Yale School of Medicine

Attila Feher, a clinical fellow in cardiovascular medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, received the Hal O’Brien Rising Star Award for his work in the development of imaging tools to evaluate blood circulation.

The award is an honor bestowed by the High Country Nuclear Medicine Conference, or HCNMC, to physicians working in the field of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging. Feher’s work focuses on developing imaging tools to evaluate microcirculation, meaning blood circulation in microvessels, in patients with cardiovascular diseases such as scleroderma or coronary artery disease and in heart transplant recipients. According to Albert Sinusas, director of the Yale Translational Research Imaging Center, Feher, who is originally from Hungary, completed his post-doctoral training at Georgia Health Sciences University before joining the center as a research post-doctoral fellow. Feher will receive The Hal O’Brien Rising Star Award and present his work at the 2022 High Country Nuclear Medicine Conference, which will be held Mar. 5-8, 2022. 

“Attila is one of the best fellows that I have had the pleasure of training over my 30 year career on faculty at Yale,” Sinusas wrote in an email to the News. “He has received multiple awards, including a recent award from JACC journal office for best manuscript in JACC cardiooncology. He is an outstanding clinician scientist who excels both in clinical care and translational and clinical research. He is also a humble and caring person.” 

According to Feher, the award is not a research grant, but rather a travel grant that will allow him to participate in the HCNMC conference this year as a speaker. He plans to present his work on microcirculation to leading clinical researchers and physicians who are also invited to attend the conference. 

Feher added that he is particularly interested in microvessels present in the heart because microvessels play a critical role in the heart’s ability to take up oxygen from the blood. 

“In the past, I used bench science techniques [fundamental science techniques]  to … isolate tiny, little vessels that are probably as thin as a hair,” Feher said. “I isolated them with my surgical instruments; I cannulated [introducing a thin tube into a vein] them, and I investigated them with a microscope to see how they behaved.”

Feher explained that his research now focuses on how autoimmune disease can impair control of vessel constriction and, consequently, impact blood flow through the heart. His research quantifies the blood flow to the heart through these vessels for patients with different pre-existing conditions and seeks to determine which patients are at higher risk for adverse outcomes. 

Through his research, Feher has created unique databases at Yale compiling his findings of observed microvessels while collaborating with other scientists and clinicians all over the country. While pursuing his own investigations, Feher has also developed “novel imaging tools to better characterize blood flow in the heart and other organs,” according to Edward Miller, associate professor of medicine and radiology in the section of cardiovascular medicine. 

Feher attributes his interest in microcirculation and blood vessels to a particular experience in a laboratory during his years in medical school. 

“I went to a basic science lab where you can see the tiny, tiny vessels dilating and constricting,” Feher said. “As I watched the blood move through these vessels, I was just fascinated by it and wanted to learn more. I wanted to do some more investigation.”

As he has completed further research, Feher has come to realize that microcirculatory issues are at the heart of many health issues. He believes that it is important to highlight the existence of microvascular diseases due to their prevalence and likelihood to be misdiagnosed. 

Feher explained that microvascular diseases are often the explanation for women who present to the emergency room with chest pain. Yet, when patients complain of this chest pain, physicians’ first goal is to rule out epicardial disease, which affects larger vessels and is more commonly known than microvascular diseases. Patients who are suffering from microcirculation issues are often sent home when their larger vessels do not present any issues because physicians undermine the prevalence of these microvascular diseases. 

At the moment, microcirculatory disease has a “bad prognosis”, according to Feher, but researchers, such as himself, are working to learn more about these issues and potentially develop treatments or cures. He maintained that testing for issues in the microvessels needs to become more commonplace. 

Feher received his medical degree and his doctorate from the University of Debrecen in Hungary. 

Selin Nalbantoglu covers the School of the Environment as a beat reporter for the SciTech desk. Previously, she covered breakthrough research as an associate beat reporter.