Another generous grant from the George and Joan Violin Family Fund will make it possible for us to recruit an outstanding cardiovascular scientist to fill an endowed professorship.
The Wu Center is part of the Cardiovascular Research Initiative boldly envisioned by Columbia Medical School Dean Lee Goldman, M.D. This effort encompasses much of the basic and clinical research in heart disease at Columbia. Here, world-class researchers, physician-scientists and clinicians are doing critical, groundbreaking work—individually and collaboratively— to discover the underlying causes of heart disease. This initiative puts Columbia in the top tier of institutions addressing diseases of the heart.
Today’s treatments, helpful as they are, address the symptoms of heart disease and not its causes. And some of them have serious side-effects. Our highest ambition is to find a cure for cardiovascular disease rather than look for better ways to treat its symptoms.
This grand ambition takes us back to the tiniest mechanisms in the human body where disease originates. We share many life processes with other animals. The best bench science illuminates these connections. For example, the fight or flight mechanism that delivers adrenaline and helped our ancestors escape approaching predators has been found in animals as small as the earthworm.
Every patient with heart failure has high levels of adrenaline, which pours out in an attempt to make the heart pump harder. One of the highlights of my research with mice was the discovery of the heart’s ryanodine receptor, a channel which carries calcium. The excess adrenaline causes the receptor, or channel, to leak calcium, and this triggers arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Eventually, the heart stops beating. Several years ago, we discovered a compound that stopped that leak and as a result in 2006 created a biotech venture, ARMGO Pharmaceuticals, Inc., to develop a drug based on that compound. Clinical trials are set to begin in Spring 2008.
As a physician-scientist, it’s extremely rewarding to know that the hearts of thousands of patients might someday beat efficiently with this new drug. Of course, not all research leads to such dramatic results, but the hope of additional discoveries is inspiring. With the talent and cooperation of our researchers and the magnanimity of our donors, we are poised to change the practice of cardiology in the twenty-first century. In these pages you can find out about other cutting-edge research underway in our laboratories and what you can do to help advance our work. We hope you will join our revolution.
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Design and production by Brian Soda | Editorial direction by Carolyn Jackson