Promising Research in Heart Disease
The University of Chicago Medicine is an academic medical center, a hospital where physicians and scientists are researching the newest treatments and discovering tomorrow's medical breakthroughs. We are proud to be home to one of the oldest National Institutes of Health-funded cardiovascular research programs in the nation. Our physician-scientists benefit from millions of dollars in annual research support to study heart disease. We also train tomorrow's researchers with our NIH cardiovascular training program.
All of our heart specialists are studying new ways to diagnose and treat heart problems, from state-of-the-art tests and advanced drug therapies, to sophisticated life-saving surgical procedures. In addition, many of our physician-scientists are examining basic questions in molecular biology, physiology, pharmacology and biochemistry, which, in turn, helps set the foundation for novel therapies for many forms of cardiovascular disease. Patients benefit from research therapies such as the use of cancer drugs to treat pulmonary hypertension, gene therapy and next-generation ventricular assist devices for heart failure, and advanced stenting to treat aortic aneurysms.
Early Access to New Therapies
Our emphasis on translational research -- or "bench to bedside" medicine -- means that our scientists are working to speed the pace at which new biomedical discoveries are put to effective use in patient care. Because of this standard of innovation, University of Chicago Medicine heart experts can often offer treatments long before they are available elsewhere.
Our cardiologists and cardiac surgeons are always conducting clinical trials of new drug therapies, surgical procedures, heart devices, imaging techniques and more.
Clinical Research Highlights
Below is just a short list of some of the recent clinical research completed or under way at the University of Chicago Medicine:
- Our heart transplant team participated in a clinical trial of the Transmedic Organ Care System, a device that is designed to keep the heart beating while in transit for transplantation, resulting in better preservation of donor hearts.
- Electrophysiologists here are investigating several types of new implantable devices to treat heart rhythm problems, including a totally subcutaneous implantable defibrillator to prevent sudden cardiac death, cardiac resynchronization therapy for patients with heart failure, and the use of remote monitoring devices.
- Interventional cardiologists are studying several aspects of treatment for coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease, as well as devices for closure of heart defects. New anti-coagulant drugs, drug eluting stents and devices to prevent blood clots in patients with atrial fibrillation who take warfarin are under investigation.
- University of Chicago plastic surgeons and heart surgeons worked together to develop and refine a technique -- called sternal plating -- that reinforces the sternum after heart surgery. Since adopting this technique to close the sternum in high-risk patients, our surgeons have observed a dramatic decrease in pain, length of time to resume normal activity and the incidence of post-operative infections.
- Our interventional cardiologists and electrophysiologists use the Stereotaxis magnetically guided system to move catheters through the heart with no risk of puncture and with the advantage of controlled motion provided by a GPS-like navigation system.
- Heart failure specialists are investigating new strategies to detect heart transplant rejection, new drugs for heart failure and devices that continuously monitor heart pressures for better management of heart failure on an outpatient basis.
- Several cardiac ablation trials for arrhythmias are under way, looking into alternative ablation tools such as cryoenergy, irrigated ablation electrodes, and bipolar ablation catheters to treat atrial fibrillation.
- We are one of 17 U.S. institutions participating in a clinical trial of the HeartWare HVAD left ventricular assist device (LVAD). This next generation LVAD provides heart failure patients with up to 10 liters of additional blood flow, restoring quality of life in most cases. The implantable device is only the size of a D-cell battery.
- Cardiac imaging experts are applying the latest imaging technologies, including three-dimensional echocardiography, cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and 256-slice CT angiography -- to assess heart function and to better plan treatment.
- University of Chicago heart surgeons pioneered new approaches to reducing the risk for kidney injury during surgery, including refining techniques for perioperative hemofiltration. Our cardiac surgery team is participating in a phase I clinical trial to determine the safety and efficacy of a new drug and its ability to reduce the incidence of acute kidney injury following cardiac surgery.
- Our nationally known pulmonary hypertension specialists are beginning new early phase drug development trials to treat the condition, including trials of cancer drugs to treat pulmonary hypertension. This work exploits similarities between cancer and pulmonary hypertension to accelerate testing of new drugs.
- We are currently the only clinical site implanting the CardioPlus, the first implantable intra-aortic balloon pump. It is the only ventricular assist device that can be used on demand by the patient, which increases its potential application for the treatment of heart failure.
- Our heart experts conduct outcomes and quality of care research to continuously evaluate and refine patient care.
Basic Science Research
Basic science research looks into fundamental questions, such as observing disease at a molecular level or understanding how cells communicate with each other. Knowledge gained from basic science research is essential to the development of new treatments. At the University of Chicago, scientists conducting studies in cardiac basic science research collaborate with other scientists on campus and elsewhere to speed scientific progress. Some examples of this research include the following:
- Shahab Akhter, MD, is studying the molecular mechanisms of myocardial hypertrophy (excessive growth of heart muscle) and how this leads to heart failure. He is also looking into novel strategies to improve heart muscle protection in cardiac surgery and in understanding the molecular mechanisms of donor heart dysfunction.
- Marion Hoffman, MD, PhD, is exploring the basis of atherosclerosis in blood vessels like the aorta. Her studies are identifying novel inflammatory pathways that drive arterial disease, which may offer new therapeutic targets.
- Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD, and her lab group investigate how genetic defects lead to heart and skeletal muscle weakness to help identify new pathways for treatment. Dr. McNally's research is closely linked to the patient care she provides through the Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic.
- Mahesh Gupta, PhD, is looking into the molecular basis of heart failure, particularly the role of chromatin remodeling enzymes in gene dysregulation, contractile dysfunction and cell death during heart failure.
- Dorothy Hanck, PhD, is focusing on cardiac ion channel biophysics, physiology and pharmacology with the goal of identifying heart-specific characteristics and their structural basis that can be used to direct drug design.
- Jim Holaska, PhD, is a basic scientist studying muscle disease and has identified the role of the nucleus in causing some forms of heart and skeletal muscle disease.