University of South Florida

Focused on the root causes of cardiac inflammation

In search of individualized heart failure therapies, Ganesh Halade leads a USF Health Heart Institute team studying unresolved inflammation after heart attack

Short-term inflammation is one of the body’s key defense mechanisms to help repair injury and fight infection. But low-level inflammation that does not subside has been linked to many common chronic conditions, including cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, atrial fibrillation and heart failure.

Ganesh Halade, PhD, an associate professor of cardiovascular sciences at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, investigates the safe clearance of acute inflammation – and what happens at the molecular and cellular levels when initially beneficial inflammation becomes harmful to the heart.  His team at the USF Health Heart Institute works on bridging the gap between the immune-responsive metabolism of fat and cardiac health by more clearly defining two distinct but simultaneous processes: the inflammatory response and how inflammation is safely cleared, or resolved.

In particular, Dr. Halade’s laboratory focuses on discovering ways to prevent, delay or treat the unresolved inflammation after a heart attack, which plays a key role in the pathology leading to heart failure. Their goal is to contribute to individualized therapies that may account for possible sex, racial/ethnic or age-related physiological differences in heart failure, a leading cause of hospitalizations and deaths worldwide.

Ganesh Halade, PhD, associate professor of cardiovascular sciences, joined the USF Health Heart Institute in February 2020. [Photo by Allison Long, USF Health Communications]

Heart failure — a progressively debilitating condition in which weakened or stiff heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s demand for nutrients and oxygen — has become a growing public health problem, fueled in part by an aging population and obesity epidemic. About 6.2 million adults in the U.S. suffer heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half will die within five years of diagnosis, and the annual cost for health care, medications and missed work is estimated at more than $30 million.

“Although several treatments and devices exist to help manage heart failure, the challenge remains the growth of metabolic risk factors like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and aging that amplify heart failure – and inflammation underlies all these conditions,” Dr. Halade said. “We’re in the early stages of understanding how the inflammatory response becomes chronic, or unresolved” after heart attack-induced injury.

Honing in on “the roots

Dr. Halade’s late father, a farmer in Nashik close to Mumbai, India, emphasized to his young son that if he wanted to make a difference in life to “look to the roots, rather than the fruits.”

That philosophy drives Dr. Halade’s research endeavors. “We focus on the root causes of inflammation so that we can successfully treat the chronic inflammation that leads to heart failure,” he said.

Dr. Halade (center) with his research team, postdoctoral fellow Bochra Tourki, PhD, (left) and research associate Vasundhara Kain, PhD, (right). [Allison Long, USF Health Communications]

When a blocked coronary artery triggers a heart attack, inflammation caused by the tissue injury has two overlapping phases, Dr. Halade explains. During the inflammatory response, over-activated leukocytes (white blood cells of the immune system) rush from the spleen to the heart to remove dead cardiac tissue and start repairs. In the resolving phase, acute inflammation is cleared with the help of macrophages (another type of immune cell) that arrive to further repair the damage, and form a stable scar. Both timely responses are governed by coordinated ‘get in’ and ‘get out’ signals to leukocytes infiltrating the site of heart muscle injured by the heart attack. If the leukocytes do not receive a ‘get out’ signal, the sustained presence of inflammation impairs cardiac repair and eventually leads to heart failure.

Clinical trials of several anti-inflammatory therapies so far have failed to show benefit in heart failure patients. Dr. Halade suggests that the investigational compounds intended to suppress inflammation very early in the cardiovascular disease process likely disrupt the tight control of immune-responsive signaling needed for timely resolution of inflammation.

“The inflammatory response and its resolution are two sides of the same coin – and they roll together. Blocking one side will affect the other,” he explained. “So, we don’t want to block the ‘get in signal’ needed to promote the early, ‘good’ inflammation. We want to accelerate the ‘get out’ signal to immune cells, so that as soon as repair of cardiac injury is done the acute inflammation leaves without becoming chronic.”

Dr. Halade views a high-resolution image (below) of a normally beating heart. [Photos by Anne DeLotto Baier, USFH Research Communications]

Connecting dysfunctional inflammation control and heart failure

A class of immune-system molecules orchestrates the resolution of tissue inflammation, an active process essential for advancing cardiac healing after a heart attack. These specialized proresolving mediators, or SPMs, are signaling molecules that form when fatty acids metabolize in response to immune activation of leukocytes.

Dr. Halade’s work is helping uncover new details on how heart failure-inducing inflammation may be limited (without promoting immunosuppression) – either by administering pharmacological SPMs, or activating enzymes that help stimulate the body’s own SPMs.

Over the last two years, he has published significant findings in several leading journals (papers summarized below) making the connections between fatty acids, inflammation control, and heart failure. Among Dr. Halade’s study collaborators is Charles Serhan, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, a pioneer in the emerging field of inflammation resolution.

  • Science Signaling: This study followed the time course of inflammation and its resolution in a mouse heart attack model. The research showed for the first time that the active inflammation-resolving phase coincided with the acute inflammatory response facilitating cardiac repair after a heart attack. Among other factors, the researchers looked at types and amounts of SPMs, and the expression of enzymes that synthesize SPMs, both in the spleen and at the injured site of the heart. Macrophages, a type of white blood cell, are needed to generate SPMs as opposed to other immune cells, they reported.

Dr. Halade’s laboratory focuses on discovering ways to prevent, delay or treat the unresolved inflammation after a heart attack, which plays a key role in the pathology leading to heart failure. [Anne DeLotto Baier]

  • Journal of the American Heart Association: The preclinical study discovered male-female cardiac repair differences in heart failure survival after heart attack, including improved recovery of cardiac function and greater survival of acute and chronic heart failure in female mice. Females generated higher levels of a particular fatty acid-derived signaling molecule (EET; epoxyeicosatrienoic acids) known to facilitate healing after a heart attack.


  • ESC Heart Failure: The researchers profiled bioactive lipids (inflammatory biomarkers) in blood samples from hospitalized Black and White patients soon after a severe heart attack. They found a potent SPM signature (resolvin E1) was significantly lower in Black men and women than in Whites. The study concluded bioactive lipids are key for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac repair after heart attack to delay heart failure.


  • The FASEB Journal: Halade and colleagues identified a mouse model to study heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpeF), a common form of heart failure linked to age-related obesity. Using this unique model of obese aging, they defined how the deficiency of a single resolution receptor triggers obesity in mice at an early age, which can give rise to many of the molecular and cellular processes ultimately leading to HFpEF.

Vasundhara Kain (seated) and Bochra Tourki, look at slides for a paper on age-related obesity and heart failure. [Allison Long, USF Health Communications]

Insight into potential inflammation-resolving therapies

As they learn more about the metabolic and immune-responsive signals that control acute cardiac inflammation, researchers hope to harness the capacity of fatty acid-derived bioactive molecules to prevent, diagnose and treat heart failure, Dr. Halade said. SPMs are derived primarily from omega-3 fats in our diet – the polyunsaturated “good” fats in foods like salmon, avocados, almonds, and walnuts.

Some evidence indicates that omega 3-rich diets and/or SPM supplements, as well as getting enough exercise and quality sleep may help prevent the unresolved inflammation leading to heart failure, Dr. Halade said. If SPMs are not produced due to risk factors like obesity or aging, or because enzymes required to metabolize fatty acids are deficient, then drugs specifically designed to facilitate cardiac repair and calm inflammation might delay or treat heart failure, he added. Distinctive biochemical signatures acquired by analyzing SPMs or other metabolites might even be used to help diagnose heart failure or predict which treatments will work best for certain patients.

Dr. Halade joined USF Health this February from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was a faculty member since 2013. He received his PhD in pharmacology from the University of Mumbai Institute of Chemical Technology in 2007. He completed two postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. The first fellowship focused on nutritional immunology. The second was conducted with mentor Merry Lindsey, PhD, to examine the effects of obesity on post-heart attack cardiac structure and function.

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (including salmon, walnuts and avocados), as well as enough exercise and quality sleep, may help prevent unresolved inflammation contributing to cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Halade’s research is supported by funding from the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. In 2018, he received American Physiological Society Research Career Enhancement Award to train in lipidomics at the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences in Japan.

His inflammation resolution research has been recognized with two awards for studies published in the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory. An Article Impact Award 2020 was conferred this March by the American Physiological Society for Dr. Halade’s work defining the impact of the cancer drug doxorubicin on the heart and spleen. He also received a 2017 Best Paper Award from the Unbound Science Foundation. Dr. Halade is associate editor for the American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory and for Scientific Reports, and serves on the editorial boards of several other high-impact journals in cardiovascular sciences.

At left: Beneficial resolution of inflammation following cardiac repair. At right: Risk factors like aging, obesity and some medications can contribute to unresolved (chronic) inflammation, which impairs cardiac repair and can lead to heart failure. [Graphic courtesy of Ganesh Halade]

Some things you may not know about Dr. Halade

  • As an undergraduate student in India, Dr. Halade won the gold medal in fencing at a statewide collegiate competition.
  • To help promote a heart healthy lifestyle, he enjoys recreational bicycling and gardening in his backyard, where he grows vegetables and chiles.
  • Halade lives in Tampa with his wife Dipti, an information technology engineer, and their son Arav, 13.

Top:  Sources of inflammation include injury (like damage from a heart attack), infection (viruses, bacteria or other pathogens), and factors associated with lifestyle (such as poor diet and lack of exercise). Below: Ways to help prevent unresolved cardiac inflammation associated with lifestyle. [Graphics courtesy of Ganesh Halade]

-Video by Allison Long, USF Health Communications and Marketing

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