Heart studies in Miss., Mass. to join forces

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Heart studies in Massachusetts and Mississippi are teaming up to better understand why people respond differently to treatments for cardiovascular disease.

Researchers want to tailor heart-disease treatment for individuals. The $30 million study will be funded by the American Heart Association over the next five years.

The effort, still in the framework stages, would link the Framingham heart study in Massachusetts with the Jackson heart study in Mississippi.

“There are new opportunities to dig deeper and broader in the science to understand the causes of heart disease and stroke,” said University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones, who founded the Jackson study of more than 5,000 African-Americans. It was meant to supplement the 65-year-old Framingham study, which had a low proportion of black participants.

There are already connections between the Jackson study — a joint effort among the University of Mississippi, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College — and the Framingham study run by Boston University.

For example, Dr. Ervin Fox did work in Massachusetts before he started research in Jackson, and he has continued to work with the Framingham researchers, including on his current study of arterial function.

“We’re doing so much good research with the Framingham group already,” Fox said.

On Monday, Fox and his associates performed arterial scans on Alberta Fox, a 76-year-old Jackson school bus attendant. Epps’ mother had a stroke, and her father died from a heart attack 11 years ago.

“I have a touch of high blood pressure,” she said. “It’s not bad.”

Epps said she’s been pleased to be part of the program, in part because she feels someone is keeping an eye on her health, even though that’s not the primary purpose of the study.

“I think it’s a good program for me and not only me, but lots more,” Epps said.

Mississippi is fertile ground for research, because there’s so much heart disease. The black participants in the Jackson study are more likely than other Americans to be obese and get diabetes, ailments associated with high blood pressure and other heart problems.

The big idea behind the AHA effort is to try to personalize treatment for someone such as Epps.

“Everybody’s collection of genes is unique,” said Dr. Joseph Loscalszo, chairman of the Harvard University Department of Medicine, who is leading science oversight for the initiative. “In addition, how everyone’s genes interact with their environment is unique. Personalized medicine takes all of this complexity into account.”

The effort could be a long way from paying clinical dividends. Few heart drugs now vary according to genetic markers, with most prescribed across the board to people showing similar symptoms.

Jones cited one example where some groups of people with common genes respond to blood pressure drugs that others don’t, as an example of what might be possible. He also hopes research could improve prevention.

The effort will crack into a huge storehouse of data, some of which hasn’t been analyzed. The Jackson study has recorded not only exam records and blood pressure readings, but other blood measures and MRI imagery.

“It will allow us to make comparisons across diverse populations,” said the University of Mississippi’s Dr. Adolfo Correa. “There’s greater value in working with large data sets and an increased number of collaborators.”

The money comes at a time when the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute — one of the federal National Institutes of Health — has reduced funding to both studies in recent years. Less money has meant no new exams on participants, only monitoring and side studies. But Jones said the AHA money won’t be used to replace the federal money.

“What will be done through this is not a backfill for the funding shortage from NIH,” he said. “This is for new innovative science.”

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Online: http://www.jacksonheartstudy.org/

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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