Dr. Nadia Sutton - Improving the Lives of Patients with Heart Disease

January 29, 2020

Nadia Sutton, MD, Clinical Lecturer in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Frankel Cardiovascular Center, cares for patients with cardiovascular conditions including coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease. As an interventional cardiologist, she utilizes specialized diagnostic techniques and catheter-based procedures to evaluate and treat patients with heart disease. Dr. Sutton’s research interest lies in finding new ways to slow or prevent aging of the blood vessels. In 2019, she was the recipient of the U-M OAIC Pepper Center Pilot Grant for her project “Ectonucleotidase Modulation of Age Determined Vascular Calcification and Fibrosis”. In addition to caring for her patients and conducting research, Dr. Sutton is also passionate about contributing to the next generation of physicians and researchers. She can often be found teaching and mentoring U-M undergraduates, medical students, residents, and fellows.

Behind the Scenes with Dr. Nadia Sutton

Dr. Nadia Sutton

What is your research about?

My interest is in vascular aging. Specifically, I am studying how aging as a biological process contributes to cardiovascular disease. If we can understand this process, we can hopefully find a way to re-program cellular processes to maintain youthful blood vessels. Many of my patients have coronary artery disease. My focus is on studying how to either prevent or mitigate mechanisms of aging of the vasculature, and in turn, improve the lives of patients.

What do you find interesting about this area of research?

I find that older patients with atherosclerotic coronary artery disease can be challenging to treat. A paradox in cardiovascular medicine is that despite a potential for increased benefit, older patients might be less likely to be offered or receive complex or higher risk therapies. For example, older patients might be less likely to be offered complex, but acceptable risk percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) for symptoms of impaired coronary blood flow, even though they are very susceptible to deconditioning that can result from limiting activities to prevent symptoms from occurring.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?

Our goal is to identify mechanisms of aging that can potentially be reversed with novel therapeutics or lifestyle changes to promote healthy aging.

What are your clinical interests?

I am a board-certified internist, general cardiologist, and interventional cardiologist. I value shared-decision making with my patients, and promotion of cardiovascular and mental health through healthy diet, exercise, and medical management. I care for adult patients of all ages and have a specific interest in geriatric cardiology. Interventional procedures are indicated to improve quality of life, and in some cases, to promote longevity. I perform specific procedures to treat patients with heart attacks and for evaluation and treatment of cardiac symptoms.

Read how Dr. Sutton and the Michigan Medicine cardiogenic shock team treated a young patient with myocarditis in the article: "When a Virus Turns Deadly: What You Should Know About Myocarditis".

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I really enjoy working with trainees at all stages. Perhaps the most enjoyable is working with the undergraduates in my research lab, many of whom are interested in entering the medical field. I have been very impressed with the aptitude and motivation of the undergrads that I have mentored through the U-M Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering specializing in interventional cardiology?

Go for it! It's a great field. Do not be dissuaded by the impression that it is too competitive. We especially need more women in the field. Only 5-7% of practicing interventional cardiologists are women.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Every part. I enjoy taking care of patients and the opportunity to contribute to progress (research) in the field. The field of interventional cardiology is rapidly evolving, and it takes a lot of effort to keep up with it. Working with trainees (fellows) is a great incentive to keep up. I also learn a lot from everyone around me - colleagues, students, conferences. You have to be open to learning new things in order to evolve and not become a dinosaur.

What can be a challenging aspect of your job?

There are times when you get the impression that another individual assumes that because I am a "proceduralist" that I am more focused on the procedure itself than the patient. I try to correct that presumption. My colleagues and I take a lot of pride in being great physicians that care for the whole patient and their outcome, and we do not just focus on performing a procedure.

Who has inspired you the most?

Too many to count! But if I had to name a couple, Jane Leopold and Betsy Nabel, both at Brigham and Women's Hospital, are the only other women I know who are interventional cardiologists and basic scientists. I receive inspiration every day from my clinical colleagues who are constantly innovating and pioneering new therapies, and my research colleagues who publish great science and provide constant encouragement. 

How do you balance your work and personal life?

It's hard. I work a lot. I have two daughters who are 10 and 7, and my husband, Jamie Sutton, is an internist that works at the VA Ann Arbor Hospital. My advice is that anything is possible, but it does depend on your priorities. It can be challenging to start a family during Internal Medicine and subspecialty training, and it is also challenging to start a family when you are starting a career after training. There's never an easy time. You just have to decide what works best for you and go with it, and try not to make long-term decisions based on short-term concerns. For example, don't decide not to be an interventional cardiologist because you want to have a family - it's very possible to have both.

More about Dr. Sutton…

You can read more about her research at Michigan Research Experts.

You can keep up with what she's doing on twitter @nadia_sutton.