A Lexington, Ky., research scientist studying ways to repair damaged major vessels with medication rather than surgery and a physician-scientist from Ann Arbor, Mich., exploring the mechanisms of how exercise can heal heart muscle and brain tissue following a heart attack or stroke are the most recent American Heart Association Merit Award recipients. Each researcher will receive $1 million in funding from the Association, the world's leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health and research.
Alan Daugherty, Ph.D., D.Sc., FAHA, the associate vice president for research, director of the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center and chair of physiology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and Anthony Rosenzweig, M.D., FAHA, director of the Institute for Heart and Brain Health at the University of Michigan Medical School, will each receive $1 million ($200,000 per year) for their five-year research projects.
The American Heart Association's annual Merit Award supports highly promising, novel research that has the potential to move cardiovascular science forward quickly, with high impact.
"The Merit Award program is a way to recognize and support researchers who offer innovative insight and approaches to address emerging challenges in the treatment of cardiovascular disease," said volunteer president of the American Heart Association Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, who is the Walter A Haas-Lucie Stern Endowed Chair and professor of medicine, director of the CeNter for the StUdy of AdveRsiTy and CardiovascUlaR DiseasE (NURTURE Center) and associate dean of admissions at the University of California, San Francisco. "I was honored to be a 2018 recipient of this award, and it offered me an exceptional opportunity to undertake critical work with the potential to make a tangible difference in people's lives. I'm confident this year's recipients will bring forward transformative science in our fight against heart disease and stroke."
Daugherty's research will focus on identifying and testing the effects of new drugs to treat diseases of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. The aorta carries blood away from the heart and helps other major arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to the brain, muscles and other cells of the body. When a problem occurs with the aorta, the heart and the entire body's blood supply can be put at risk. This is particularly the case with an aortic aneurysm, a weakened or bulging area on the wall of the aorta. These expanded areas can weaken, rupture or tear, creating a critical situation that can be deadly without immediate intervention. The American Heart Association's 2023 Heart and Stroke Statistical Update cites that more than 9,000 people die each year of aortic aneurysms.
While there have been major advancements in surgery to repair damaged aortas, there is an obvious desire to replace these complicated operations with a medication-based approach. Our work will evaluate whether approaches using existing and new medications will slow the aortic expansion progression. We'll explore novel avenues of treatment to provide better options for the many individuals afflicted with these diseases."
Alan Daugherty, Ph.D., D.Sc., FAHA, associate vice president for research, director of the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center
Rosenzweig's research will focus on finding ways to heal damaged heart muscle and brain tissue following a heart attack or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, more than 805,000 people will have a new or recurrent heart attack and 795,000 will have a new or recurrent stroke in the U.S. each year. These events often cause damage to the heart and brain, both of which have a limited capacity to repair, regenerate and recover after such injuries.
"Recently, we found that exercise dramatically enhances the birth of new heart muscle cells in the adult heart, and prior work by other groups demonstrated a similar effect of exercise in the adult brain," Rosenzweig said. "Although we know exercise promotes recovery in people and now recognize it drives a regenerative response in the heart and the brain in animal models, we need to better understand the mechanisms responsible. Understanding how exercise does this and learning whether these insights can be used therapeutically could lead to new approaches promoting recovery after heart attack and stroke. We are very excited to receive this award which will allow us to explore research in both heart and brain diseases."
Funding scientific research and discovery through initiatives like the annual merit awards is a cornerstone of the American Heart Association's lifesaving mission. The Association has now funded more than $5 billion in cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and brain health research since 1949, making it the single largest non-government supporter of heart and brain health research in the U.S. New knowledge resulting from this funding continues to save lives and directly impact millions of people in every corner of the U.S. and around the world.