Cardiologists are taking aim at treating and preventing heart disease, the world's No. 1 killer, with a more personalized approach under a new research collaboration that will marry data with the evolving understanding of genetics.
The effort, being billed as Heart Studies v2.0 and which was announced on Sunday, will be a collaboration of the American Heart Association (AHA) along with Boston University and the University of Mississippi, which oversee ongoing landmark population studies, the Framingham Heart Study and the Jackson Heart Study, respectively.
"The vast participant data base from these important studies, plus additional genetic components, puts us on a path to defining specific risk determinants for certain cardiovascular diseases for every person," said Dr. Joseph Loscalzo, chairman of the AHA Science Oversight Group for the collaboration and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The collaboration hopes to build on the population studies by adding more and more diverse subjects, more genetic analysis and new approaches to gathering data to better understand why treatments work for some people and not others.
It will, for example, take deeper looks into clinical trials to identify precisely which people are likely to benefit from a particular drug or therapy whether the original trial was positive or negative.
Dr. Dan Jones, chancellor of the University of Mississippi and former lead investigator of the Jackson Heart Study, cited an experimental blood pressure medicine that failed to help patients overall in a large clinical trial. Despite the overall failure, five of his patients had dramatically positive responses to the drug.
"The blunt instrument of that trial design wasn't able to determine why," he recalled with obvious frustration.
He said he hoped that Heart Studies v2.0 will be able to determine why some people respond so that appropriate courses of treatment for individual patients could be determined in the future.
"It moves us closer to the day when this leading cause of death can be prevented in more people," he said of the effort announced at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Dallas.
The Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 with about 5,000 people living in that Massachusetts community west of Boston. It has now followed three generations of Framingham residents and yielded a wealth of information.
The Jackson Heart Study, based in Mississippi and begun in 2000, is the largest heart study ever to focus on African Americans, who tend to be at disproportionate risk of heart disease and stroke.
Asked if a more personalized approach to cardiac care might significantly add to the healthcare cost burden of heart patient treatment, Loscalzo said, "It doesn't necessarily mean you have to use new therapies. It might mean we can use existing therapies smarter."