May 13, 2005

New therapies at heart of Dan May Lectureship

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Jennifer Ezell, left, an acute care nurse practitioner, was given the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Faculty Nurse Award by Marilyn Dubree, chief nursing officer, at the annual State of Nursing address last week.
photo by Kats Barry

New therapies at heart of Dan May Lectureship

Cardiac arrhythmias are the leading cause of sudden death in the United States. Atrial fibrillation affects more than 2 million people and neither cardiovascular condition has a pharmaceutical therapy that works well.

Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine is seeking to change that through biological therapies to treat chronic disorders of the heart. He discussed his work during the Dan May Lectureship in Cardiovascular Medicine at Cardiology Grand Rounds on May 11.

He talked about the use of a new gene therapy treatment for atrial fibrillation and genetic alternatives to pacemakers that allow the production of biological pacemakers, which means no electronic devices would be needed.

The advantage of using therapies based on cells and genes, Marbán theorizes, is not only curative but will take away the lifelong dependency on both drug and electronic device therapies used to treat these chronic illnesses.

Presently the study is in preclinical trials but Marbán expects human studies to begin within five years.

Marbán is most widely known for his work on regenerative therapy — the use of stem cells to treat heart attack and heart failure patients.

His work made international news because it debunked the theory that we are born with all the heart cells we will ever use and once injury occurred to the muscle it could not be repaired.

“The discovery of the existence of cells that can regrow healthy heart muscle is, well, amazing,” he said.

During Medicine Grand Rounds on May 12 he updated his work on regenerative therapy and reviewed the state of the field internationally.

The Dan May Lectureship in Cardiovascular Medicine is an annual event funded by an endowment established by the Dan May family following May's death in 1982.

May himself suffered from heart disease and as a physician and good friend of May's, Gottlieb C. Friesinger, M.D., professor of Medicine Emeritus, was instrumental in establishing this endowment.