AHA funds new research network aimed at preventing heart disease, stroke

The American Heart Association is funding a new research network to help people make behavior changes to prevent heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the world.

Four institutions are banding together as the Strategically Focused Prevention Research Network Centers, funded by a $15 million grant from the American Heart Association, which is designed to help people live longer, healthier lives.

Obesity, high blood pressure and heart failure are among the study areas at the collaborative network, which is made up of investigators from Northwestern University in Chicago, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. The work will begin July 1.

“Heart attack and stroke can strike suddenly, and frequently without warning. The best way to reduce premature death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke is to prevent the development of the risk factors that lead to these conditions,” said American Heart Association President Elliott Antman, M.D., professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the Cardiovascular Division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Scientists working in these research centers are seeking to discover mechanisms that will allow all Americans to live healthier lives, and help lead us to a culture of health.”

A culture of health is an environment where the default choices people make are the healthy ones. For example, the air is smoke-free, nutritious foods are easy to find, safe places to exercise are abundant and quality healthcare is accessible.

The culture of health concept is also important to the association’s goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

Getting America healthier means making headway in important areas like smoking, physical activity, diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Northwestern University will take a closer look at why heart-health measures decline from childhood to middle age and see if the latest techniques can help maintain ideal heart health and reverse declines. The goal is to learn how to implement behavior change programs on a large scale to benefit the most people.

Two major hurdles – an overly salty, heart-hurting diet and the frequent need to take multiple, expensive medications – is spurring Vanderbilt University to develop new approaches for preventing high blood pressure. The goals are to understand how salt causes tissue injury, develop a method to detect and lower excess salt, and determine if a simple treatment in one pill can improve cardiovascular health.

Nearly one-third of adults and children in the United States are obese, with rates even higher in Hispanic and African-American communities. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai will aim to build a culture of health in Harlem, New York, with an urban-based health program. Obesity is closely linked to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, among the leading causes of preventable death.

Heart failure, when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the organs, is one of the most common reasons people 65 and older go into the hospital. Since there are no proven therapies to prevent heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which affects about half of these patients, the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School wants to shift the focus to prevention. The center expects to find new interventions that can help heart failure patients in clinical settings.

Each network center will receive about $3.8 million over the next four years.


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