Jackson Heart Study marks 20 years with virtual conference
Published on Monday, September 21, 2020
By: Karen Bascom
Science, health and medicine have changed a lot since the Jackson Heart Study enrolled its first participant September 26, 2000. Geneticists had yet to sequence a full human genome, let alone know the information it can hold and the social determinants of health were a relatively niche area of study.
Thanks to the Jackson Heart Study and its 5,300 community volunteers, the world now has a fuller picture of the factors that play into cardiovascular health, and what can be done to lighten the outsized burden of disease in African Americans.
What’s also different than it was 20 years ago? The world wasn’t in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic and the companies running the biggest video conferencing platforms today had yet to be founded. So instead of the planned two-day conference and gala, the Jackson Heart Study brought together at least 180 scientists and community members – virtually – for the Study’s 20th anniversary conference, “Every Heartbeat Matters: Changing the Future of Heart Health,” on Sept. 17.
Dr. Adolfo Correa, director for the Jackson Heart Study, said that the 20th Century brought about great advances in cardiovascular health.
“This remarkable progress, however, also brought to light what was to become one of the critical challenges in biomedical research and public health in the US in the 21st century—the disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease among African Americans,” he said.
As a result, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the now-named National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities funded the Jackson Heart Study, the largest single-site study of cardiovascular health and disease and in African Americans. The original collaboration between UMMC, Jackson State University, Tougaloo College and 5,300 Hinds, Madison and Rankin county residents now includes the Mississippi State Department of Health. In addition, the JHS has trained hundreds of young, predominately black scholars in cardiovascular epidemiology and health disparities.
Dr. Gary Gibbons, director of the NHLBI, said the JHS is a “national resource and national treasure,” and that the participants were “ahead of their time.”
“[The JHS has] always had an important community engagement element,” Gibbons said, noting that from the beginning, “The intention [of returning results to the community was] not to understand what we learned from the research participants, but that the results would have impact on the whole community of Jackson…and in fact, all African-American communities throughout our country.”
Sharing the results has included access to exam data, brief summaries of research findings and community events. Since the creation of the JHS Community Engagement Center in 2018, these programs have started to reach beyond metro area and into local establishments like barber shops.
Correa outlined how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the JHS. The JHS delayed the start of its fourth exam, originally scheduled to begin in Spring 2020. Over the next 30 months, the JHS anticipates more than 2,300 people will answer health questionnaires via phone and undergo in-person physical exams as pandemic-related precautions are lifted. The JHS exams will now involve a COVID-19 component to study the long-term epidemiology of the disease among the participants.
The JHS is also submitting proposals for additional COVID-19 research. This summer, Correa learned that the JHS will be collaborating with Wake Forest University and other health care systems for a COVID-19 community surveillance project. The study will estimate the disease’s prevalence and incidence and will examine the geographic, demographic and chronologic distributions, as well as clinical consequences, using regular self-reporting from participants and remote monitoring.
“Our team is honored and excited to participate as a collaborating site in this important study of the COVID-19 pandemic. This timely project offers a unique opportunity to gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississippi,” Correa said.
Meanwhile, researchers from across the United States will continue to make new discoveries about hypertension, cardiovascular and kidney health, brain aging, social and psychological health and community engagement. These projects, represented by both trainees and established scientists during the day, have so far produced more than 640 scientific publication during the JHS’s 20-year history.
“It has taken hard teamwork, commitment and dedication by the Jackson Heart Study community to make this challenging and exciting journey,” Correa said. “With your support, collaboration and encouragement, we can achieve even more as we seek to transform a history of African Americans' heart disease into a legacy of heart health in Mississippi and the rest of the world.”
Video recordings of the conference sessions are available Jackson Heart Study’s YouTube page. To learn more about the study, its history and its future, view the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association’s special edition issue.