Transforming Treatment

The Comprehensive Cardiovascular Center

By Charles Buchanan

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UAB is standing on the shoulders of giants to help repair the hearts of patients. Decades ago, legends including Tinsley Harrison, M.D., and John W. Kirklin, M.D., established programs that set standards for cardiovascular (CV) care. Today UAB’s new Comprehensive Cardiovascular Center plans to build upon their innovative legacy with bold approaches to CV research that could revolutionize treatment.

“It’s an exciting time in clinical cardiology and research,” says center director Sumanth D. Prabhu, M.D., the Mary Gertrude Waters Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine and chair of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease. “The field has focused on treating risk factors and improving mortality, but the next step is harnessing biological therapies. We want to know if we could actually reverse heart disease—or recover the heart instead of managing disease through medication.”

The new center, co-directed by John C. Chatham, D.Phil., director of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology; Louis J. Dell’Italia, M.D., the Elmer and Glenda Harris Endowed Chair in Cardiovascular Disease; and James K. Kirklin, M.D., holder of the John W. Kirklin Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery and director of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, will provide the spark for new discoveries. Serving as a platform for enhancing CV research campuswide, it will draw together basic scientists and clinicians to work on novel approaches and center-supported pilot studies; the results will help attract extramural funding for additional studies. Prabhu envisions cardiologists and CV surgeons working alongside UAB experts in stem cells, diabetes, and obesity, to name just a few.

“We will promote transformative and translational science,” he says. “For example, there’s growing evidence that we can use different types of stem cells for solid organ disease, including heart disease. We would like to combine basic stem-cell biologists with CV scientists who can direct therapeutics. Our electrophysiology group and newly recruited interventional CV group also could work with researchers in vascular biology and bioengineering to develop new stent technologies, or new techniques in cellular electrophysiology and resuscitation. This is how we can advance science.”

Comprehensive Cardiovascular Center

Focus Areas

• Cardiac reparative and regenerative medicine
• Cardiovascular risk factors and prevention
• Heart failure and transplant
• Heart rhythm management
• Valvular and congenital heart disease
• Vascular and ischemic heart disease

Sophisticated research cores—housing powerful imaging technologies, biorespositories, and genomic tools, among other resources—will support all investigators. Prabhu says that most elements of the center will be active within the next year or two.

The center will share its discoveries through symposia that spotlight UAB research along with breakthroughs from other leading scientists. “Community physicians are welcome at these events,” Prabhu notes. “We want to increase community understanding about UAB clinical trials and research opportunities.”

The team leading the Comprehensive Cardiovascular Center believes it will make important strides against a disease that has become common, particularly in Alabama. “This is a high-impact investment,” Prabhu says. “Unlike many other places, we are doing science alongside a strong clinical program. The potential for translating basic discoveries into clinical therapeutics is higher here. Our timelines are much faster.”