The future of women in cardiology

While there may be a serious lack of women in cardiovascular medicine—both in practice and in research—right now, the future looks much brighter, if students like Syracuse University’s Plansky Huong are any indication.

Plansky, a graduate research assistant at SU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, is pursuing her PhD in chemical engineering. Thanks to a highly competitive fellowship from the American Heart Association, she’s doing research on how medications may affect fetal heart cells.

“The goal of my research is to understand heart and organ development for better and reliable safety testing of medications administered during pregnancy,” said Plansky, a Syracuse native who also received her bachelor’s at SU. “Since pregnant women are excluded from clinical research, there’s almost no information on if most medications are safe to prescribe or take.  This causes real problems if pregnant women need to continue a medication for preexisting conditions, such as depression.”

In her research, Plansky uses human stem cells to engineer 3D miniature heart tissues to see how certain drugs impact their development.

“We hope to develop this model further for pharmaceutical companies to be able to implement and expand clinical research for pregnant women to make more informed decisions about which medications to take,” she said.

Plansky’s research has the potential to help the approximately 40,000 born with a congenital heart defect in the U.S. each year. She said it could change the trajectory of current research methods in the pharmaceutical industry.

Moreover, Plansky said women are very well represented in her field.

“In my research lab alone, women account for at least 50 percent of the group,” she said. “I think it’s because medical research with a clear application is relatable and very rewarding, which is something I think women value and actively pursue.”

She said seeing more women in cardiovascular research is encouraging more women to get involved.

“I think as more and more confident and qualified women are stepping up and diversifying the field, it can encourage other women to push through and achieve their full potential,” Plansky said. “It’s important to have a diversified group of people represented in research because different individuals bring different points of view to allow research to evolve.”