Dr. Sunagawa has made major research contributions to cardiovascular medicine. In the early 80s, he and his colleagues demonstrated that ventricular elastance is remarkably insensitive to loading conditions, and an excellent index of cardiac contractility. He also established the concept of ventricular-arterial coupling. He proposed the use of “effective arterial elastance” to translate viscous properties of the arterial system into elastic properties. Elastance and ventricular-arterial coupling have become classic concepts and are now taught at medical schools worldwide.
Dr. Sunagawa has extensively applied engineering principles to the quantitative analysis of cardiovascular regulation. Those quantitative analyses led him to the development of bionic cardiology. In the body every cell, tissue, organ, or system operates coherently, and this requires a well-developed neuro-humoral communication infrastructure. Hence if we could implement similar mechanisms into artificial devices, they would function more like parts of native physiological systems. Dr. Sunagawa calls such devices bionic systems. He developed a neurally regulated artificial pacemaker in 1996. The success of the bionic pacemaker led him to develop an artificial bionic baroreflex system in 1999. The system operates as an intelligent negative feedback regulator, and has been demonstrated effective in restoring normal baroreflex function. Following those investigations, Dr. Sunagawa applied the bionic technology in treating heart failure. Instead of letting the brainstem control the heart, he implanted a small device attached to the cardiac vagal nerve to control the autonomic tone of the heart. The bionic treatment markedly improved survival. Bionic treatment will inspire more intricate applications in the 21century.
Because of these contributions, Dr. Sunagawa received major awards including the Paul Dudley White Lectureship Award, one of the most prestigious Award of American Heart Association, in 2000 and the Isaac Starr Lectureship Award of the Cardiovascular System Dynamics Society in 2000, and was inducted into the Society of Scholars of the Johns Hopkins University in 1997. He has been a fellow of Japanese College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and European Society of Cardiology. He is President Elect of Cardiovascular System Dynamic Society since 2006. He is a member of board of directors of Japanese Society of Medical and Biological Engineering and a senior member of IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.