70 Years, 15,000 Participants, 3,716 Research Papers: Celebrating the Framingham Heart Study
How do you say thank you to 15,000 participants who have shared their time, health information and biological samples without asking for anything in return? You throw a party! On Friday Oct. 26, the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) invited all of its participants to a two-part, daylong celebration – an open house at its headquarters and a public celebration complete with refreshments and distinguished guest speakers.
More than 60 participants attended the open house. Sandra Knowlton, an Omni 2 participant shared her enthusiasm for the study. “It’s a wonderful study. The data that they collect is amazing. I mean it’s called the Framingham Heart Study, but they’re studying every single thing in your body, which is amazing … It’s just great to be a part of it and it’s run in my hometown.”
How it all began
In the beginning, 5,209 Framingham, Mass., residents volunteered to be part of a study to better understand heart disease. In the decades that followed, the data gleaned from these volunteers, their offspring and their grandchildren revolutionized the medical profession’s approach to cardiovascular health. The focus changed from treating sick people to helping prevent healthy people from experiencing cardiovascular disease through a series of lifestyle choices.
Back in 1948 Framingham had transitioned from a one-time farming community into a factory town of 28,000 middle-class residents of predominantly European origin producing rugs, paper products and General Motors automobiles, and was considered to be representative of the United States in the 1940s. Today, the city has a population of 68,000 and major employers are primarily non-manufacturing industries including biotech, education, medical and retail. To reflect the diversity in Framingham’s population, the Study has added the Omni cohorts 1 and 2.
“My grandparents were from Framingham, you had to be to start in the first generation (of the study). They were excited to participate because there was nothing like it at the time. It’s a world renowned study. … I’m happy that I can take part in it. It’s done so much to aid major breakthroughs,” shared Pamela Richard, a third generation participant, at the anniversary celebration. Ms. Richard also is the administrator for the closed group Framingham Heart Study Facebook page and encourages participants and others interested in joining the page to send a Facebook message.
Open house innovations
At the open house, volunteer participants had the opportunity to learn about recent innovations that the FHS researchers are pursuing, including:
- A state-of the-art cardiopulmonary fitness center that is able to literally measure every breath a participant takes along with hundreds of small molecules circulating in the blood stream that change in response to exercise. The objective is to improve how to predict future cardiovascular disease and understand how exercise lends cardiovascular health benefits. Researchers analyze relationships between exercise responses and the structure and function of the heart, family traits, risk factors and future cardiovascular health.
- Using digital and mobile devices to obtain a more meaningful real-world view of participant health and behaviors outside the Research center. A new smartphone app to collect new information about cardiovascular health called eFHS was created and sends short surveys every three months to collect new information about cardiovascular health. Participants pair the app with a digital blood pressure cuff and Apple Watch to collect blood pressure, heart rate and step count data.
- The use of technology to visualize and measure platelet clot formation in real time movies within a simulated blood vessel with flowing blood. Five different technologies are used to test platelets, which results in an unprecedented scale and depth of platelet biomarker data. These data are providing key insights into how biomarkers relate to each other and whether they relate to cardiovascular risk factors, to clinical bleeding history, or can predict future clinical cardiovascular outcomes. Also, the data may lead to new potential drug targets for cardiovascular disease or genetic modifiers of commonly used platelet-directed treatments including aspirin and thienopyridines.
In addition participants toured 14 stations that highlighted the different components of a typical exam. They also had an opportunity for small group discussions with lead researchers including Principal Investigator and Director of the Framingham Heart Study and BUSM Professor of Medicine Vasan Ramachandran, MD, FACC.
Later in the day almost 300 participants, researchers and staff marked the anniversary with a public reception to meet and mingle over refreshments graciously provided by the Friends of the Framingham Heart Study. The printed program included messages from Boston University President Robert Brown, PhD, and Gary H. Gibbons, MD, Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
“The Framingham Heart Study, in its objective and results, reflects Boston University’s mission to create new knowledge to benefit society … Thousands of articles and presentations at conferences have led to the identification of risk factors and then interventions that have translated into increased medical understanding and new therapies that have led to prolonged, improved quality of life … We are proud to be the principal academic research partner in this long-running project,” said Dr. Brown.
Dr. Gibbons added, “The Framingham Heart Study has become a treasured resource to NHLBI and to the nation. In addition to informing treatment and prevention of heart disease and stroke, it has served as a model for other population studies of cardiovascular disease. The investigators and participants have shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to new technologies and seize new scientific opportunities.”
The event continued with video remarks from Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey.
Other speakers included:
- Reverend Debbie Clark, Edwards Church, Framingham, Mass.; Ethics Advisory Board, Framingham Heart Study
- John P. Galvani, President, Friends of Framingham Heart Study
- Brian Kit, MD, MPH, Program Officer, NHLBI
- Karen Antman, MD, Provost Boston University Medical Campus; Dean, BUSM
- U.S. Congresswoman Katherine Clark, Fifth District, Mass.
- Mayor Yvonne M. Spicer, Mayor, Framingham, Mass.
- Daniel Levy, MD, FACC, Director, Framingham Heart Study; Branch Chief, NHLBI
In closing the celebration Dr. Ramachandran, Principal Investigator and Director Framingham Heart Study; Professor, Boston University School of Medicine, took a light-hearted approach, getting inspiration for his remarks on the well-known Dr. Seuss book, Oh the Places You Will Go. Watch his presentation below.
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