Jordan harnesses cardiac MRI to improve long-term heart health of cancer patients

Jennifer Jordan, Ph.D.
Jennifer Jordan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at VCU Engineering.

By Blake Belden
VCU Massey Cancer Center


Growing bodies of research continue to suggest that chemotherapy is associated with a significantly increased risk of heart disease, particularly in patients who have been treated for breast cancer or lymphoma. However, the emerging field of cardio-oncology is amplifying the attention on cancer patients’ heart health before, during and after their treatment to minimize cardiovascular side effects and increase cancer-related survival.

For Jennifer Jordan, Ph.D., it is exciting to be a part of this new discipline and better understand how medical therapies affect heart function over time to improve the long-term cardiovascular care for patients.

“The goal of our research is preventing today’s cancer patient from becoming tomorrow’s heart failure patient,” Jordan said.

Jordan, who joined VCU Massey Cancer Center as an associate member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program in 2019, utilizes cardiac magnetic resonance imaging and comprehensive fitness tests in an effort to reduce heart complications among patients treated for cancer or other chronic diseases.

In collaboration with Massey researcher and Pauley Heart Center director Greg Hundley, M.D., Jordan is the imaging director for a $4.5 million, multi-center R01 clinical trial called PREVENT. This trial is examining whether a generic statin therapy can help mitigate the cardiotoxic effects of anthracycline-based chemotherapy for triple negative breast cancer patients. Jordan is responsible for protocol development at each participating center, maintaining MRI quality standards, image analyses and publications.

She is also the imaging director on the UPBEAT study, a $3.8 million national study of 860 breast cancer patients to monitor their heart functions before, during and after treatment. This study aims to identify factors that promote cardiovascular dysfunction, exercise intolerance, fatigue and subsequent cardiovascular events among female cancer patients of different ages, races and ethnicities.

“We hope this study will ultimately inform future therapies and risk factor prediction models to prevent cardiovascular events and thereby improve overall breast cancer-related survival,” said Jordan, who is also the director of the Cardiovascular MRI Core Lab at VCU and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the VCU College of Engineering and Pauley Heart Center.

Additionally, Jordan is a co-investigator on a multi-site clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute that is investigating if physical activity intervention can improve exercise capacity in lymphoma patients undergoing chemotherapy.

She is also collaborating on a pilot study to determine whether estrogen deprivation associated with a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors is responsible for a decline in cardiac function in young women with breast cancer.

Jordan currently holds a three-year Collaborative Science grant from the American Heart Association to study cardiac sarcoidosis, a rare disease in which clumps of immune cells called granulomas form in the heart.

She was previously a co-investigator on a feasibility study funded through a VCU Department of Internal Medicine Pilot Research Grant that paired cardiopulmonary fitness testing on a supine bicycle machine with cardiac MRI to identify determinants of exercise intolerance in chronic disease populations.

Jordan was born in southeast Texas where she lived for the first 14 years of her life, but her family would often vacation to the mountains in North Carolina during the summer to escape the heat. Eventually, her family moved to North Carolina where Jordan attended high school in Durham, including two years at the NC School of Science and Mathematics. She received a bachelor’s degree as part of the first class of graduates in the biomedical engineering program at NC State University.

Jordan initially thought she would pursue a career in tissue engineering, but shifted her course toward clinical imaging following a summer research program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. There she had her first experience with cancer research, performing 3D laser alignments of breast cancer patients, creating computer simulations and working with image-guided radiotherapy. After graduating from NC State the next year, Jordan earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering with a focus on imaging from the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Because she was an emergency medical technician during her time at NC State, Jordan was fascinated by cardiovascular physiology, which is how she ended up being connected with Greg Hundley, M.D., who was working with cardiac MRI at Wake Forest. Jordan collaborated with Hundley on a feasibility study capturing cardiac images of cancer patients in an effort to detect any changes in heart function throughout their course of treatment. There wasn’t a name for this field of research then, but it became what is now known as cardio-oncology, and Massey developed Virginia’s first cardio-oncology program.

“We successfully showed that cancer survivors who were treated with an anthracycline chemotherapy regimen had increased diffuse myocardial fibrosis which is like scar tissue but more spread out through the heart,” Jordan said.

Following the completion of her Ph.D., she began a postdoctoral fellowship focused on clinical cardiovascular imaging as part of Hundley’s NIH T32 fellowship program. During this fellowship, she also earned her master’s degree in clinical and population translational sciences from Wake Forest. After her fellowship ended, Jordan joined the faculty in cardiovascular medicine at Wake Forest and was appointed imaging director of the UPBEAT trial, a role she maintained after Hundley recruited her to join him at VCU.

Jordan is a member of the Pauley Heart Center Infrastructure Committee at VCU. She is also an ad hoc review committee member of the National Institute of Health’s Imaging Development Study Section and a member of the Public Relations Committee of the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance.

Her research has been published in 24 peer-reviewed journal articles, including Circulation, Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging and Circulation: Heart Failure, among others. Jordan has also co-authored several review articles, including one in JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, and a number of book chapters, including a chapter in The EACVI Textbook of Cardiac Magnetic Resonance.

She has given over 50 presentations and seminars at a variety of scientific institutions and meetings, including the 2018 North Carolina Survivorship Summit, the American College of Cardiology 64th Annual Scientific Sessions and St. Bartholomew’s Heart Center in London.

Jordan lives in Midlothian with her husband, daughter and German Shorthaired Pointer, and they enjoy hiking and running.