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AHA awards Cleveland Clinic $3.7 million for atrial fibrillation research

New grant aimed at improving outcomes for patients with AFib

Cleveland Clinic

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IMAGE: This is Mina Chung, M.D., Cleveland Clinic view more 

Credit: Cleveland Clinic

June 13, 2018, Cleveland: The American Heart Association (AHA) has awarded Cleveland Clinic a $3.7 million grant for atrial fibrillation research. The four-year, competitive award will support three synergistic projects aimed at improving outcomes for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib), a common heart rhythm abnormality.

Cleveland Clinic was selected as one of six research institutions across the country to receive funding from AHA's new AFib Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN). Led by Mina Chung, M.D., a multidisciplinary team will focus on questions in AFib care, seek new therapies, and test lifestyle change programs that show promise in preventing worsening AFib.

There are approximately 6 million people in the U.S. living with AFib, an irregular beat in the heart's upper chambers. That number is expected to rise to 12.1 million by 2030. When untreated, AFib doubles the risk of heart-related death and increases the chance of a stroke fivefold.

"Once it starts, AFib typically worsens over time, with episodes becoming longer and less likely to stop on their own," said Dr. Chung, director of Cleveland Clinic's Center of Excellence for Cardiovascular Translational Functional Genomics. "Despite intense effort, there are few effective and safe therapies for AFib. With this significant AHA support, we are focusing on developing novel strategies for preventing the disease and its progression. Our new center will use molecular data to find, choose and personalize targets for preventive therapies."

To be named the Sarah Ross Soter Center for AFib Research, the Cleveland Clinic site will focus on clinical and basic science projects designed to prevent AFib development and progression. A native of Columbus who lives in Palm Beach and suffers from AFib, Mrs. Soter selected the center and is funding it with a $5 million gift along with her husband, Bill. A portion of the gift will support collaborative grants across the network.

The Cleveland Clinic team will study the relationships between genes, aging and metabolism and use patient-specific cell models to find new therapies and ways to tailor them to individual patient needs. The team will also test programs that may empower patients to control their AFib with diet/nutrition and exercise, and a diabetes drug, metformin, that has shown promise in delaying the condition. The projects include:

  • Gene-Aging-Metabolism Interaction in AF Pathogenesis," led by Jonathan Smith, Ph.D., will build on the team's previous AFib genomics research to identify new molecular pathways that can be targeted with drugs. They will explore how aging and metabolism along with certain identified genes may work together to cause the condition.

  • "Targeting Risk Interventions and Metformin for AF," led by Dr. Chung, is a new clinical trial to test the effectiveness of two therapies to reduce AFib progression. The team will enroll 270 participants with pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator devices to compare lifestyle modifications with and without metformin. The research is based on earlier studies suggesting weight loss and exercise, as well as metformin, are associated with reduced AFib risk. The study will include collaborators in cardiac electrophysiology and pacing, preventive cardiology, endocrinology and sleep medicine.

  • "Multi-omic analyses of atrial metabolism, electrophysiology and AF progression" is a translational population health project led by David Van Wagoner, Ph.D. with key collaborator John Barnard, Ph.D. In an effort to develop personalized treatments, the researchers will characterize AFib subtypes and identify biological signatures of disease progression to better understand patient-specific responses to various therapies.

The team, which includes specialists from Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute and the Miller Heart & Vascular Institute, has been working collaboratively for nearly 20 years. They have published more than 40 major papers together, making significant contributions to the field of AFib mechanisms and cardiac genomics. Smith is chair of Molecular Medicine at Lerner Research Institute and Van Wagoner is a staff member in Molecular Cardiology at the Lerner Research Institute. Barnard is head of Biostatistics, Genetic Epidemiology and Bioinformatics in the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences in the Lerner Research Institute.

"We are so pleased that the AHA selected us to participate in this research consortium to take our work from the lab back to the patients' bedside to prevent the worsening of this disease," said Dr. Chung. "New therapies for AFib are critical and we are hopeful this award will have an extraordinary impact by leading to improved, personalized therapies for patients with this debilitating condition."

In its entirety, the AHA's more than $28 million AFib Strategically Focused Research Network will enhance the understanding of the causes, biology, pathophysiology and epidemiology of AFib to improve patient outcomes.

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About Cleveland Clinic

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation's best hospitals in its annual "America's Best Hospitals" survey. Among Cleveland Clinic's 52,000 employees are more than 3,600 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 14,000 nurses, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic's health system includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 11 regional hospitals, more than 150 northern Ohio outpatient locations - including 18 full-service family health centers and three health and wellness centers - and locations in Weston, Fla.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2017, there were 7.6 million outpatient visits, 229,000 hospital admissions and 207,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic's health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.

About the Lerner Research Institute

The Lerner Research Institute is home to Cleveland Clinic's laboratory, translational and clinical research. Its mission is to promote human health by investigating in the laboratory and the clinic the causes of disease and discovering novel approaches to prevention and treatments; to train the next generation of biomedical researchers; and to foster productive collaborations with those providing clinical care. Lerner researchers publish more than 1,500 articles in peer-reviewed biomedical journals each year. Lerner's total annual research expenditure was $260 million in 2016 (with $140 million in competitive federal funding, placing Lerner in the top five research institutes in the nation in federal grant funding). Approximately 1,500 people (including approximately 200 principal investigators, 240 research fellows, and about 150 graduate students) in 12 departments work in research programs focusing on heart and vascular, cancer, brain, eye, metabolic, musculoskeletal, inflammatory and fibrotic diseases. The Lerner has more than 700,000 square feet of lab, office and scientific core services space. Lerner faculty oversee the curriculum and teach students enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine (CCLCM) of Case Western Reserve University - training the next generation of physician-scientists. Institute faculty also participate in multiple doctoral programs, including the Molecular Medicine PhD Program, which integrates traditional graduate training with an emphasis on human diseases. The Lerner is a significant source of commercial property, generating 64 invention disclosures, 15 licenses, 121 patents, and one new spinoff company in 2016. Visit us at http://www.lerner.ccf.org. Follow us on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/CCLRI.

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