GeneSTAR Research Center

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About Us

In 1982 The Johns Hopkins Sibling and Family Heart Study was created to study patterns of coronary heart disease and related risk factors in families with early-onset coronary disease, identified from10 Baltimore area Hospitals.

GeneSTAR continues to study mechanisms of coronary heart disease and stroke in families using novel models and exciting new methods.

GeneSTAR is a family-based study in initially healthy brothers and sisters, and offspring of people with early-onset coronary disease, The goal is to discover and amplify mechanisms of stroke and coronary heart disease.

Our African American and European American family cohort has undergone extensive screening, genetic testing, and follow-up for new cardiovascular disease, stroke, and other clinical events for 5 to 32 years.

Background and History

Heart disease and stroke cluster strongly in families, particularly when the events occur at a young age. Siblings of people with premature coronary disease have an excess risk of having a coronary disease event that is 2-12 times greater than the general population. This well documented fact became the foundation on which the GeneSTAR Study was founded in 1982, designed by Dr. Diane Becker while still a doctoral student in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The first study examined the risk perceptions, beliefs, and prevention behaviors of 30-59 year old siblings of people hospitalized under 60 years of age with premature coronary disease. Did siblings perceive their own high relative risk or take any action to ameliorate it? The answer was a resounding “no!” The majority of siblings felt their risk to be the same or even lower than the general population, and most often failed to initiate cardiovascular risk reduction. They would however agree to come in for extensive screening of risk factors.Screening to determine the true distribution of known and novel risk factors and occult coronary disease, using stress testing and thallium scans commenced in 1983, and The Johns Hopkins Sibling and Family Heart Study was born.


Now followed for cardiovascular and other comorbid incident events from 5-35 years, The Johns Hopkins Sibling and Family Heart Study cohort remains engaged in a series of integrated research studies of cardiovascular disease risk, novel risk interventions, cerebrovascular disease risk, and attendant metabolic and thrombosis phenotypic risk factors. The study has had a long-term interest in African American families and disparities in the cardiovascular disease substrate. Importantly, GeneSTAR has firmly established in a US population, that family history of coronary disease bears an excess risk of disease far beyond what would be predicted by the Framingham Risk Score.

GeneSTAR's Collaborating Founders

Dr. Diane Becker was joined by Dr. Thomas Pearson, then the new Director of an NHLBI Preventive Cardiology Academic Award in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Dr. Lewis Becker, Director of Nuclear Cardiology, with the assistance of Dr. Pete Kwiterovich, Director of The Johns Hopkins Lipid Research Program and Dr. David M. Levine, then a leading member of the Behavioral Science faculty, the team together began to explore the intersection of their interests in high risk families. Dr. Dan Fintel, at the time a Cardiology Fellow, participated in many of the early clinical encounters and assessments and was nodal in the early exercise imaging work.