the heart rarely gets cancer to how stem cells could be used to heal the heart.

Because you might bump into some of them on Saturday, we’re highlighting some of their work. That way you’ll have something to talk about.

Dinender Singla, Ph.D.

Singla leads the College of Medicine research division that focuses on metabolic and heart disease. He has developed a 3D heart model to help surgeons better operate on children with congenital heart disease. He also investigates how transplanted stem cells can cure the broken heart and is developing 3D printing technologies that can protect such transplanted cells in the body.

Victor Davidson, Ph.D.

We need oxygen to fuel our metabolism. But like any type of fuel, oxygen can be dangerous if mishandled. Davidson researches how the body’s mishandling of oxygen and oxidative stress contribute to heart disease and aging. His extensive body of work has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health.

Steven Ebert, Ph.D.

Heart disease impacts women differently than men. Ebert’s research focuses on how specific hormones in older, post-menopausal women make them more susceptible to “broken heart syndrome” and how stress hormones in such women affect their risk of heart disease differently than men.

Michal Masternak, Ph.D.

We all want to live long, healthy lives and Masternak’s research focuses on just that. He has developed gene therapies that extend the life and health in mice and could be used to prevent age-related metabolic diseases in people, including diabetes and cardiovascular complications.

Sampath Parthasarathy, Ph.D., M.B.A.

Parthasarathy is associate dean of research at the College of Medicine. A world-renowned cardiac scientist, he was the co-discoverer of a major cardiovascular concept — that oxidized bad (LDL) cholesterol blocks arterial vessels in the heart. Parthasarathy continues to research atherosclerosis and also examines how healthy fats like sesame oil in our diet can protect the heart.Department: Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Shadab Siddiqi, Ph.D.

The key to a healthy heart might be a healthy liver. Siddiqi discovered how damage to a tiny liver protein can trigger heart disease and fatty liver disease, a precursor to cancer. Understanding how damage occurs could lead to the development of therapies to keep this protein healthy.


Jihe Zhao, M.D./Ph.D.

Zhao is part of the College of Medicine’s Cancer Research Division but also collaborates in heart disease studies. His question: Why does the heart rarely get cancer? Zhao is looking to understand why cancer spreads to some organs like the brain and not others like the heart. He’s also discovering how to protect the heart from damage caused by anti-cancer therapies.

Robert Steward, Jr., Ph.D.

Did you know your cells have their own mechanical system? Steward uses his biomedical and engineering expertise to discover how mechanical stresses in cells cause heart disease and to design new therapies to stop such biomechanical problems.