For nearly a century, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has been at the epicenter of innovation and discovery in cardiovascular medicine and cardiac surgery, with achievements that span every facet of care. From performing the world’s first successful heart valve surgery to proving that aspirin can prevent a heart attack, BWH faculty have transformed care for patients around the world.
Today, BWH’s Heart and Vascular Center remains at the forefront of patient care. The center was formally established in 2013 to create a new way of reaching across the traditional silos that can exist in academic medical centers to unite experts in all disciplines of heart and vascular care, research, and training. This collaborative approach is now serving as the catalyst for life-changing advances for patients with cardiovascular disease, including calcific aortic valve disease.
Calcific aortic valve disease progression. C. Otto, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2008
Calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD) prevents the normal flow of blood out of the heart to the body. As the valve leaflets become more and more calcified, the heart muscle thickens to generate more pressure to push the blood across the obstructing valve. Eventually, the heart becomes stressed and symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain may develop. Unchecked, the process may become life-threatening over the next 2-4 years, resulting in survival rates that are lower than those for many patients with cancer. The cause of CAVD remains unknown. Other than trying to correct the disease with aortic valve replacement, no effective medical treatment for CAVD exists today. BWH researches are keenly interested to understand how the disease forms on the valve so that targeted medical treatments can be developed based on each patient’s particular genetic and molecular profiles. Prevention of the later stages of calcification would be a major breakthrough aimed to reduce the need for valve replacement.
This scientific focus drives the Heart Valve Translational Research Program (HVTRP), led by BWH scientist Elena Aikawa, MD, PhD in collaboration with cardiologist Dr. Patrick T. O’Gara. The first initiative of its kind globally, the program seeks to better understand CAVD by studying the disease’s molecular underpinnings.
Maximizing its ideal location among world-leading laboratories and clinics within BWH’s Heart and Vascular Center as well as the greater Longwood Medical Area, the Heart Valve Translational Research Program helps scientists explore CAVD at its molecular core in the lab and apply those key findings to new approaches in the clinic.
Specifically, Dr. Aikawa and her colleagues collect aortic valve tissue samples from patients who have undergone open heart aortic valve replacement surgery for CAVD at BWH. Once the diseased heart valves are removed, cutting-edge technologies enable scientists to analyze their biological and molecular finger prints. These findings are compiled into a comprehensive database and mapped back to each patient’s clinical data, offering clear information as to how certain genetic and protein changes in CAVD correlate with patients’ symptoms and outcomes.
Throughout this process, clinicians and researchers are closely linked to expedite the translation of basic findings into clinical practice. The program uses these new insights to design methods that will detect CAVD earlier in patients and tailor treatments according to each patient’s unique form of the disease.
The Heart Valve Translational Research Program aims to transform the way investigators look at CAVD and provide new hope for patients with the disease.
To remain at the forefront of clinical care, research, and medical education, BWH will increasingly rely upon the generous support of individuals who share our vision for the future and understand the urgency of the moment.
The pioneering work of the Heart Valve Translational Research Program will shed promising new light on how to more effectively treat and even prevent CAVD, a major cause of death and disability. Philanthropy will fuel the people and technologies needed to advance this lifesaving work. Funding will help support Dr. Aikawa’s highest priorities for the program, such as a young investigator award for a junior faculty member to conduct research within her lab, essential equipment required to carry out this innovative work, and the resources needed for investigators to further their promising basic and translational research. Through your generosity, you have the opportunity to be a catalyst in changing the future of cardiovascular research and care. To learn more, please contact Terry McGowan, Elena Aikawa or Patrick O’Gara.