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Johns Hopkins Receives Additional $12.6 Million from Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to Study Sudden Cardiac Death - 03/28/2007

Johns Hopkins Receives Additional $12.6 Million from Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to Study Sudden Cardiac Death

Release Date: March 28, 2007

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center have been awarded $12.6 million in additional funding from its original namesake, the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, to continue studies into the causes of sudden cardiac death.  More than 300,000 Americans die each year when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood, triggered by an electrical disturbance in the heart. 

The additional money will fund three areas of research having the greatest potential to lead to new therapies aimed at warding off the fatal heart condition.  When combined with the original Reynolds grant of $24 million, made in 2003, the donations represent the largest philanthropic commitment to Hopkins cardiology research from a private foundation.

Studies will continue into the use of an individual’s own adult stem cells to treat tissue damaged by heart attack or cardiac arrest, plus use of the latest imaging technology - magnetic resonance imaging and/or computed tomography scanning - to detect regions of electrical instability or slowed blood flow from clogged arteries that might trigger the heart to stop.  Also under development are pioneering new genetic approaches for identifying individuals and heart patients most likely to suffer a fatal heart rhythm.

“Sudden cardiac death often occurs in people who appear healthy,” says Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D., Hopkins chief of cardiology and director of the Reynolds Center. “So it has been a major medical challenge to identify who is most at risk for this tragic outcome.

“This sponsorship has moved medical research much closer to harnessing the biological, genetic and biomedical tools necessary to prevent sudden cardiac death, develop treatments for irregular heartbeats and detect those patients most vulnerable to cardiac arrest,” adds Marbán, who also is the Michel Mirowski, M.D., Professor of Medicine at Hopkins. 

During the last three years, Marbán’s team has published 145 scientific reports in medical journals; made 275 research, abstract and poster presentations; secured at least 10 patents for stem cell therapies, catheter devices and imaging techniques; and created two biotechnology ventures. 

Marbán’s own research has found that adult stem cells can be extracted from healthy heart tissue in humans and replicated outside the body in sufficient numbers to serve as potential therapy for damaged hearts.  Results have shown that cardiac stem cells, when replicated and grown into these so-called cardiospheres, develop the same electrical and muscular properties of normal heart tissue.  Clinical testing into the effects of these cells directly on the heart, however, is not expected to begin until late 2007 or 2008. 

In 2006, an international team led by geneticist Aravinda Chakravarti, Ph.D., identified a common genetic variant that predisposes people to abnormal heart rhythms in sudden cardiac death.  Chakravarti, director of the Center for Complex Disease Genomics at Hopkins’ McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, plans more studies to determine how the gene, known as NOS1AP, affects contraction of the heart’s main pumping chambers.  The scientist says this gene could be the target for developing a genetic test to identify those hearts most likely to stop suddenly, and developing treatments that block or reverse the gene’s action. 

Cardiologists Robert Weiss, M.D., and João Lima, M.D., will analyze regions of the heart made vulnerable after heart attack to possible electrical disruption.  Using state-of-the-art imaging equipment, including magnetic resonance and CT scanners, Weiss and Lima plan to study infarcted muscle and surrounding tissue to visualize any areas that develop reduced blood flow or other cellular changes that could lead to sudden death. 

Other research, led by Reynolds Center Associate Director Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., will continue seeking better ways of predicting who benefits from implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICDs), which briefly shock the heart to correct errant heart rhythms.  Though an estimated 2 million Americans, many of them elderly, have an ICD installed, no more than 20 percent of the devices ever need to fire an electrical shock.  Tomaselli, a professor at Hopkins, says his analysis should help select those who can live without a defibrillator, avoiding the often discomforting, surgically invasive and costly procedure.

The Hopkins team hopes their work will eventually lead to additional screening tests for those at risk.  Fewer than 10 percent survive sudden heart stoppages. 

“Our medical research has the potential to have a great impact because even a relatively small improvement, from 10 percent to 20 percent, in determining who is more at risk of sudden cardiac death, could lead to saving the lives of tens of thousands of Americans,” says Hopkins chief of medicine Myron L. Weisfeldt, M.D. Weisfeldt, a past president of the American Heart Association, is also the William Osler Professor of Medicine and director of the Department of Medicine, as well as the physician in chief at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

More than two dozen Hopkins faculty and staff, including cardiologists, geneticists, physiology technicians and research nurses will be involved in Reynolds-sponsored initiatives. 

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the media entrepreneur for whom it was named.  The foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

This gift contributes to the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign which began in July 2000.  Priorities of the campaign, which benefits both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, include strengthening the endowment for student aid and faculty support; advancing research, academic and clinical initiatives; and building and upgrading facilities on all campuses.

For the Media

Media contact: David March
410-955-1534; dmarch1@jhmi.edu

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