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Meet the Team


Rose Marie Robertson, MD, FAHA
Rose Marie Robertson, MD, FAHA

Rose Marie Robertson, MD, FAHA, has been the Chief Science and Medical Officer of the American Heart Association since 2003, on leave from her position as Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where she joined the faculty in 1975. She received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School and trained in Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Robertson’s research, in animal models and in clinical studies in healthy subjects in carefully-controlled settings, including the extreme perturbation of microgravity, as well as in patients, has defined rare and more common disorders of autonomic cardiovascular control and novel treatments. She has served on review and advisory committees for the NIH, Veterans’ Administration, American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, European Society of Cardiology, and NASA. She is a Fellow of the American Heart Association and of the American College of Cardiology, a member of ASCI, and a founding member of the American Autonomic Society and the Association for Patient-Oriented Research. She served as President of the AHA in 2000-2001, and currently chairs the RWJF's National Advisory Committee for the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Award. She was honored by the CDC in 2001 with its Partner in Public Health Award.
Aruni Bhatnagar, PhD
Aruni Bhatnagar, PhD
Aruni Bhatnagar, PhD, professor of medicine, and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, joined the University of Louisville in 1998.  Dr. Bhatnagar is a Distinguished University Scholar and Director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center at the University of Louisville. He was elected a fellow of the American Heart Association in 2005.
Dr. Bhatnagar  is a graduate of Kanpur University, India and received his post-doctoral training at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He is known for his pioneering work on the role of the polyol pathway of glucose metabolism and how it is regulated by nitric oxide. His research interests also include cardiovascular effects of environmental pollutants, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular complications of diabetes, and sepsis. Dr. Bhatnagar’s research is supported by several grants from the National Institutes of Health, including two program-projects, and has led to the creation of the new field of environmental cardiology.
Dr. Bhatnagar currently serves on the Editorial Boards of both Circulation Research and Circulation, has participated in over 50 National Institutes of Health review panels and is the author of more than 180 publications.


Emelia J. Benjamin, MD, ScM, FACC, FAHA
Emelia J. Benjamin, MD, ScM, FACC, FAHA: Director; Training Core

Emelia J. Benjamin is a co-PI of the Framingham Heart Study, a clinical cardiologist at Boston Medical Center, and a Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Professor of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. Her research focuses on genetics, epidemiology, and outcomes of a variety of cardiovascular conditions and markers, with particular expertise in atrial fibrillation. Additionally, she is the Vice Chair for Faculty Development and Diversity in the Department of Medicine at BUSM and co-leader of the Boston University Medical Campus early-career and mid-career longitudinal faculty development programs. She has successfully mentored numerous medical students, residents, fellows and early career faculty, and has won institutional and national mentoring awards.
For more information, visit: BU Profile
Michael Joseph Blaha, MD, MPH
Michael Joseph Blaha, MD, MPH: Co-investigator; Project 2

Michael Blaha is a cardiologist and researcher in clinical epidemiology with faculty appointments in both Cardiology and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a member of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease and serves as the center’s Director of Clinical Research. At the national level, he serves on both the Statistics and Fellow-in-Training/Early Career Committees of the American Heart Association and is an associated editor for the website Cardiosource and a member of the Cardiometabolic Alliance through the American College of Cardiology. His primary research interest is in subclinical vascular disease imaging and preventive cardiology. His clinical emphasis is on novel ways of inducing behavioral change, including improvements in rates of smoking cessation.
For more information, visit: Hopkins Profile
Javed Butler, MD, MPH
Javed Butler, MD, MPH: Director; Pilot Core

Javed Butler is the chief of cardiology and co-director of the heart institute at the Stony Brook University in New York. He serves as the deputy chief science advisor to the American Heart Association and has published over 220 peer-reviewed publications.  Dr. Butler is the recipient of the Simon Dack Award by the American College of Cardiology and the Time, Feeling, and Focus award by the American Heart Association. He serves on the ACC/AHA heart failure guidelines committee, on several NIH study sections, chairs the NIH heart failure network’s ancillary studies committee; and he is a member of the executive council of the Heart Failure Society of America. He serves on the editorial board of several peer reviewed cardiovascular journals.
Lung-Chi Chen, PhD
Lung-Chi Chen, PhD: Co-PI: Core B

Lung-Chi Chen is a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and the Director of NYU's Inhalation Toxicology Laboratory. He has extensive experience in the measurement of cardiopulmonary effects of inhaled pollutants and is an expert in the generation and characterization of exposure atmospheres and the performance of toxicology studies using all routes of exposure. He has served on a number of national and international advisory committees and study sections in the field of toxicology. Currently, he directs a number of research projects focusing on the long-term cardiovascular effects of inhaled nanoparticles as well as ambient particles.
For more information, visit: NYU Biosketch
Daniel J. Conklin, PhD
Daniel J. Conklin, PhD: Director; Core B

Daniel Conklin is the Director of the Inhalation Facility at the University of Louisville. His research focuses on how exposure to unsaturated and saturated aldehydes either from exogenous sources (e.g., air pollution, tobacco smoke) or endogenously generated contributes to cardiovascular injury and pathogenesis of multiple disease states. He is committed to studying the potential deleterious effects of tobacco and nicotine exposures in humans and mice to gain insight into the mechanisms whereby these factors conspire to negatively influence cardiovascular health. For more information, visit: Louisville Biosketch
Andrew DeFilippis, MD, ScM
Andrew DeFilippis, MD, ScM: Co-investigator; Project 2

Andrew DeFilippis is a Cardiologist and Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Louisville. He studies the development of biomarkers of atherosclerosis and has expertise in cohort development, proteomics, lipidomics and metabolomics as powerful tools for biomarker discovery. He also has significant experience with the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) database. He will work with investigators in Project 2 in the analysis of the results from MESA, Jackson Heart and Hispanic Community Health Study and participate in recruitment, enrollment and health evaluation and identification of biomarkers of cardiovascular injury in study participants in Louisville.
Xian-An Fu, PhD
Xian-An Fu, PhD: Co-investigator; Core B

Xian-An Fu is an associate Professor at the University of Louisville. His primary research interest is in the development of gas sensor arrays and micropreconcentrators for analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in air and human breath. His team is currently analyzing VOCs in air and human breath to identify lung cancer markers in breath for early diagnosis and detection, aiming to analyze all trace carbonyl compounds in breath. As a member of Core B, he will help in the development of gas sensor arrays and preconcentrators for analyses of cigarette smoke to identify early biomarkers of smoke exposure and the development of cardiovascular disease.
Aida Giachello, PhD
Aida Giachello, PhD: Co-investigator; Project 3

Aida Giachello is a research professor in Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University. She is a medical Sociologist with a PhD from the University of Chicago. Her research work is in area of social and racial health disparities and has over 35 years of research experience as both a primary and co-investigator in multiple minority health studies. In 1992 she established the Midwest Latino Health Research, Training and Policy Center for medical treatment effectiveness program  at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) where she retired in 2010 as a faculty after 25 years of services.  At the Latino Research Center she conducted outcomes research on health disparities, trained minority investigators and translated the research into promising practices, and policy work around chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, cardiovascular, and maternal/child health.
For more information, visit Dr. Giachello's Facebook and Dr. Giachello's Twitter pages.
Michael Hall, MD
Michael Hall, MD: Co-investigator, Project 2

Michael Hall is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine and Co-Director of the Cardiac Imaging in the Division of Cardiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He is an investigator with the Jackson Heart Study with a focus on cardiovascular disease risk factors.
His major research interests are in cardiovascular and renal physiology, clinical cardiology and advanced cardiovascular imaging. He has ongoing research projects using experimental animal models of cardiovascular and renal disease and clinical studies using novel magnetic resonance imaging techniques in the heart and kidneys as well as proteomic techniques.
Naomi Hamburg, MD, MS

Naomi Hamburg, MD, MS: Co-investigator; Project 2

Naomi Hamburg is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine with a focus on studying mechanisms and clinical relevance of vascular function to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. She supervises a translational research program to study the vascular physiology in patients, collect human tissue, and perform basic studies within the same research unit. She is highly experienced with methods evaluating endothelial cell phenotype and has been involved in the development of the methodology to characterize freshly isolated human endothelial cells. With A-TRAC, she will lead research at the Boston University site of Project 2, and focus on evaluating the sensitivity of measuring endothelial cell phenotype to detect toxicity from flavoring compounds used in tobacco-related products.

For more information, visit: BUMC profile

Joy L. Hart, PhD
Joy L. Hart, PhD: Co-investigator; Project 3

Joy Hart is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Louisville. Her primary interests are in health and organizational communication, particularly in message production and interpretation as well as links to healthy workplaces and lifestyles. She has spent several years studying tobacco control communication as well as communication surrounding HIV/AIDS. Her current work examines sustainability and health, including a project examining health beliefs and practices in rural villages in Belize and another analyzing message strategies used in tobacco control.
Glenn Hirsch, MD, MHS, FACC
Glenn Hirsch, MD, MHS, FACC: Co-PI; Core D

Glenn Hirsch is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville. His research interests revolve around the use of imaging and atherosclerosis from analyzing risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, obesity extending to left ventricular remodeling and heart failure. He served as Assistant and then Associate Editor of the American College of Cardiology Self-Assessment Program and co-chair of the American College of Cardiology Question Writing Committee and is currently the Associate Editor of ACCEL (American College of Cardiology Extended Learning).
Michael Nantz, PhD
Michael Nantz, PhD: Co-investigator; Core B

Michael Nantz is a Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Louisville. His research focuses on the use of cationic lipids and polymers for gene delivery, stable isotope-labeled derivatization reagents for metabolomics applications, and nanoparticles for small molecule delivery.  With A-TRAC, Michael’s lab will prepare and purify the chemoselective, VOC-capture agents used to coat microfluidic preconcentrators. His collaborative work over the past several years resulted in the development of a carbonyl-selective preconcentrator for VOC profiling, and his team now seeks to extend this research to examine VOCs in tobacco smoke.
For more information, visit: Nantz Group Homepage
Timothy O’ Toole, PhD
Timothy O’ Toole, PhD: Director; Core C

Timothy O'Toole is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Diabetes and Obesity Center at the University of Louisville. He is experienced in flow cytometry, cell biology, and signal transduction and has a strong interest in cardiovascular diseases and endothelial cell biology. His current studies detail the effects of diabetes and pollutant exposures on cardiovascular and hematopoietic outcomes including progenitor cell number and function, immune cell responses and platelet function. He is assisting all members of ATRAC in endpoint measurements.
Thomas Payne, PhD
Thomas Payne, PhD: PI; Project 3

Thomas Payne is a Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment, Education and Research). He is a Co-investigator on the Jackson Heart Study, a NIH-supported longitudinal study of cardiovascular disease risk among African-Americans. His primary research focus has been in tobacco dependence, having contributed to other behavioral medicine efforts, particularly in the area of cardiovascular risk and disease. He has served as a behavioral specialist in the Trials of Hypertension Prevention (TOHP-II), and has contributed to a number of publications based on the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) dataset. He has overseen a variety of clinical and research activities which have resulted in the recruitment of substantial numbers of individuals over the previous 12 years.
Shesh Rai, PhD
Shesh Rai, PhD: Co-investigator; Core A

Shesh Rai, a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, is the Wendell Cherry Chair in Clinical Trial Research at the University of Louisville and a Professor of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. He is also the Director of the Biostatistics Shared Facility at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center. With A-TRAC, he will study the effectiveness of different types of smoking exposures on different cardiac biomarkers and behavioral measures, in addition to heading Data Coordinating Center to bring data from various sources through a systematic and secure process. He has many years of expertise designing and reviewing clinical trials as well as reviewing a wide range of studies as a committee and board member in various capacities. Additionally, he serves as a statistical reviewer for many national and international scientific journals, including serving as an editorial board member in five journals.
Carlos Rodriguez, MD, MPH, FACC
Carlos Rodriguez, MD, MPH, FACC: Co-investigator; Projects 2 & 3

Carlos J. Rodriguez is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Wake Forest University and has a demonstrated record of successful research in cardiovascular epidemiology, Hispanic cardiovascular health, hypertensive heart disease, and echocardiography. He is the principal investigator of a study aimed to identify cardiac structure and function within the HCHS/SOL cohort of Hispanics. He has served on the American Heart Association Science Advisory and Coordinating Committee and currently serves as Chair on the Association's Mid-Atlantic Affiliate Research Committee and the Genomics & Translational Biology & Observational Epidemiology Committee. He is also a contributing member on several large national cohort cardiovascular epidemiologic studies.
For more information, visit: Wake Forest Profile
Mario Sims, PhD
Mario Sims, PhD: Co-investigator; Project 3

Mario Sims is a social epidemiologist and Science Officer in the Jackson Heart Study and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine of the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). His current research focuses on the social determinants of health disparities, with a specific interest in examining how racism, stress and psychosocial factors (as well as traditional biomedical risk factors) combine to influence cardiovascular disease disparities between racial and ethnic groups. As an A-TRAC investigator, Mario is particularly interested in the interplay of social determinants in the association between psychosocial risk and tobacco cessation among young and middle-aged adults.
Srinivas D. Sithu, PhD
Srinivas D. Sithu, PhD: Co-investigator; Core C

Srinivas Sithu is an Assistant Professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Louisville. Broadly, his research examines the molecular mechanisms of inflammatory disease process in order to inhibit progression of the disease. He has studied endothelial function and platelet activation for the last 10 years and has recently focused on examining the effect of acrolein and cigarette smoke on platelet activation and vascular dysfunction.
 For more information, visit: Dr. Sithu's Louisville Profile
Sanjay Srivastava, PhD
Sanjay Srivastava, PhD: PI; Project 1 : Co-investigator; Core B

Sanjay Srivastava is Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville. He has spent much of his career studying the cardiovascular toxicity of aldehydes, suggesting that aldehydes generated by oxidative stress crosslink with the protein in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), and will lead Project 1 in examining the cardiovascular toxicity of tobacco products. Additionally, he serves on the editorial board of Circulation Research and is a chartered member of Atherosclerosis and Inflammatory of the Cardiovascular System (AICS) study section at NIH.
For more information, visit Louisville Pathology Bioanalytics PageDr. Srivastava's Louisville Profile
Kandi L. Walker, PhD
Kandi L. Walker, PhD: Co-investigator; Project 3

Kandi Walker is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Louisville. Her research primarily focuses on health, family, and interpersonal communication; specifically, her research examines how people talk and behave when an illness is present, how people perceive healthy lifestyles, and how people perceive and communicate about risky health behaviors. Currently, she is researching social definitions and perceptions of smoking which resulted in a book, "Talking Tobacco."
Richard Wilson, DHSC
Richard Wilson, DHSC: Co-investigator; Core D

Richard Wilson is a Professor in the department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Louisville. He has worked as a public health teacher, researcher and academic for nearly 40 years with a focus on tobacco control. This work has included teaching courses on tobacco control education, conducting community-based research projects, and various other work at the local, state and federal level. Additionally, he served as Vice-President of Kentucky Action, a statewide tobacco policy advocacy group in Kentucky.

Project/Core Contacts

Christy Di Frances, PhD, MA
Christy Di Frances, PhD, MA: Director of Training and Education

Christy Di Frances is the Director of Training & Education for A-TRAC at the Boston University School of Medicine. Her research, teaching and publications have involved interdisciplinary textual analysis, as well as writing theory and practice. She has broad experience in faculty development and education within academic medicine, having previously worked in the Brigham and Women's Hospital Center for Faculty Development & Diversity, where she served as Director of the Narrative Medicine Initiative and Administrative Course Director for the Faculty Mentoring Leadership Program and the Women's Leadership Program. Her role with Core D is to lead the development of program curriculum and competencies for evaluation, organize training through online and in-person seminars, facilitate professional development opportunities and conduct educational research and writing.