Cardiovascular research center renamed after distinguished alumni

Anna Lassmann

The renaming of a UT research center in the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences is sure to get students’ blood pumping.

Cardiologist Dr. James Willerson was honored by the institute after a cardiovascular research center was renamed the James T. Willerson Center for Cardiovascular Modeling and Simulation on Oct. 26. Willerson is a distinguished UT-Austin alumnus, president emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute and former president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“He has been a friend and collaborator and an associate of ICES and the University of Texas for many years … because of his expertise in cardiovascular medicine and because ICES has a center for cardiovascular simulation,” said J. Tinsley Oden, director of ICES.

Willerson said the renaming is a great honor because he has loved UT since graduating with his undergraduate degree in 1961.

“It’s a wonderful honor,” Willerson said. “I have a love affair with the University of Texas at Austin. It prepared me well for a future career in medicine.”

As part of the ceremonial event to rename the cardiovascular research center the Willerson Center, a $5 million fundraising event was completed to go towards an endowment.

“The endowment will be used, in part, to fund doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows who are interested in doing cardiovascular research in the Center and ICES,” said Michael Sacks, director of the Willerson Center.

The Willerson Center pursues basic and applied research using computer models that are focused on the needs of an individual’s health goals, Oden said.

“Instead of making diagnoses on the basis of thousands of cases, we actually predict the functions of the cardiovascular system … using mathematical and computational models that are tuned to specifics of an individual,” Oden said. “This is patient-specific medicine, and (Willerson) is a proponent of this.”

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world, Oden said, and through ICES and the Willerson Center, researchers are working to combat heart disease.

“We’re going to save tens of thousands of lives by understanding the functions of individual hearts by designing medical procedures, therapies, drugs and so forth,” Oden said. “We’re going to advance cardiovascular science.”

The research being completed at the Willerson Center is looking for ways to improve cardiovascular health, Willerson said.

“(The research) focuses on imaging of blood vessels and finding new ways to treat heart disease, generally,” Willerson said. “(They are) trying to prevent heart attacks and strokes.”