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VUMC joins research network to fight atrial fibrillation

Jun. 14, 2018, 8:33 AM


Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) has been selected by the American Heart Association (AHA) to participate in a six-member research network to advance treatment and prevention of atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rate that increases the risk of stroke and other heart-related complications.

As part of the AHA Strategically Focused Research Network in Atrial Fibrillation, VUMC will receive $3.7 million over four years to support research on the role of inflammation and interventions that might prevent AFib. Others in the network are Boston University, Northwestern University and the Cleveland Clinic.

The University of Utah and Stanford University will participate in the network as DECIDE Centers (Decision-making and Choices to Inform Dialogue and Empower A-Fib Patients). They will test and deliver shared decision-making tools for clinicians and patients to use together to determine which treatment options work best for each patient.

An estimated 6.1 million or more Americans were living with AFib as of 2010, making it the most common heart abnormality in the United States. That number is expected to rise to 12.1 million by 2030.

“While the idea that inflammation promotes AFib is widely accepted, the underlying mechanisms are not well defined and we don’t have good ways of preventing the arrhythmia,” said Dan Roden, MD, lead investigator at VUMC who is known internationally for his studies of abnormal heart rhythms and variability in drug response.

“Our program builds on decades of research at Vanderbilt that has shown that tissue damage caused by very highly reactive lipid metabolites generated by inflammation plays a role in many diseases, including AFib,” he said. “A key component of the program is testing the idea that compounds that scavenge these metabolites can prevent tissue damage and thereby prevent AF.”

Roden is professor of Medicine, Pharmacology and Biomedical Informatics and holds the endowed Sam L. Clark, MD, PhD Chair in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

He also serves as VUMC’s Senior Vice President for Personalized Medicine and as founding director of the Oates Center for Experimental Therapeutics, named for John A. Oates Jr., MD, the Thomas F. Frist Sr. Professor of Medicine and former chair of the department.

Oates has led Vanderbilt’s lipid research program and is an adviser to the AFib research program, which has four components:

The basic research project, led by Katherine Murray, MD, professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, will explore the relationships between inflammation and other risk factors for AFib in animal models.

The clinical research project, led by Gregory Michaud, MD, professor of Medicine, will test whether a reactive lipid metabolite scavenger can prevent inflammation-induced AFib in patients.

Roden will direct a population research project to identify patients with AFib in whom inflammation plays an especially prominent role, and Bjorn Knollmann, MD, PhD, William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics, will direct the training program.

Other co-investigators include Jonathan Mosley, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine and Biomedical Informatics; Benjamin Shoemaker, MD, MSCI, assistant professor of Medicine; Yu Shyr, PhD, chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Harold L. Moses Professor of Cancer Research; and Quinn Stanton Wells, MD, PharmD, MSCI, assistant professor of Medicine and Pharmacology.

The Vanderbilt center also includes three investigators from Nashville’s Lipscomb University: Scott Akers, PharmD, PhD, who chairs the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Arisoa Randrianasolo, PhD, chair of the Department of Computer Science, and Eddy Borera, PhD, assistant professor of Computer Science.

Vanderbilt researchers participate in three other AHA Strategically Focused Research Networks (SFRNs) on Prevention, Obesity and Vascular Disease. Since 2014 the AHA has awarded grants to form two new SFRNs each year to fulfill its mission “to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.”

As part of the Strategically Focused Prevention Research Network, David Harrison, MD, director of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology and the Betty and Jack Bailey Professor of Cardiology, and colleagues have been exploring since 2014 ways to prevent hypertension.

In 2017 VUMC joined the Strategically Focused Obesity Research Network. Kevin Niswender, MD, PhD, director of the Clinical Research Center and associate professor of Medicine, is leading efforts to develop precision medicine approaches to treat obesity while reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

VUMC’s involvement in the Strategically Focused Vascular Disease Research Network was announced earlier this year. Joshua Beckman, MD, MS, professor of Medicine and director of the Section of Vascular Medicine, is leading efforts to identify patients with peripheral artery disease at risk of losing limbs due to poor circulation.

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