Heart of the matter: Oliver part of team devising new way to detect heart disease

June 02, 2022

Maggie Oliver, who is working on detecting heart disease.

PhD student Maggie Oliver is part of a team working on a novel way to detect heart disease.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S., many times claiming its victims without warning. Maggie Oliver, a PhD student in mechanical engineering, hopes to help to change that. She’s working with Noah Manring, Dean of the College of Engineering and Ketcham Professor, and Dr. Senthil Kumar from University of Missouri Hospital on research that would make it easier to uncover signs of cardiovascular problems.

For Oliver, the work is personal.

“My grandma actually died of a heart attack in 2018,” she said. “I had talked to her a couple of days before that, and she was fine. Even just knowing that that’s something that could happen would be huge.”

Oliver — who recently received a graduate fellowship from the College of Engineering Foundation — said her team is specifically trying to devise a way to determine someone’s cardiovascular age based on the thickness of the aorta. They are doing that by correlating information from echocardiograms, which provide information about how a heart beats and pumps blood, with data from pulse wave velocity machines and using basic values of hydraulic flow. Together, those calculations could provide a clearer picture of whether a person’s cardiovascular system has aged more rapidly than the person’s chronological age.

“Once you know that information, you know if you’re at risk of a stroke or heart attack,” Oliver said. “Our long-term goal is to see whether weight loss or exercise programs can help reverse the aging or even just stop the aging — anything we can do to make it less likely you’ll die from cardiovascular disease. It could be life-changing if it works out.”

Oliver started her PhD program last year, after earning a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Ozarks. While Mizzou is a large research institute, she said she’s felt the same personal connections with faculty that she did during her undergraduate years at a smaller institute.

“The faculty here are phenomenal,” she said. “They really care and interact with students.”

What’s it like to conduct research alongside the Dean of the College of Engineering?

“I actually didn’t know he was the Dean at first,” Oliver said. “He is so down to earth. I always know I have him as a resource, and if I need to talk to him, he makes that happen. He and Dr. Kumar are definitely the ones blazing a trail here for me.”

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