Newswise — Dallas – July 22, 2014 – Researchers and clinicians at UT Southwestern Medical Center are among a small, select group at U.S. universities to receive inaugural funding from the American Heart Association (AHA) for work that takes aim at heart disease and stroke. The funds, totaling $15 million nationally, will launch Strategically Focused Prevention Research Centers around the country.

Heart failure, characterized by the heart’s inability to pump adequate blood to the organs, is one of the most common reasons people over the age of 65 go to the hospital. UT Southwestern faculty will tackle heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, HFpEF, which is the single greatest cardiovascular problem for which there are currently no therapies. The team of UT Southwestern collaborators has one goal in mind – prevention.

“Half of the people who experience heart failure suffer from HFpEF, so this is a huge problem that is rapidly expanding,” said Dr. Joseph A. Hill, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at UT Southwestern. “We are honored to be a part of this esteemed group of top-tier institutions that, together with the support of the AHA, will lead the charge in combating the leading causes of death in America today.”

At UT Southwestern, the four-pronged collaborative approach is led by Dr. Hill, also Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Biology, who along with Dr. Thomas Gillette, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, will focus on the basic science side of the prevention research. Dr. Jarett Berry, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Science, will focus on the population science aspects of HFpEF prevention. Dr. James de Lemos, Associate Program Director of the Cardiology Fellowship Program and Professor of Internal Medicine, will not only assist Dr. Berry, but will lead the education and training portion of the collaborative effort. Lastly, Dr. Benjamin Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and Dr. Tom Sarma, Assistant Instructor in the Department of Internal Medicine, will focus on clinical applications.

“Our synergistic and collaborative approach to this research – encompassing basic science, population science, clinical or translational science, and innovative training – is indicative of the institution we represent,” said Dr. Hill, holder of the James T. Willerson, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Diseases and the Frank M. Ryburn, Jr. Chair in Heart Research. “At UT Southwestern, we have one of the nation's strongest and most formidable teams of cardiovascular professionals. Working closely together, we strive to conceive novel interventions to help HFpEF patients.”

In addition to UT Southwestern, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York will work to create an urban-based health program centered on combating obesity-related preventable deaths. Northwestern University will take a closer look at why heart health measures decline from childhood to middle age. And Vanderbilt University intends to tackle high blood pressure prevention through dietary salt reduction.

UT Southwestern, along with the other three institutions, will each receive $3.8 million to support this research over the next four years. This is the first grant of its kind from the AHA aimed at creating a “culture of health” aligned with its goals to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20 percent and improve Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent by 2020.

About UT Southwestern Medical CenterUT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.

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