For nearly 100 years, the University of Michigan has helped lead the world in diagnosing and treating a broad range of life-threatening conditions that cause the heart to beat irregularly. And each year, thousands of children and adults from Michigan and across the country come to U-M's Cardiovascular Center and Congenital Heart Center for treatment for such conditions, called arrhythmias.
Now, the U-M's prominence in this field will grow, with the recruitment of more than two dozen members of a heart-rhythm research center at a New York university.
In January, at least 25 scientists, physicians, students and research staff will begin arriving in Ann Arbor to start new jobs in the U-M Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. The appointment of some faculty still requires approval from U-M's Board of Regents.
Led by Jose Jalifé, M.D., and Mario Delmar, M.D., Ph.D., the group from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse will boost the U-M's already strong basic research efforts on heart rhythm conditions, and work closely with U-M doctors to turn their research findings into better care for patients.
In early 2008, the group's members will begin to move their laboratory equipment to space leased by U-M on Venture Drive in southern Ann Arbor, which will become the first home of the newly established U-M Center for Arrhythmia Research.
"We're thrilled to recruit this distinguished group to our institution, and look forward to reaping the rewards of teamwork that will undoubtedly follow their arrival here," says Robert Kelch, M.D., U-M executive vice president for medical affairs and chief executive officer of the U-M Health System. "The fact that this entire team saw such benefit in moving to Michigan speaks volumes about our medical school's research climate and the potential to turn research into new diagnostic and treatment options."
Jalife, who has been chair of the department of Pharmacology at SUNY Upstate, and director of its Institute for Cardiovascular Research, says his colleagues and their families are excited about new opportunities in Michigan. "This university has one of the best clinical arrhythmia groups in the world, and the shared research ‘core' facilities are unbelievable," he says. "We have the chance for great synergy and interactions, in a program that will go all the way from the molecule to the patient."
Because the SUNY Upstate group's work complements the research and care already under way at U-M, their arrival will be like bringing together two halves of a whole, says David Pinsky, M.D., chief of Cardiovascular Medicine and one of the directors of the U-M Cardiovascular Center.
"This is the most logical thing in the world, to bring this outstanding basic-research group to the same institution as one of the leading arrhythmia treatment teams, in order to accelerate the research and the translation of research findings into tests and treatments that can help not only our patients but all patients with arrhythmia," says Pinsky, who holds the J. Griswold Ruth MD & Margery Hopkins Ruth Professorship and is a scholar of the Taubman Medical Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School.
"This group will be an excellent addition to our faculty, bringing a broad array of expertise and talent and strengthening an already outstanding group of researchers," says Medical School Dean James O. Woolliscroft, M.D. "In today's competitive academic climate, we're especially proud to have recruited them to Michigan."
The SUNY Upstate team brings with them more than $5 million a year in research funding from federal agencies and foundations. They will hire additional research staff locally in Ann Arbor.
"This is for us a terrific opportunity for growth and development," says Delmar. "Here, we find ourselves in a world-renowned institution with outstanding opportunities for scientific collaboration, both in the clinical and in the basic science arenas. The talent pool of this institution is amazing. Opportunities for new research projects, grounded in both clinical and basic sciences, are great. We look forward to many years of collaborations, and are proud to become members of the University of Michigan Faculty."
Several major gifts to the Cardiovascular Center have been crucial in making the recruitment of such a large group possible, Pinsky notes. They include:
- Cyrus Farrehi, M.D., and Jane Farrehi, of Grand Blanc, Mich., whose gift in 2003 made possible the creation of the Farrehi Professorship in Cardiovascular Research. That professorship will be held by Jalife, pending Regental approval. Farrehi, a member of the CVC's National Advisory Board, is a prominent Flint-area cardiologist. An inaugural celebration to recognize his gift and inaugurate the professorship will be planned.
- The donor who pledged up to $50 million to the CVC in June of this year. A portion of that gift will help support the creation of the Center for Arrhythmia Research, which is a perfect example of the kinds of multidisciplinary programs the donor envisioned for the gift.
- Significant endowed philanthropic support for Delmar's work, recently obtained by the Medical School
- An anonymous donor who endowed the Bridges in Science Award, an annual one-time grant to foster innovative research that bridges the gap between scientific disciplines.
Jalife, Delmar and their colleagues represent a broad range of disciplines, from medicine and cellular biology to mathematics, genetics and engineering. Together, they have studied the electrical "storms" that occur in the heart muscle during an episode of arrhythmia, and the electrical, molecular and genetic factors that allow the storm to begin and to swirl out of control.
"An arrhythmia is like a hurricane or tornado in your heart muscle, except instead of wind it's electrical waves," explains Jalife. "We know that certain treatments help, but in many patients current options do not work. And we don't really know the mechanisms behind the storm, which alter the heart's ability to pump."
Millions of Americans, of all ages, have heart rhythm conditions, including atrial fibrillation and long QT syndrome. Many of them develop arrhythmias after a heart attack or infection damages an area of heart muscle, but others begin experiencing electrical problems with their hearts for no apparent reason.
If untreated, some arrhythmias can lead to sudden violent changes in the heart's electrical activity which can kill instantly - a situation called sudden cardiac death that can only be prevented by rapid application of electric shocks from an external or implanted defibrillator. Other patients suffer long-lasting or intermitted arrhythmias in the upper chambers of their hearts, a condition called atrial fibrillation that can lead to the formation of blood clots that can cause stroke. In fact, atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of stroke, the third-leading cause of death in the United States.
The Jalife/Delmar group will work closely with other U-M researchers whose laboratory work relates to heart muscle cells and arrhythmia, including Anatoli Lopatin, Ph.D., of the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology; Lori Isom, Ph.D., of the Department of Pharmacology, and Joseph Metzger, Ph.D., Associate Chair of Molecular & Integrative Physiology, and director of the Center for Integrative Genomics.
Says Lopatin, "Our work intersects nicely with some of the research of this group, and I am excited about the arrival of such a prominent team of experts with internationally recognized expertise in a number of areas of cardiovascular studies. We have already collaborated with Dr. Jalife in a study that showed the critical role of a particular cardiac current, called IK1, in controlling rotors of electrical activity in the mouse heart, and I am looking forward to future fruitful interactions in this area which will be greatly facilitated by their arrival here."
The group will also collaborate closely with U-M's prominent clinical arrhythmia specialists, who treat thousands of patients a year. These include the physicians of the Cardiac Electrophysiology group of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, led by Hakan Oral, M.D., the Director of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Service at the CVC, and Fred Morady, M.D., the McKay Professor of Cardiovascular Disease, as well as pediatric arrhythmia specialists led by Macdonald Dick, M.D., Director of the Pediatric Electrophysiology Laboratory at the Michigan Congenital Heart Center and C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.
"Drs. Jalife, Delmar and their colleagues have made major contributions to the understanding of basic mechanisms of arrhythmias over the last 4 decades," says Oral. "We are very excited that they will be joining us at the University of Michigan as we plan on a comprehensive arrhythmia center to study and treat complex arrhythmias. We believe an integrated collaboration among the basic and clinical scientists is important for the advancement of cardiac electrophysiology. These efforts in basic, translational and clinical research will ultimately result in further improvements in patient outcomes. We welcome them to the University of Michigan."
For more information on arrhythmia treatment and research at the U-M Cardiovascular Center, visit www.umcvc.org or call toll-free, 1-888-287-1082. For information on arrhythmia treatment for children and teenagers at the Congenital Heart Center call (734) 764-5176.
Written by: Kara Gavin