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Published in CenterView on November 25, 2013

AHA partnership promises more effective, personalized cardiovascular treatment

By Jack Mazurak

A coalition announced by the American Heart Association establishes formal research ties between the University of Mississippi and Boston University and their renowned population studies of cardiovascular disease, the Jackson and Framingham heart studies.

The AHA-sponsored collaboration, with a placeholder name of Heart Studies v2.0, will add dimensional breadth to the two major population studies, allowing researchers to more deeply analyze genetic and other patient information collected in the studies’ extensive databanks.

Such research holds the promise of more effective and personalized medical treatments based on an individual’s genetic makeup, environment, history, particular disease sub-type and other variables.


“Thanks to the American Heart Association, this collaboration will allow the continued development of the science to better understand the causes of heart disease and stroke,” said Dr. Dan Jones, University of Mississippi chancellor and former Jackson Heart Study principal investigator. “It moves us closer to the day when this leading cause of death can be prevented in more people.

“This research collaborative provides an opportunity for scientists here in Mississippi to work with scientists from around the country. And it enlarges opportunities for participants in the Jackson Heart Study and others in Mississippi to benefit from the best science minds in our country.”

The mid-November announcement coincided with longtime JHS director and principal investigator Dr. Herman Taylor’s news that he is moving on to new challenges in cardiovascular disease and population health.


“I’m shifting my personal focus – and am enthusiastic about the change – from the important work of observing and explaining disease as we do in the JHS, to an action-oriented agenda aimed at testing intelligent interventions to change the trajectory of health for those suffering the most,” Taylor said. “Lots more work remains to be done.”

The coalition will be funded for five years at approximately $5-6 million annually with a five-year extension possible. In general, the funds will be invested in a combination of specific grant programs, infrastructure and a challenge program.

The Framingham Heart Study, founded in 1948 at Boston University, is the nation’s longest-running cardiovascular disease investigation. Its researchers have collected massive amounts of health data over the years from seven cohort groups made up of thousands of participants.

Framingham has published crucial findings, including identification of risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and insights on the effects of these factors, including smoking, obesity, blood pressure, cholesterol and physical activity.
The Jackson Heart Study is the largest study in history to focus on the genetic factors related to cardiovascular disease in African-Americans, a group which faces increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

The JHS draws together UMMC, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College. It has followed 5,300 African-Americans in Jackson for 13 years, compiling data from numerous medical tests, scans, exams and interviews, while also analyzing the effects of lifestyle factors such as diet and community and church involvement on their overall health.

Jones helped establish the JHS in the late 1990s and served as AHA president from 2007-08. He recruited Taylor, the Shirley Professor for the Study of Health Disparities in the Division of Cardiology, in 1998 to direct the study. Taylor will continue as an in-house consultant to the JHS through June of next year.

Taylor noted that JHS researchers have identified links between social conditions and specific risk factors for diseases, uncovered differences in metabolic syndrome between blacks and whites, and identified how location of fat in the body affects African-Americans – a topic previously characterized mainly in white people.
“We have developed one of the most important databanks on the planet, both in terms of African-American cardiovascular health and for its implications for a much broader population,” Taylor said. “We have over the last several years built a vanguard network of about 10 institutions across the country that is actively collaborating with us on a variety of research studies.”

And with the JHS already averaging 30-35 publications annually the past several years, the study is poised to grow exponentially, he said.

UMMC, JSU and Tougaloo will conduct a national search for a permanent director. In the interim, Dr. Adolfo Correa, a physician scientist Taylor recruited in 2011 as chief science officer of the JHS, will lead the study. Correa has both an M.D. and a Ph.D. and is a dually appointed professor of medicine and pediatrics at UMMC.

The new research collaborative is just getting under way, but major results could come in the next five-10 years – maybe even sooner, said Dr. Joseph Loscalzo, chairman of the American Heart Association’s Science Oversight Group for this collaboration and chairman of the Department of Medicine and physician-in-chief at Brigham  and Women’s Hospital.

Loscalzo said the coalition will transfer JHS and Framingham’s successes into 21st century genomics developments and network medicine.

Jones said Heart Studies v2.0 will bolster the JHS’s training mission, giving new opportunities to the next generation of researchers and health-care providers.