Celebrating 30 Years of the Heart to Heart Grant with 2023 Recipient, University of Florida Health

by Alex Goodman in Impact, Press Release

30 Years of the Heart to Heart Grant

Florida is home to thrilling and magical theme parks. However, the Florida Heart to Heart Grant Celebration generated magic all of its own. Dr. Ellen Keeley’s presentation regarding Women with Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction provided easy-to-understand, comprehensive information regarding this disease along with a message of hope. The Alpha Phi Foundation makes supporting women’s heart health relatable and approachable even for non-medical professionals like myself. This is important impactful research that can save women’s lives.

– Sherry Sandstrom (Theta Pi – Emory)

Improving the care and education of women’s heart health has been at the forefront of Alpha Phi Foundation’s philanthropic endeavors since the inception of the Heart to Heart Grant. 2023 brought the 30th anniversary of the Heart to Heart Grant, and the recipient University of Florida Health joins the ranks of a plethora of prestigious institutions doing vital work in the heart health space.

Led by Dr. Ellen Keeley, University of Florida Health’s “Hearts on Fire: Targeting Inflammation in Women with Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction” is aiming to better understand HFpEF (heart failure with preserved ejection fraction) to offer new approaches to treatment. On November 15, 2023, Alpha Phi Foundation visited University of Florida Health to celebrate this grant and learn more about the research Dr. Keeley and her team will be performing.

What is Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction?
Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction, or HFpEF, occurs when one’s heart pumps properly but cannot relax as it should. Ejection Fraction specifically relates to the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body from its left ventricle. It is one of two types of heart failure that can be diagnosed and is more highly prevalent in women. Compared to a heart without HFpEF, the left ventricle is too small to contain the volume of blood it needs to continue pumping out to the rest of the body because the heart muscle is too thick.

How is HFpEF diagnosed?
HFpEF can be diagnosed in patients using an echocardiogram of the heart, which is an ultrasound specific to looking at heart structure and function. On an echocardiogram of a patient with HFpEF, a physician can see the small left ventricle and a stiffness when the heart tries to relax.

What are some common characteristics of someone with HFpEF?
Typically, HFpEF patients are older females. A HFpEF diagnosis may also be associated with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, or atrial fibrillation (an irregular, rapid heartbeat). Additionally, HFpEF patients can also have noncardiac comorbidities such as anemia, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, cancer, or psychiatric disorders.

How will the study be executed?
The goal of Dr. Keeley’s study is to test if there is inflammation in the heart of HFpEF patients and see if there is an association between this and omega-3 fatty acids. First, blood samples will be taken to see if there are inflammatory markers and omega-3 fatty acids present in patients. Then, Dr. Keeley’s team will use a novel cardiac MRI technique that involves study participants getting an iron transfusion then an MRI. If inflammation is present in the heart, the iron from the transfusion will light up on the scan.

As an alumna with a background in clinical research, serving as a medical reader for women’s heart health proposals submitted to the Alpha Phi Foundation is a deeply rewarding opportunity. While navigating through these proposals, I not only bring my research expertise to the evaluation process but also a fervent hope for advancing women’s heart health.

The significance of being a medical reader for the Women’s Heart to Heart grant became even more apparent when I had the privilege of witnessing Dr. Ellen Keeley, a dedicated researcher at the University of Florida, receive the grant for her project “Hearts on Fire.” Dr. Keeley’s compassionate advocacy for her patients, adds a personal touch to her research endeavors. Her commitment to understanding the biology and mechanisms of heart conditions prevalent in women, such as heart inflammation in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, reflects her profound desire to advance the field. Her research is dedicated to gaining valuable insights that can be translated into effective treatments. This endeavor holds the potential to decrease the comorbidity and mortality associated with cardiac conditions, with a particular focus on improving cardiac outcomes for women.

Experiencing moments like this not only underscores the significance of how the Alpha Phi Foundation supports initiatives dedicated to advancing women’s heart health but also highlights the unique and rewarding opportunities afforded to Alpha Phi alumnae. As a proud alumna, I take pride in contributing to the impactful work facilitated by the Alpha Phi Foundation and fostering positive, much needed, strides in women’s cardiovascular research.

Suzie O’Connor (Iota Psi – North Florida; Current University of Florida Graduate Student)

Over the next two years, Dr. Keeley hopes to enroll at least 20 women with HFpEF into her study. Using her findings, it is hopeful that this will be an incredible step towards developing new treatments for women diagnosed with HFpEF.

UF Health has made a commitment to involve Kappa Eta sisters with clinical research. How exciting and what a fabulous opportunity for our sisters! I have renewed pride in being a member of Alpha Phi and supporting our philanthropy, the Alpha Phi Foundation.

– Sherry Sandstrom (Theta Pi – Emory)



Thanks to our friends at The University of Florida IT Department for setting up a Zoom recording of the full presentation, which can be viewed with captions below.

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