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Innovation & Collaboration text
Could the Heart of the Matter be the Eye?
Revolutionary Research Encourages an Interdisciplinary Approach
As an optometrist, Duke Appiah, PhD, watched his patients with advanced stages of ocular degeneration — most with preventable cases — cycle in and out of the Takoradi-European District Hospital’s ophthalmology unit in Ghana.

So, disease prevention became his primary focus, leading Appiah on a quest beyond clinical practice. He earned a master’s of public health and doctorate in epidemiology from the University of Louisville. Appiah’s research took a detour through cardiovascular disease, but came full circle when one of his students approached him with a potential research project.

Watching his grandmother deal with multiple ocular diseases for more than 16 years motivated Noah De La Cruz, MPH, (Biomedical Sciences ’20) to look into ocular disease. While enrolled in the Masters of Public Health Program, De La Cruz approached Appiah, his faculty adviser, about his interest. “Dr. Appiah worked in cardiovascular diseases, so I wasn’t sure if he would be interested in an ocular disease research project — I had no idea he had been an optometrist in a past life!”

Appiah asked De La Cruz if he had considered the connections between the heart and the eye. After looking into it, De La Cruz realized there was very little literature on the subject and decided to pursue it. He brought in Obadeh Shabaneh, MPH, (Biomedical Sciences ’20), who had a special interest in epidemiology, and they began reviewing the data available from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey used Life’s Simple 7, which is a set of risk factors (smoking, physical activity, body mass index, diet, blood pressure, total cholesterol and blood glucose) generally used to indicate cardiovascular health.

The student-faculty team produced the study, “The Association of Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Ocular Diseases Among U.S. Adults,” available online from the American Journal of Medicine, and proposed a unique impact on the medical world. Streamlining resources with these two diseases could determine quicker diagnosis through an ingenious collaboration between optometrists, ophthalmologists and cardiologists.

Connection between the brain, eyes and heart diagram
Ivan Canu
A student-faculty team publishes groundbreaking research potentially connecting two specialties.