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nEWS REPORT




 

 

A New Cardiac Enterprise
The Johns Hopkins Heart Institute promises a novel approach to patients with cardiovascular disease


On the leadership team of the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute: Heart doctors, from left, Rick Lange, Eduardo Marbán and Bill Baumgartner, holding a model of the heart.
On the operating table, a patient with end-stage heart failure is undergoing surgery to reshape his left ventricle. It should be shaped like a football, but it’s enlarged and round-ish—more like a basketball. Ventricular restoration will make it smaller and able to contract more forcefully. Ultimately, this procedure might prove an alternative to heart transplant.

At the bench, scientists are injecting adult stem cells, grown from the bone marrow of pigs, into pigs’ damaged hearts. These precursor cells are acting like blood and heart muscle cells and causing the animals’ hearts to contract more efficiently. One day, this work could result in a successful, cell-based therapy for those who’ve had heart attacks.

From the lab to the OR, Hopkins physicians and scientists are trying to solve some of the most intractable problems in heart disease. Their endeavors cut across practically every field related to cardiovascular disorders, and now they are going to be harnessed into one, major enterprise: the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute.

Cardiology, cardiac surgery, cardiac anesthesia, vascular medicine, surgery and radiology—all will be united under the banner of the Heart Institute. At its helm is a board of governors led by Arthur B. Modell, former majority owner of the Baltimore Ravens, and composed of more than two dozen leaders from the community and the worlds of business and medicine.

“We are looking to Art for strong and effective leadership for the Hopkins Heart Institute, as well as his expertise in aiding our marketing and fund-raising activities,” says William Baumgartner, chief of cardiac surgery, who is one of five faculty on the board. The others are Eduardo Marbán, chief of cardiology; Richard Lange, chief of clinical cardiology; Julie Freischlag, chair of surgery; and Mike Weisfeldt, chair of medicine and a former director of the division of cardiology.

The Heart Institute will be based in the new, Cardiovascular and Critical Care Tower. This facility, slated to open in 2008, will be the largest of the new clinical buildings that will soon go up as part of the massive, $1 billion overhaul of the medical campus. Raising a portion of the funds to build it will be a chief priority for board members. But considering Hopkins’ longtime high profile in cardiac care, they should have plenty of ammunition to rely on.

Hopkins’ heart fame recently came to nationwide attention when the Emmy Award winning HBO film Something the Lord Made depicted Alfred Blalock, Helen Taussig and Vivien Thomas and their “blue-baby” operation. That groundbreaking surgery took place in 1944. Since then, a cascade of discoveries at Johns Hopkins has saved the lives of countless cardiac patients worldwide.

As one example, virtually every major therapeutic approach now being used to prevent abnormal heart rhythms—the defibrillator, CPR, the rechargeable pacemaker and the implantable defibrillator—was developed here.

Today, research in sudden cardiac death shows no sign of slowing down. Recent studies are paving the way for yet another approach to cardiac arrhythmia. Using gene therapy, scientists converted a small fraction of heart muscle cells in guinea pigs into specialized “pacing” cells, creating, in effect, the first biological pacemaker.

Hopkins is a leading center not only in the field of sudden cardiac death, but also in such areas as heart failure, aortic disease and Marfan syndrome. Our surgeons and cardiologists see a large volume of extraordinarily complex cases, and they are using techniques—like placing pacemaker leads with minimally-invasive, robotic-assisted cardiac surgery—that are not usually available at other medical centers.

But the Heart Institute promises to be about more even than delivering such cutting-edge therapies. It will also be about how those therapies are delivered. Institute leaders plan to foster innovative care models that put the patient, not the provider, at the center of the team. In recent months, several institute board members have been working with architects, faculty and staff to hammer out a design for the Cardiovascular Tower that expressly reflects the needs of patients and families. Related services are located near one another; spaces are flexible, featuring, as an example, ORs that can be converted to cath labs or vice versa, depending on future needs.

Art Modell believes passionately that all the endeavors currently under way at the Heart Institute will prove every bit as significant as the breakthroughs of the past. Pointing to experiments involving gene therapy and stem cells, he says, “This isn’t science fiction. This is for real. And it’s happening right here at Hopkins.”

—Anne Bennett Swingle

Of Football and Philanthropy

Art Modell says he’s done it again: He’s put together a “winning team.” As chairman of the new Johns Hopkins Heart Institute’s board of governors, Modell leads a group of more than two dozen high-profile volunteers. Serving with him on the executive committee are Ned Kelly, president and CEO of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., who is vice chairman of the board, and longtime Hopkins supporter Lou Grasmick, president and CEO of Louis S. Grasmick Lumber Company Inc., who is leading the capital campaign.

Board members will be responsible for marketing the Heart Institute, ensuring that its design best reflects the needs of patients and—most key—raising the funds necessary to create it. The Cardiovascular and Critical Care Tower, the setting for the institute, will cost an estimated $300 million to build. A full third of that will need to come from private philanthropic support, development officers say.

Although Modell joined the Johns Hopkins Medicine board of trustees just this year, he has long experience in health care. For 22 years, he served as a trustee for the Cleveland Clinic; for the last nine years of that period, he was president of its board. Modell himself has suffered two heart attacks and a stroke and so has a personal stake in seeing to it that the mission of the Heart Institute, which is to treat, prevent and cure heart disease, is fulfilled.

He’s not worried. “If history is our guide, there’s every reason to expect the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute will achieve the success we’re all waiting for in the treatment and prevention of heart disease.”

 

 

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