A new approach to heart failure? Backed by AHA, University of Utah researchers eye future innovations

A new approach to heart failure? Backed by AHA, University of Utah researchers eye future innovations

Jun 1, 2016 1:17 PM

Medical researchers seeking to find answers for our nation’s growing heart failure epidemic have long focused on why patients’ heart conditions get worse. But might shifting to studying why they get better be the key to discovering a new crop of game-changing treatment approaches?

It's a question University of Utah Health Care will help answer, on a national level, as it joins a new American Heart Association research network comprised of four centers charged with unlocking some of the mysteries behind a disease that affects nearly 6 million Americans, is as deadly as cancer, and is projected to cost us $70 billion in 2030 – more than doubling the $31 million spent in 2012.

“We’re looking at heart failure in a completely different way,” said Craig Selzman, M.D., who will lead the team of investigators that include Utah researchers Stavros Drakos, M.D., and Josef Stehlik, M.D., along with University of Iowa researchers led by former University of Utah investigator Dale Abel, M.D., Ph.D. “We have an opportunity to learn from those special patients who should be sick but who show remarkable improvement following a therapy. As a member of the new AHA-backed Heart Failure Research Network, we’ll have the resources and support to really delve into this idea and see if we can help redefine how we approach this disease.”

Joining the University of Utah in the network are Duke University Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Colorado. Each center has its own focus — from addressing knowledge gaps related to heart failure and diabetes by studying the biology of the conditions (Duke) to working to develop personalized, affordable medications that will benefit a large group of patients (Colorado).  

“This work is vitally important, as heart failure will strike one in five of us over 40. This condition is not about ‘them,’ it’s about all of us,” said Clyde Yancy, M.D, past president of the AHA and chief of the cardiology division at Northwestern University. “We must be tireless in our pursuit of more answers, more therapies and more best practices.”

As one of just four centers in the network, Dean Li, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer of the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, acknowledges the award is not just an honor for the University of Utah but for our entire medical community.

“Though the AHA award is recognizing a unique interdisciplinary academic home at the University of Utah, this award is in truth a tribute to a vibrant consortium comprised of the University of Utah, Salt Lake Veterans Administration Medical Center and Intermountain Healthcare,” Li said. “This unique collaboration, which has pioneered major advances in understanding and treating heart failure for more than 30 years, is now embodied within the current Utah Cardiac Recovery group.”

Said AHA CEO Nancy Brown in the AHA’s announcement about the new network: “The work that will take place at these centers is crucial because heart failure is a growing epidemic as our nation ages — and because we know scientific research is our most powerful tool when it comes to preventing, treating and better understanding cardiovascular disease.

The heart failure network is one of several research networks funded by the AHA; others study prevention; high blood pressure, disparities, and women in heart disease.

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