UNMC doctors work to repair broken hearts

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UNMC researchers and clinicians are working to fight the epidemic of cardiovascular diseases.

It’s February, the month for thinking pink about love and the heart (or black, if a lover just left you).

It’s also American Heart Month, when groups like the American Heart Association step up their efforts to raise money for research and education – to keep as many hearts as possible from breaking in a literal sense – because cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 killer in this country.

The statistics are black:

30 million Americans now suffer from cardiovascular diseases.

Nebraska has a higher mortality rate from heart disease than the national average. It’s also higher in the incidence of stroke.

More than one-sixth of all people killed by cardiovascular disease are younger than 65.

This year alone, 300,000 will die suddenly from an irregular heartbeat.

And the stats could become blacker.

“Most of the heart failure is diagnosed in the elderly population,” says Dr. Irving Zucker, chair of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology. “So because the population in general is getting older, this is going to become a health problem of enormous proportions.”

Cardiovascular researchers and clinicians at UNMC like Zucker have been doing their part every month for years to bring innovative science to Nebraskans and the nation and end this epidemic. They’ve been collaborating across disciplines in teams focused on four areas of research: cardiac imaging; cardiac electrophysiology; heart failure and transplantation; and biomedical informatics.

For more than 20 years, for example, Dr. Zucker’s team has been the world’s leader in exploring the interactions of the brain and the failing heart. Dr. Ioana Dumitru’s team has performed 62 heart transplants in the past four years. Dr. Eugenia Raichlin is a national leader in the cardiovascular consequences of transplantation.

UNMC researchers have discovered breakthrough “microbubble” technology for heart disease detection that could be more effective, less invasive and less costly than standard methods of detection.

Providing support for such faculty and researchers is a campaign priority for UNMC’s College of Medicine. The University of Nebraska Foundation is raising money to help support UNMC’s researchers and clinicians succeed in this matter of the heart.

Some goals:

To build a research center for comprehensive cardiovascular imaging including magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound and nuclear medicine.

To develop a premier multidisciplinary program leading to the development of emerging technologies for treating life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure.

To raise money to support the research of cellular and molecular causes and treatments for heart failure and inflammatory heart disease.

To establish core facilities for computerized decision support and to develop a statewide research network for cardiovascular care.

“The College of Medicine has identified a Heart Center as a priority for the campaign because of the impact heart disease has on the people of Nebraska,” says Amy Volk, head of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s fundraising efforts for UNMC. “UNMC is committed to training the highest caliber heart specialists to provide care and advancing the science that will lead to new and better treatment options.”

More than 90 percent of heart specialists in the state live in Omaha and Lincoln, Volk says, so preparing more specialists for the rest of the state and finding ways to effectively deliver care across the state are also goals of this effort.

If you would like more information or are interested in supporting UNMC’s College of Medicine, contact Melonie Welsh, 402-502-4117 or 800-432-3216.

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