February 2015 Newsletter Article

URC The Heart Of Michigan Innovation And Research

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George S. Abela, MD, MSc, MBA

While many think of paper hearts in February, the University Research Corridor is focused on the cardiovascular research being conducted in Michigan.

According to the University Research Corridor’s 7th Annual Economic Impact Report, the URC – an alliance focused on transforming, strengthening and diversifying the state’s economy – spent nearly $2.1 billion on research and development in 2012, with significant research investments in the cardiovascular sector.

At Michigan State University, George S. Abela, MD, MSc, MBA and his colleagues are making advances in the war against heart attacks and strokes. In recent studies, he demonstrated that early in the disease commonly known as “hardening of the arteries,” or atherosclerosis, dangerous cholesterol crystals are formed. They found that several factors can cause crystallization, including a high cholesterol saturation, a drop in ambient temperature, a shift in the pH favoring alkaline levels, and the hydration of the cholesterol molecule to the monohydrate form. A clinical trial by Novartis Pharmaceutical is now underway, based on Abela and his team’s work.

Drs. Jack Parent and Lori Isom

Drs. Jack Parent and Lori Isom

At the University of Michigan Medical School, researchers are working with colleagues from around the nation to learn why some children and adults with epilepsy die suddenly and without warning. While epilepsy is a well-known neurological disorder, researchers from the U-M Medical School believe that the answer for some epilepsy patients may actually lie in the heart, its connection to the brain, and genetic defects that occur in cells of both organs. By studying those cells, they hope to find out exactly what’s going on. A new $3.3 million grant will help the team to explore the heart-brain connection, announced by the National Institutes of Health. Their work will use heart cells from animals, and brain and heart cells made from human “adult” stem cells.

Promising findings in the realm of heart care also came out of a pioneering new study co-authored by Steven E. Lipshultz, MD, chair of pediatrics for the Wayne State University School of Medicine and pediatrician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital of Michigan, part of Detroit Medical Center. The study suggested that pediatric cardiologists may soon be able to use drug therapy to block the onset of abnormalities that can cause heart failure by stiffening the heart muscle and interfering with normal heart function. The study shows that if someone is carrying a mutated gene for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy but hasn’t yet developed the disease, there is potential to prevent or delay the onset of the disease later in life by administering the drug therapy during the patient’s earlier years.

“This work being conducted by the URC universities is not only good for the health of the state’s economy, but the outcomes have the potential to impact cardiovascular health for all people,” said URC executive director Jeff Mason.

The Economic Impact Report shows the URC contributed $16.6 billion in state economic activity in fiscal year 2012. Activity attributable to the URC boosted state tax revenue by $449 million that year, an increase of $98 million over FY 2006.

Contributions by: University of Michigan Health System, Wayne State University and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, and Michigan State University.