Sarver Heart Center Recognitions



Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) is a major health care problem with no treatment proven to improve long-term outcomes. “Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction represents half of all heart failure hospital admissions. With this condition, which disproportionately affects women, we don’t have a good understanding of the mechanisms that lead to the disease and we essentially treat related conditions, such as lowering high blood pressure,” said Elizabeth Juneman, MD, associate professor of medicine. The primary symptom of the disease is severe shortness of breath with mild exertion, despite a heart muscle that seems to pump normally on heart imaging studies.
Henk Granzier, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine (center), is leading a new National Institutes of Health grant, in collaboration with UA faculty cardiologists Steve Goldman, MD, professor of medicine (right), and Dr. Juneman (left). Martin M. LeWinter, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine is a co-principal investigator on the federal NIH grant titled, “Myofilament-based mechanisms of diastolic dysfunction in HFpEF” (1R01HL118524), totaling $2.46 million over four years. The Sarver Heart Center cardiologists practice at Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.
Most HFpEF patients have a history of hypertension and concentric left ventricular (LV) remodeling, a combination referred to as “hypertensive heart disease.” The vast majority of HFpEF patients also have LV diastolic dysfunction, resulting from increased chamber stiffness. This project will study changes at the level of the myofilament in heart cells that contribute to diastolic dysfunction (abnormal heart relaxation) using biopsies of heart muscle obtained during heart surgeries. The researchers will compare patients with hypertensive heart disease who either have symptoms of heart failure (shortness of breath, swelling) or no symptoms, and will run parallel studies with laboratory models of the disease.
“Dr. Juneman made a heroic effort to obtain VA approval for this research protocol. The biopsies obtained during surgeries with patient consent will provide valuable and unique data,” said Professor Granzier.
“This grant shows one of the values of the Sarver Heart Center. It fosters collaboration where basic and clinical scientists are able to work together on a project to decipher the primary cause of disease and improve patient care,” said Dr. Goldman.
During the past few months, Karl B. Kern, MD, (right, pictured with Daniel V. Schidlow, MD, Drexel University senior vice president of medical affairs and dean) has received several well-deserved recognitions. Dr. Kern, co-director of the UA Sarver Heart Center and professor of medicine, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Drexel University College of Medicine’s Alumni Association in May. A 1980 graduate of the Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia (now Drexel School of Medicine), he was recognized for outstanding achievements and making lasting contributions, in particular his research that led to cardio-cerebral resuscitation and his mentoring of future physicians and scientists.
Dr. Kern also was inducted as an honorary member of the European Resuscitation Council during its scientific conference in Bilboa, Spain, in May. Honorary members are recognized for outstanding merit and life-long commitment and leadership in resuscitation care. The ERC described Dr. Kern as “one of the most influential leaders in resuscitation over many years. (His research) is renowned not only for the originality and excellence of its published work, but also for its refreshing willingness to challenge dogma where good grounds have existed for doubt about current practice.” The ERC has recognized only 40 honorary members worldwide. Dr. Kern is one of 10 from the United States.
The Sarver Heart Center Resuscitation Research Group’s success in improving long-term survival from sudden cardiac arrest by introducing chest-compression-only CPR and cardio-cerebral resuscitation for emergency responders is well known. Post-resuscitation care in hospitals offers the next great opportunity to further improve survival. Dr. Kern recently was awarded an Arizona Biomedical Investigator Grant (AZ BIG) from the Arizona Department of Health Services to study whether early coronary angiography is effective for cardiac arrest patients who have not had a classic heart attack with ST elevation, a measurement that indicates a severe blood-flow blockage. Some believe all post-cardiac-arrest patients should have emergent coronary angiography, but others disagree.
This clinical study will evaluate early angiographic treatment in a multi-centered randomized study of 240 patients resuscitated from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Dr. Kern is collaborating with doctors from University of Arizona Medical Center – University and South Campuses, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Maine Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Minneapolis Heart Institute. Dr. Kern and others have already demonstrated improved survival in non-randomized, cohort studies. This grant will be the first to support a prospective, randomized trial to examine the benefit of this early angiographic approach in patients without ST elevation.
In September, Dr. Nancy Sweitzer was recognized as one of the 50 most influential women in Arizona by Arizona Business Magazine. “This award is recognition not only of the uniqueness of having a woman leader in cardiovascular medicine, but also of the importance of the work being done at the Sarver Heart Center to prevent, treat and cure heart disease and stroke,” said Dr. Sweitzer, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center.
In November, Dr. Sweitzer delivered two presentations for the Arizona Health Sciences community. One, for Women in Academic Medicine was titled, “Dreaming the Possible Dream: Overcoming Barriers and Being a Leader.” She was joined by other women faculty members of the Sarver Heart Center. (Pictured from left: Heddwen Brooks, PhD, Betsy Dokken, NP, PhD, Dr. Sweitzer, and Margaret Briehl, PhD.) Dr. Sweitzer also delivered a continuing medical education talk for the UA College of Medicine – Tucson homecoming program titled, “Great Problems of Nature: Progress in Mechanical Circulatory Support as a Treatment for Advanced Heart Disease.”
Former Sarver Heart Center Investigator Award recipient Dennis Pollow, Jr., MS, RD, received a predoctoral fellowship grant from the American Heart Association Western States Affiliate to continue his research on “Sex differences in T cell-mediated regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.” The Sarver Heart Center Heart Disease in Women Award enabled Dennis to obtain preliminary research data to compete for this national award. His mentor is Sarver Heart Center faculty member Heddwen Brooks, PhD, associate professor of physiology and chair of the Physiological Sciences Graduate Interdisciplinary Program.
Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, MRCS, was selected by the International Society for Cardiovascular Translational Research to be the recipient of the 2014 ISCTR Cardiovascular Translational Research Scholarship. Dr. Khalpey, associate professor, UA Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, currently serves as the co-director of Heart Transplant and director of the Mechanical Circulatory Support Program. Dr. Khalpey’s research focuses on stem-cell applications in transplantation and cardiothoracic surgery. The ISCTR’s translational research curriculum is designed to help clinicians and scientists learn about new pathways for medical product development that can expedite scientific advancements to benefit patients.
Marvin J. Slepian, MD, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering and McGuire Scholar in the Eller College of Management, is president-elect of the International Society for Rotary Blood Pumps. The society, which will be renamed the International Society of Mechanical Circulatory Support, will hold its 26th meeting in Tucson in 2016, with Dr. Slepian serving as program chair and president of the society. “This will be a great opportunity for Tucson and the UA as well. This meeting will bring to town an international concentration of leading cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, engineers, coagulation/hematologists, industry personnel, health administrators, and venture capitalists,” said Dr. Slepian.
Ankit Desai, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine, has been selected for an Arizona Health Sciences Center Career Development Award, which provides funding to support physicians and scientists across disciplines to develop a research project in an established investigator’s laboratory or program. The goal is to provide young physician scientists time and resources to begin a productive research career and successfully compete for national biomedical funding, such as the National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association awards. The AHSC awards are granted for up to two years at up to $75,000 per year and portions can be applied to salary, lab supplies, tuition, fees and travel to academic conferences.
Dr. Desai’s mentors for his project, “Sudden Death and Sickle Cell Disease– An Electrophysiological and Molecular Investigation,” are Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, MD, senior vice president for health sciences, and Jason Yuan, MD, PhD, associate vice president for translational health sciences, at the Arizona Health Sciences Center.