DALLAS, January 12, 2018 — The scientific teams that will lead a new American Heart Association-funded research network charged with unlocking some of the mysteries behind vascular disease have been selected.

Four major institutions are banding together for the next four years to leverage the strength of basic, clinical and population research to prevent, treat and ultimately improve outcomes in vascular disease, specifically peripheral artery disease (PAD) and aortic diseases.

“This newly funded research network, targeting vascular diseases, was created to kick start new thinking on PAD and aortic disease,” said Steven Houser, Ph.D., FAHA, immediate past president of the American Heart Association and senior associate dean of research, chairperson of the department of physiology, and director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia. Dr. Houser participated in the application review process.

The Association’s Vascular Disease Research Network will fund four centers. Each will receive $3.7 million over the next four years. The centers are:

  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Boston Massachusetts and Lebanon, New Hampshire; “Understanding Pathobiology and Predictors of Limb Ischemia to Improve Outcomes in Peripheral Artery Disease and Diabetes”: This research will seek to learn what causes critical limb ischemia, severe obstruction of the arteries which markedly reduces blood flow to the extremities (hands, feet and legs) and has progressed to the point of severe pain and skin ulcers or sores. Researchers will also seek new ways to help identify people at risk by using practical risk tools that could be delivered on a website or phone; and personalize the application of intensive medical therapies to the highest risk patients to reduce the burden of critical limb ischemia and amputation in patients with diabetes.

  • Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; “Calf Skeletal Muscle Pathology and Disability in Peripheral Artery Disease”: Researchers will focus on how blockages in leg arteries damage muscle and how that affects walking, as well as determine if a therapy for leg muscle damage in PAD patients can also improve their ability to walk.

  • University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky; Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; “University of Kentucky-Baylor College of Medicine Aortopathy Research Center (UK-BCM ARC)”: These projects will focus on aortic diseases in the chest or abdominal area that involve the expansion and tearing of the vessel wall (aneurysms and dissections) and can cause internal bleeding and a high death rate. Men have greater incidence than women, but women have higher risks for bleeding and worse outcomes from surgery. The major aim of this study is to understand what causes these sex differences.

  • Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; “Microcirculatory Disease Determines Limb Outcomes in PAD”: Researchers will study people with PAD using different methods to understand why the leg's muscle and blood vessels don't work and result in a reduced ability to walk and look to better understand how a person’s medical history and inherited factors may predict PAD and its poor outcomes.

Vascular diseases, including atherosclerotic peripheral vascular and aortic diseases are prevalent in the U.S. and other nations. More than 202 million people worldwide, including more than eight million in the U.S. age 40 and older, suffer from PAD, which impacts peripheral arteries to the legs, stomach, arms and head - most commonly the legs. The reduced blood flow associated with PAD can damage cells and tissue in the limbs, organs and even in the brain. PAD can lead to walking difficulty and increased leg pain with walking, called claudication. People with PAD are at risk of complications including infections and amputation. Additionally, individuals with PAD have significantly higher rates of major adverse cardiovascular events including heart attack, stroke and death.

Every American Heart Association Strategically Focused Research Network is comprised of three to five centers, each working on three projects simultaneously that are focused on one strategic area – in this case vascular disease. These networks provide an opportunity to address key strategic issues as determined by the Association’s Board of Directors.

“This work is vitally important, because vascular disease is expected to increase as the population ages and as diabetes and obesity become more prevalent. The lives of millions of men and women from all walks of life can benefit,” Houser said. “Funding new breakthroughs through this targeted research program can provide more answers [ultimately] helping prevent vascular disease or identify it earlier and determine more therapies and best practices to help patients live longer, stronger lives.” 

The vascular disease network is the most recent of several Strategically Focused Research Networks funded by the American Heart Association. The others are studying prevention, hypertension, disparities, children’s heart health, heart failure, obesity, and women and heart disease. The concept began in 2014.

The Association will announce a ninth network, targeting atrial fibrillation this summer. Applications for this network will be accepted until Jan. 31. Additional special project funding for the atrial fibrillation research network is also available through a collaboration between the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and the AHA. The PCORI/AHA funding initiative seeks to use comparative effectiveness research focused on Decision-making and Choices to Inform Dialogue and Empower A-Fib Patients (DECIDE). The rationale is to enrich the overall scientific and community deliverables of the network by testing and delivering a specific set of shared decision-making tools to help patients with atrial fibrillation and their clinicians engage in a meaningful conversation and collectively arrive at the best individual choice for the use of oral anticoagulants.


About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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