Improving Care of Heart Failure Patients with a Collaborative Team Approach



By Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD,
director of the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center and chief of the Division of Cardiology in the UA College of Medicine – Tucson


Heart failure, a condition in which the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, affects about 5.1 million people in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. Currently there is no cure for this condition that represents a major cause of repeated hospitalizations for Medicare patients and is a primary driver of Medicare costs. However, we know many treatments improve outcomes in heart failure, including medicines and lifestyle changes. More widespread use of these treatments by experienced clinicians would help thousands of people with heart failure live longer, more active lives.

Unfortunately, current treatments don’t work well for all patients with heart failure and too often physicians struggle to find the right dose of medicines and the right combination of therapies to improve heart function for individual patients.

Heart Failure: Asking Big Questions. Finding Better Answers.

The rich and diverse collaborative environment that exists at the University of Arizona is impressive, and I am working to increase opportunities for translational science around heart failure. Our talented group of physicians and scientists has several opportunities to work together in pursuit of solutions to big questions that will ultimately lead to better care for heart failure patients.

Here are some of the initiatives I am pursuing with colleagues:

• Work to increase precise, personalized identification of patients at risk for heart failure, and those likely to benefit from particular therapies, in collaboration with Kenneth Ramos, MD, PhD, PharmB, an internationally recognized expert who is the associate vice president for precision health sciences at the Arizona Health Sciences Center (AHSC). This collaboration takes advantage of my prior work in heart failure genetics, including published work about a gene associated with risk of heart failure development (risk allele).

• In collaboration with Lee Ryan, PhD, associate director; Elizabeth Glisky, PhD, head of the Department of Psychology; Carol Barnes, PhD, director, and other investigators in the McKnight Brain Institute at the UA, we will be looking at the relationship between inflammatory brain changes and cognition, mood and memory in patients with heart failure.

• Further exploring the potential role of brain inflammation in heart failure, I am working with physiologists John Konhilas, PhD, and Meredith Hay, PhD, to investigate the immune mechanisms of brain inflammation in heart failure, both in animal models and in patients, and exploring the possibility that pro-biotic therapy and changes in the microbiota of the gut may positively affect both brain and systemic inflammation, memory, mood and cognition.

• In close collaboration with Carol Gregorio, PhD, co-director of the UA Sarver Heart Center, I am connecting our internationally known basic scientists studying heart muscle proteins and diseases with collaborators in drug development to identify and smartly develop drug therapies targeted at specific cell proteins and mechanisms identified in laboratories at the University of Arizona.

• I am collaborating with Elizabeth Calhoun, PhD, MEd, associate vice president for population health sciences and executive director of the Center for Population Science and Discovery at AHSC, to develop projects that take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity to study underserved minority populations. Our goal is to learn more about cardiovascular disease risk in our rural and urban minority and non-minority populations, and ways we might work to improve health disparities and reduce cardiovascular risk in those minority populations with the highest risk. One unique way we might target this is by studying both individual, cultural and community factors that alter the gut microbiota, and the association of this with inflammation and cardiovascular risk.

Dr. Sweitzer is an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist and clinical researcher, specializing in heart failure, mechanical circulatory support and heart transplant patient care.