Alpha Phi Foundation funds research to define diagnosis and treatment for a specific type of heart failure

by Alex Goodman in Press Release

Alpha Phi Foundation is pleased to announce the University of Florida as the recipient of the 2023 Heart to Heart Grant. Awarded annually, the Heart to Heart Grant funds research and educational programs that support the advancement of women’s heart health and cardiac care.

The University of Florida will use their $100,000 grant for the project Hearts on Fire: Targeting Inflammation in Women with Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction. A diagnosis particularly prevalent in women, Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF) occurs when the heart pumps normally but does not relax properly. Project Investigator Dr. Ellen Keeley, MD is hopeful that the techniques utilized in this study, which builds off an existing NIH study on HFpEF led by her Co-Investigator Dr. Carl Pepine, MD will offer a greater approach to diagnosing, treating, and monitoring HFpEF.

Using a special MRI called ferumoxytol cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, cardiac inflammation correlating to omega-3 fatty acids and signaling molecules will be understood in study participants. This type of MRI has never been used to study HFpEF, making their research approach innovative in nature. This interdisciplinary team will also include Dr. Mohammad Al-Ani, MD and Dr. Julio Duarte, PharmD, PhD. Dr. Al-Ani is a current fellow of Advanced Heart Failure and Mechanical Support who is also supporting Dr. Pepine’s study. His interest and focus in both of these studies are imaging, which aligns with Dr. Keeley’s plan to use a specialized cardiac MRI in her participants. Dr. Duarte specializes in cardio-pulmonary pharmacogenomics, which looks at how heart patients respond to medications genetically. His expertise will be beneficial when it comes to determining more streamlined treatments for HFpEF based on inflammation and signaling findings of this study.

“Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction is a common disease that disproportionately affects women. To date, there is very limited treatment. This study has the potential to uncover key inflammatory pathways that perpetuate this disease process and can serve as novel treatment targets. Through its philanthropy, Alpha Phi is directly improving women’s heart health by helping the University of Florida researchers lay the groundwork for a large, randomized, treatment trial which, if successful, would constitute a paradigm shift in how we manage women with this disease”, says Dr. Keeley.

Results from this two-year study will be disseminated widely in both the scientific and public communities globally. As HFpEF is highly common in women, spreading Dr. Keeley’s findings will be of utmost importance so more women become aware. Equally important to Dr. Keeley is her team’s dedication to mentorship of the future leaders in science and medicine, specifically young women pursuing a career in cardiology. “We have traditionally had one of the highest ratios of female to male faculty in cardiology around the world [at University of Florida]”, said Dr. Pepine. This high proportion of female leaders fosters an incredible environment for members of Alpha Phi to be involved in research, learn about heart health, and carve pathways to their futures with world-class mentors. Members of the Kappa Eta chapter of Alpha Phi at the University of Florida will have the opportunity to participate in internships on this project, as well as interacting with the investigators through campus events.

Chair of the Heart to Heart Grant Advisory Council Colleen Sirhal, RN, BSN, CPHIMS shares that “early-stage funding for innovative cardiac research is at the core of our grant mission. Just as important to Alpha Phi is the opportunity for new generations of women to learn from Dr Keeley, Dr. Pepine and their team. We are building the future of how we treat women and cardiac disease.”

The Heart to Heart Grant would not be possible without the continued generosity of Alpha Phi Foundation donors and volunteers. For over 75 years, Alpha Phi has been committed to promoting advancements in women’s heart health. As we celebrate Alpha Phi Foundation’s Leading With Heart campaign, Alpha Phi seeks to further the impact made through their priority to Women’s Heart Health for years to come.

“We are building the future of how we treat women and cardiac disease.”
– Colleen Sirhal, former Heart to Heart Advisory Council Chair
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