“You don’t go into it for the money, you go into it because you want to help people,” Cassis said in the latest edition of “See discovery: The People Behind Our Research,” a UK video series that highlights the stories of the university’s researchers and what motivates them.
Cassis’s father suffered his first heart attack at age 51, went through three open heart surgeries, and was able to live until age 80 by managing his diet. However, Cassis says his lipid problems kept coming back no matter what he did.
“I wanted to know why we aren’t able to help someone like him,” she said.
With more than 26 years at UK, Cassis has made many important discoveries in cardiovascular research, including a link between obesity and health problems like high blood pressure. More recently, she is studying sex chromosomes and their role in aneurysms, which is an enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall.
“Females are less likely to get aneurysms than men, and I’m trying to figure out why that is,” she said.
Thus far, Cassis’s findings suggest that the introduction of male sex chromosomes in biological females could raise the risk of aneurysm, which she said may have a broader impact than she initially considered.
“We’ve become more aware in this country of gender and gender identity,” said Cassis. “From my perspective, as a cardiovascular researcher, the process of seeking one’s gender is taking certain types of sex hormones to promote the outcome that you would like for that gender. My concern is how that therapy will influence that person’s cardiovascular health.”
Cassis said she just wants to improve lives by doing what she loves most.
“I love trying to come up with a question and design an approach to tackle the question,” she said.
Cassis earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from West Virginia University. She joined UK in 1988, and is a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences, the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, the Graduate Center for Toxicology, the Barnstable Brown Diabetes and Obesity Center, and the College of Pharmacy.
Research within the Cassis laboratory has been continuously supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, contributing to more than 130 scholarly publications. She has mentored many scientists, been the recipient of national and local research awards, and served for 10 years as program director of an NIH Training Grant in Nutritional Sciences.