Emory research providing hope during American Heart Month

By Jennifer Johnson | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Feb. 7, 2012

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February is American Heart Month. According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, claiming the lives of more than 600,000 Americans each year. Researchers at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center are conducting groundbreaking research to discover the underlying sources of heart disease and develop therapies to treat or prevent them. These studies could play an important role in the way doctors all over the world predict, prevent and treat heart disease.

Mental Stress and Heart Disease

Researchers are examining the relationship between stress and cardiovascular disease as part of an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Led by Arshed Quyyumi, MD, the five-year study is investigating mental stress-induced ischemia, a lack of blood flow to the heart triggered by psychological stress.

Quyyumi and Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD of Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, are conducting three related studies involving up to 650 male and female patients between the ages of 30 and 82 with stable coronary heart disease. They are focusing on the vascular angle of mental stress ischemia, the brain’s role and genetics.

Severe Aortic Stenosis

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a promising new non-surgical treatment option for patients with severe aortic stenosis. The common, life-threatening heart condition affects tens of thousands of Americans each year when the aortic valve tightens or narrows, preventing normal blood flow.

The FDA- approved transcatheter heart valve called the SAPIEN valve, under study at Emory since 2007, offers a non-invasive treatment option for patients too old or frail to endure traditional open-heart surgery. Emory University Hospital was one of 23 sites nationwide, and the only one in Georgia, to study transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) with the SAPIEN valve.

During the procedure, doctors create a small incision in the groin or chest wall and then feed the new valve, mounted on a wire mesh on a catheter, and place it where the new valve is needed. Co-principal investigators Vasilis Babaliaros, MD, and Vinod Thourani, MD, are leading Emory’s TAVR efforts.

High Blood Pressure

The Emory Heart & Vascular Center is one of approximately 60 institutions nationwide, and the first in Georgia, to study an innovative approach to lower high blood pressure without the use of medication.

The SYMPLICITY HTN-3 trial, led at Emory by Chandan Devireddy, MD, focuses on patients with treatment-resistant high blood pressure, which occurs when a person’s blood pressure remains high despite taking at least three different medications to lower it. The study seeks to enroll 1,060 participants.

The minimally invasive technique, called renal denervation, uses a tiny catheter device to silence nerves that can make high blood pressure uncontrollable.

During the procedure, the catheter is advanced through a minimal puncture in the groin and threaded into the arteries of the kidney. Once there, the catheter delivers low-power radiofrequency energy that generates a tiny electric current to heat the nerves in the walls of the artery and deactivate the nerves to the kidneys. The technique, called ablation, is similar to one commonly used by doctors to stabilize irregular heartbeats.

Heart Failure

Emory University’s Center for Heart Failure Therapy and Transplantation was one of nine centers in the United States recently invited to join the Heart Failure Clinical Research Network (HFCRN). The network is led by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the NIH.

Principal investigator Javed Butler, MD, MPH, is leading Emory’s HFCRN efforts, including the use of a seven-year, $2.5 million grant to develop clinical trials in heart failure and additional funding over time to carry out these trials.

The HFCRN is a cooperative network of advanced heart failure clinical and research centers charged with accelerating innovative research and developing strategies to diagnose, manage and treat all forms of heart failure. Other participating centers include the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Duke University and Harvard University.

Bone Marrow Cells and Heart Attack

Emory doctors are testing whether bone marrow cells can help heal the heart after a heart attack. A multi-site trial, led by Arshed Quyyumi, MD, and expected to enroll 160 patients, is the next phase of a clinical study whose first phase began in 2006. The goal of the experimental treatment is to help heal the injury by improving blood flow within the heart. This study is distinctive because investigators are using a preparation of bone marrow cells enriched for endothelial progenitor cells, which are thought to promote healing and recovery of blood vessels. The cells come from the same person they are used to treat, eliminating the need to control the immune system after re-infusion.

The treatment’s effectiveness will be assessed by measuring blood flow within the heart muscle, determined by SPECT imaging six months after treatment. All participating patients will receive the current standard of care after heart attack: angioplasty and stent placement. Infusion of sorted cells into a coronary artery takes place six to eleven days after stent placement. 

For more information, please contact Emory Health Connections at 404-778-7777 or 1-800-75-Emory.