Christine S. Moravec, Ph.D.
Institution: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation
Mechanical heart pump can reverse heart failure
Patients with heart failure who await transplantation are assisted by mechanical pumps called left ventricular assist devices ( LVADs). LVADs are used to pump blood through the hearts of people awaiting heart transplants. Researchers, led by Christine S. Moravec, Ph.D., an assistant staff scientist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, found that LVADs can reverse diminished heart muscle performance.
"This finding sheds new light on the commonly held theory that heart failure is an end-stage disease, with the only option for patients being a heart transplant," Moravec said.
The study was among the first to look at recovery of the mechanisms that control the heart's ability to contract in times of stress. The mechanisms are inhibited in individuals with heart failure. The researchers found that with the aid of an LVAD, these hallmarks of heart failure are reversible.
An LVAD is a mechanical pump-type device that is surgically implanted to augment the heart's pumping ability. It can buy time for an individual waiting for a heart transplant and is often referred to as a "bridge to transplant."
Nearly 5 million Americans are living with heart failure. About 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year while the number of heart donors remains unchanged, according to the researchers. They say that more studies need to be done to determine whether the LVAD or other medical or surgical therapies could replace the need for heart transplants.
Future studies will include the question of whether such reversal of function can be sustained over long periods of time, why certain phenotypic changes related to heart failure can be reversed while others cannot, and the nuclear signaling pathways responsible for the alterations in cardiac proteins following mechanical unloading.
Dr. Moravec has held seven AHA research awards since 1990, most of which have focused on human heart failure. Dr. Moravec notes that her career in research was really started by AHA funding, with a postdoctoral fellowship, followed by several local and national grants-in-aid, as well as an Established Investigator award.
"I never would have gotten my studies of the failing human heart off the ground without funding from the AHA," Dr. Moravec said. "The AHA was there very early in my career, before I had much of a track record. Studies done with AHA funds enabled me to go on and apply for larger grants from NIH. Now the AHA is funding my postdoctoral fellow, Monique Ogletree-Hughes, who did the work for this current study, and is trying to build her own career in research. Monique has followed in my footsteps in being very grateful to the AHA and participating in telethons, walks, and community awareness nights, in order to help the AHA raise awareness of the need for funding and the problems of heart disease and stroke in the U.S."