Two $2 million-grants awarded to expand heart disease research

June 12, 2015 Categories: Heart News

DALLAS, June 12, 2015 — Research that may one day use exercise capacity tests to routinely identify early heart disease and a study of blood markers among ethnic groups that may help predict heart risks have each been awarded four-year $2 million Grand Challenge Awards from the American Heart Association (AHA).

The awards are part of the AHA’s Cardiovascular Genome-Phenome Study (CVGPS) program, which funds research to accelerate the discovery of personalized treatments and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The project enables researchers to simultaneously access massive volumes of data from multiple studies, including the famed Framingham Heart Study and Jackson Heart Study.

Grand Challenge Award recipient Greg Lewis, M.D., Director of Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiopulmonary Exercise Laboratory and Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cardiology Intensive Care Unit in Boston, will receive $500,000 a year for four years.

Lewis’ research – “Metabolic Profiling of Exercise to Predict Cardiometabolic Risk” – will investigate if specific tests of cardiorespiratory fitness (exercise capacity) can identify patients who may benefit from early treatment to prevent cardiovascular disease. The research will also examine how lifestyle, genetic variations, inherited family traits and measurements of heart structure and function match with changes in metabolism during exercise.

He noted that although fitness has been shown to be among the most potent predictors of future cardiovascular disease, it is one of the only major risk factors that is not routinely assessed.

“This study represents a paradigm shift away from focusing on only resting measurements and a small number of physiologic measurements during exercise in evaluating risk of cardiovascular disease,” Lewis said. “Instead, we will study breath-by-breath measurements of oxygen uptake as well as a broad array of circulating metabolites during exercise in order to understand metabolic responses to exercise in the population and the ability of exercise response patterns to detect and prevent future cardiovascular disease.”

A separate four-year $2 million grant will be shared by Daniel J. Rader, M.D., Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine and Chair of the Department of Genetics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Jennifer Van Eyk, Ph.D., Professor, Erika Glazer Endowed Chair, Director of the Advanced Clinical Biosystems Research Institute and Director of Basic Science of the Barbra Streisand Woman’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Rader and Van Eyk are co-principal investigators on a project titled “Interrogation of the Plasma Proteome for the Development of New Biomarkers and Therapeutic Targets for Cardiovascular Disease,” which will generate data on blood protein biomarkers from people of European, African-American and South Asian ancestry and their relationship to genetic variants and risk of heart disease. Data will come from participants of the Jackson Heart Study, Framingham Offspring Heart Study or the South Asian PROMIS study. 

Researchers hope to find novel blood proteins that predict cardiovascular risk.

“By incorporating genetic variation, we hope to identify novel proteins that are causally related to cardiovascular disease and thus potential new targets for preventive therapies,” Rader said.

“We hope we can use this information to make a test that can be used in a family doctor’s visit or in the hospital,” Van Eyk added.

The CVGPS Grand Challenge Awards seek to discover new knowledge that leads to better-targeted, safer and more effective treatments, based on a deeper understanding of patients’ characteristics.

“These studies have a high likelihood of identifying novel bases of human disease by using new elements of protein markers coupled with patient-based phenotype data,” said Steven Houser, Ph.D., a member of the CVGPS science oversight committee and the AHA President-Elect as of July 1. “We think these studies will help us better understand how we can personalize care to prevent cardiovascular disease.”

Houser is the Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Applications for the Grand Challenge award were evaluated as part of the AHA’s peer review process. The AHA maintains a rigorous and impartial peer review process, conducted by volunteers with appropriate science content expertise, to ensure that the most meritorious research projects in support of the AHA mission are identified and funded.

The CVGPS is a collaboration among the AHA Boston University, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, which are the academic coordinating center homes of the Framingham Heart Study and the Jackson Heart Study, respectively. The Jackson Heart Study also involves Jackson State University and Tougaloo College as partner institutions.

Framingham is the nation’s largest and longest-running heart research program, with data extending from the original participants into a third generation. The Jackson Heart Study is the nation’s largest research study focused on African Americans, who are at increased risk for heart attack and stroke compared to other ethnic and racial groups.

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