Science of the heart

Science of the heart

Consortium receives $63 million from NIH for heart disease research

By Czerne M. Reid

UF members of the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network, a six-institution consortium, are studying how to use a patient's own bone marrow and heart cells to restore function to the heart.

UF researchers and colleagues at six other institutions have received a $63 million, seven-year grant from the National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to develop heart disease therapies that use a patient’s own bone marrow and heart cells to generate new healthy heart cells and restore function.

“The work has the potential to change the paradigm from the management of patients with heart disease, which right now is aimed at prevention and slowing progression,” said UF principal investigator Carl J. Pepine, M.D., a professor and eminent scholar emeritus of cardiovascular medicine. “This has the ability to move treatment into the regenerative medicine field.”

Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 600,000 men and women a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 27 million Americans are estimated to be living with heart disease, which encompasses a range of abnormalities of the heart and blood vessels such as heart failure, narrowed arteries, irregular heartbeat and heart defects present from birth. Those conditions can, in turn, lead to chest pain, heart attack and stroke.

The new grant was awarded to the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network, or CCTRN, a national clinical trial consortium that, in addition to UF, includes the University of Miami, Indiana University, Stanford University, Texas Heart Institute, the University of Louisville and the Minneapolis Heart Institute. Originally funded in 2007, the network received the first federal funding for cooperative studies of so-called adult stem cells, in which patients are treated with cells taken from their own bodies. The UF-led team includes satellite study sites at UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville, Orlando Health and Pepin Heart Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

“Stem cell therapy holds great promise for treating heart disease, and researchers involved in CCTRN are helping determine how these promising therapies might be most beneficial to patients,” said Sonia Skarlatos, Ph.D., deputy director of the division of cardiovascular sciences in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “This new round of funding is an important step in helping to improve cardiovascular health.”

The award, of which UF’s portion totals more than $5 million, allows researchers to build on findings from rigorous randomized clinical trials funded by an earlier five-year grant to the network. The researchers previously found that delivering two types of stem cells from a patient’s own bone marrow resulted in an improvement in the heart’s ability to pump oxygen-rich blood around the body in patients who had heart failure and/or chest pain.

This pioneering work in adult stem cell therapy for cardiovascular disease has laid the groundwork and set the standards for translating insights from basic stem cell biology research into clinical application.

With the new funding, researchers will work to identify new kinds of stem cells that can be used for therapy. They will explore patients’ bone marrow and hearts to find cells ultimately capable of becoming new heart cells. The research also will extend to new patients with other cardiovascular conditions.