News release highlights:

  • Research center teams will develop, test and implement innovative new ways to help prevent and treat heart arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.
  • New treatments in the works include a drug delivered by nasal spray or injection that can be used during CPR to help protect the brain and a drug that can normalize calcium in heart cells to prevent a deadly arrhythmia
  • The roles of genetics and gender will also be explored with the goal of helping to better identify and treat people most at risk for arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Additional plans are to design processes to improve the response time for CPR and defibrillation and develop tools to help clinicians better use genetic information in health care settings.

DALLAS, June 24, 2019 – The American Heart Association—the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke—announced today research grants totaling more than $14 million to four scientific teams that will create a new research network focused on understanding the causes, risk factors and disease processes of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest. Their findings will provide a basis to generate more effective ways to prevent and treat these deadly conditions.

 Each year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) occur in the United States. According to the American Heart Association, about 90 percent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest will die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. SCA is most commonly caused by an arrhythmia, a change in the electrical impulses of the heart causing it to beat too fast, too slowly or erratically.

 While most arrhythmias do not lead directly to death or sudden cardiac arrest, they are very common, with millions of people experiencing an abnormal heart rhythm some time during their lives. Arrhythmias often interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood. The loss of blood flow can damage or shut down the lungs, brain and other organs.

 Research teams at Northwestern University, University of Michigan, University of Washington and Vanderbilt University Medical Center will receive more than $3.7 million each through this American Heart Association’s Strategically Focused Research Network grants initiative. They will form a national collaboration of scientists focused on studies to address questions about arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest that seek to ultimately improve patient outcomes and save lives from heart disease and stroke.

 “The intent of this initiative is to support a collaboration of basic, clinical and population researchers from different disciplines whose collective efforts will lead to new approaches to study arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death,” said David Van Wagoner, Ph.D., an arrhythmia research scientist at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, who led the American Heart Association’s peer review team for the selection of the new grant recipients. “Over the next four years, we’ll have some of the most creative minds in cardiovascular research focused on solving the critical challenge of how to save more people from experiencing dangerous arrhythmias and dying of sudden cardiac arrest.”

 The projects, which will commence on July 1, include:

  • Northwestern Sudden Cardiac Death Collaboration at Northwestern University in Chicago, Ill. Led by Elizabeth (Beth) M. McNally, M.D., Ph.D., this team will look at the genetic risks of sudden cardiac death, including rare genetic variants that haven’t previously been included in risk assessment scores. They’ll develop and test a new tool to help identify people most at risk for SCA and produce materials to educate cardiologists and cardiac nurses in understanding and using genetic information to provide better care for people at risk for SCA.

 “Our team will collect information from patients across the risk spectrum for sudden cardiac arrest, and we will generate human induced pluripotent stem cell models of this risk spectrum,” said McNally, director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern. “Additionally, we’ve enlisted the help of genetic counselors at Augustana University in South Dakota for their expertise in distance learning and genomics as we develop modules for clinicians to improve their understanding and communication of genomic risk with focus on arrhythmia genetics.”

  • Michigan Resuscitation Innovation and Science Enterprise (M-RISE) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Led by Robert Neumar, M.D., Ph.D., this team will look to improve cardiac arrest survival through unique therapies including a medication to protect the brain during cardiac arrest that can be delivered as a nose spray or injection during CPR. In addition, by studying bystander and first responder activations for CPR, they’ll identify, test and implement new recommendations and interventions in the community to optimize time to CPR and defibrillation.

 “We envision a future in which the American Heart Association’s goal of doubling cardiac arrest survival is achieved, which could save 100,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone,” said Neumar, professor and chair of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “By optimizing the timing to bystander intervention and making new therapies available for people providing CPR we hope to significantly increase the number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients that survive to lead normal lives.” 

  • Genomic and Precision Medicine Approaches to Evaluate Sex-Specific Sudden Cardiac Arrest Risk and Resuscitation Outcomes at the University of Washington in Seattle. Led by Nona Sotoodehnia, M.D., M.P.H., this team will focus on sex differences in people who experience cardiac arrest. Their goals are to use genomics and precision medicine approaches in men and women to improve risk stratification for cardiac arrest among high risk populations; to develop a better understanding of underlying causes of cardiac arrest; and to improve sex-specific resuscitation strategies for cardiac arrest.

 “The current approach to cardiac arrest research and clinical care largely takes a one-size-fits-most approach, treating men and women similarly. However, key differences between men and women in cardiac arrest incidence, risk factors, underlying pathology and outcomes highlights the need for a more individualized approach,” said Sotoodehnia, co-director of the cardiovascular health research unit and Laughlin endowed professor in cardiology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “Our center will use genomics and precision medicine approaches to identify who’s at high risk for cardiac arrest and to understand the underlying causes of cardiac arrest in men and women. We’ll also engineer a novel sex-based precision algorithm to deliver real-time resuscitation care. Our goal is to individualize cardiac arrest prevention and resuscitation care for both men and women.”

  • Targeting Intracellular Calcium Leak for Ventricular Arrhythmia Prevention in Structural Heart Disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Led by Bjorn Knollmann, M.D., Ph.D., the team will use basic science to identify potential treatments for ventricular arrhythmia, fast heart rhythms originating in the main heart pumping chambers. Building on past research that identified an intracellular channel known as the Ryanodine Receptor (RyR) as a major cause for abnormal calcium cycling in heart cells, they’ll investigate how that causes ventricular arrhythmia in the human heart. Additionally, they’ll test a new therapy designed to normalize calcium and prevent ventricular arrhythmia in patients with heart disease.

 “Our center brings together three academic institutions, Vanderbilt University, George Washington University and Lipscomb University, with the one mission of improving the lives of patients at risk for dying from arrhythmias,” said Knollmann, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Arrhythmia Research and Therapeutics. “The support from AHA will help us develop and test new drug therapy for preventing sudden death in patients with heart disease. We are very much looking forward to working with the other centers and the AHA as part of this new research network.”

 “We’re excited that the American Heart Association can support these projects that feature such innovative, comprehensive and collaborative research plans. We think this work ultimately will have an extraordinary impact on cardiovascular disease and stroke outcomes,” said Van Wagoner.

Visit the Strategically Focused Research Network website for more information.

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