With a growing need to better understand the many links between heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death worldwide, the American Heart Association (AHA), the world’s leading voluntary organization dedicated to a world of longer, healthier lives, announced grants focused on this area of scientific research. More than $11 million in research grants has been awarded to create the AHA’s newest Strategically Focused Research Network on disparities in cardio-oncology.
BUSM is one of four multidisciplinary teams to receive more than $2.7 million for its Center and projects aimed at reducing critical deficiencies related to disparities in cardio-oncology and increasing the understanding of the causes, consequences, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease among cancer patients for diverse populations. The three other Centers and teams, the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Pennsylvania, also will develop breakthrough solutions to better identify and address how the combination of these diseases disproportionately affects underrepresented populations.
“While the evolution of new therapies has improved the prognosis of many cancer patients, we’ve seen new challenges emerge as the very treatments that can cure people of cancer can also lead to short- and long-term cardiovascular (CVD) complications,” said AHA volunteer Kristin Newby, MD, professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine and chair of the Association’s peer review team for the selection of the new grant recipients. “There were more than 17 million cancer survivors in the U.S. in 2020, representing about five percent of the country’s population. Thus, the field of cardio-oncology has emerged as a critical new research area to address these concerns, as well as those related to findings that cancer itself can lead to cardiac disease, and the growing data suggesting that CVD and cancer share many common genetic, behavioral and environmental risk factors.”
The specific focus of the new research grants to study disparity solutions correlates to mounting evidence that health disparities often significantly contribute to poorer outcomes for people with CVD and/or cancer, according to Newby. Well-known drivers of disparities affecting health and health care include race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, nutrition, geography (e.g., rural vs. urban populations), language, gender, disability status, citizenship status and sexual identity and orientation.
BUSM’s Center, “Cancer-Associated Thromboembolism as Affected by Health Disparities (CAT-HD)” will be led by Katya Ravid, DSc, the Barbara E. Corkey Endowed Professor of Medicine and Founding Director of the Evans Center for Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research and Office of Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research at Boston University, and Team Science leader at BU Clinical and Translational Science Institute. Her CAT-HD team will use data from the Veterans Health Administration and Boston Medical Center to study the increased risk people with cancer have for developing venous thromboembolism (VTE), a blood clot that starts in the vein. Specifically, they will use multiple approaches to study which cancers are linked to the development of blood clots and what biological mechanisms cause the clots, as well as how health disparities, such as living conditions, diet and race influence blood clotting in people with cancer. This research may help to better predict which cancer patients are at risk for blood clots and to identify treatments to prevent blood clotting in some types of cancers. The Center will train post-doctoral fellows in this field of study, and will partner with Tougaloo College, a historically Black liberal arts college in Jackson, Miss., to develop a training program linked to the Center’s research mission.
“Often, mechanisms of an organ biology/pathology, whether heart, kidney or other, are studied in isolation. The AHA initiative addresses a larger and timely scope of research by supporting the study of causes for cross-organ pathology. Indeed, identifying mechanisms and/or predicators of organ cancer-induced cardiovascular disease (CVD) is of high importance given the high propensity of CVD in cancer patients,” said Ravid.
With the launch of this new network, the American Heart Association has now invested more than $200 million to establish a total of 13 Strategically Focused Research Networks, providing an opportunity to address key strategic issues that were identified by the Association’s Board of Directors. Networks have already been selected to study prevention; hypertension; disparities; women’s health; heart failure; obesity; children; vascular disease; atrial fibrillation; arrhythmias/sudden cardiac death; cardiometabolic health/type 2 diabetes; and health technology. Each network centers around the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the key research topic. Four to six research centers make up each network, bringing together investigators with expertise in basic, clinical and population/behavioral health science to find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent heart disease and stroke.