October 23, 2009

Lenihan to direct Cardiology clinical research

Lenihan to direct Cardiology clinical research



Vanderbilt Heart & Vascular Institute

Dan Lenihan, M.D., comes to Vanderbilt from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, where he held a similar position. He is a heart failure specialist whose clinical interest is cardio-oncology.

“It is clear there is a substantial overlap between cardiology and oncology with regards to patient care and management decisions,” Lenihan said.

“These two disciplines will continue to have extensive overlap because the targets for 'personalized therapy' are identical between them.”

As an example, he said the development of new cancer drugs with anti-angiogenic effects will likely have important cardiovascular implications. Similarly, stem cell therapy, a mainstay for treating certain hematologic malignancies, is also being studied as a way to repair cardiac cells that are damaged by ischemic heart disease.

“My true passion has always been in treating, detecting and preventing heart failure. What I really like is how much of what we do can affect patients. If the problem is untreated, undiagnosed or not considered, then it can have a dramatic impact on those patients,” he said.

It is not uncommon for cardiologists and oncologists, who are focused on their respective patients and disciplines, to fail to communicate effectively. Vanderbilt's collaborative culture is one of the many factors that attracted Lenihan.

“Patients don't choose to have more than one problem, but they frequently do. Whether their problem was caused by their cancer treatment or whether it preexisted, I would say that 30 percent to 40 percent of cancer patients suffer from some form of heart disease. Our goal is to treat cancer most effectively by managing or eliminating heart problems as a complicating factor.”

Lenihan, who started at Vanderbilt in September, is overseeing a multi-center trial using biomarkers to predict cardiac damage in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“Conventional methods have limitations on how well they detect problems. Biomarkers are a better indicator, and are also cheaper and easier. With a simple blood draw we look for BNP and troponin and other markers of heart damage. If they are elevated during chemotherapy, it tells us there is early damage to the heart not detected by standard echocardiography or other tests,” he said. “We can intervene at the earliest point to protect the heart.”

As director of Clinical Research for the division, Lenihan will oversee more than 100 clinical research protocols.

“Dan has a breadth of experience in clinical cardiology research that makes him an ideal person to understand the diverse portfolio of work going on throughout our division and Vanderbilt Heart,” said Doug Sawyer, M.D., Ph.D, chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine.