FYI from the NHLBI Index

May 2006: Vol. 7, Issue 1
Feature Articles

Highlights of the 7th Annual Public Interest Organization (PIO) Meeting

NHLBI Launches Framingham Genetic Research Study

Highlights of the 7th Annual Public Interest Organization (PIO) Meeting

Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel reported on her first year as NHLBI Director and spoke of how the NHLBI seeks to stimulate discoveries of the causes of disease, speed translation of discoveries to clinical applications, facilitate communication between scientists and physicians, and effectively communicate advances to the public. Focusing on the future of the NHLBI, Dr. Nabel said, “Our vision is based upon a fundamental set of values that must permeate all activities of our Institute and are shared by all our staff.” These include a “commitment to excellence, innovation, integrity, respect, and compassion.” She also stressed the importance of the NHLBI working together with patient advocacy groups to address the needs and concerns within patient communities.

Dr. Elias Zerhouni, NIH Director, described his vision for the NIH and noted that the NIH’s success is measured by its ability to deliver research results and improved health. He remarked that the opportunities for scientific discovery and advancement have never been greater than at the present time. The NIH has developed a new paradigm that emphasizes the “3Ps”: Prediction of pathogenesis; Personalized, precise medicine; and Preemption of disease before it occurs. Dr. Zerhouni elaborated on two key challenges the NIH faces: the flattening of the budget and the need to encourage and develop new investigators. He then discussed the three new initiatives announced under the NIH Roadmap to address these challenges.

Dr. Carl Roth, Director of the Office of Science and Technology, NHLBI, presented an overview of the Institute—its history and mission—and recounted health achievements in which the NHLBI played a leading part. He noted the role of the NHLBI-supported Framingham Heart Study in defining major risk factors for cardiovascular disease—high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, family history, and male gender. Efforts to address modifiable risk factors have contributed to the overall decline in mortality from heart disease and stroke. Overall, life expectancy in the United States has increased about 6 years during the 30 year span from 1970 to 2000 and that increase is largely due to the decline in mortality from cardiovascular disease. Dr. Roth also noted the dramatic decline in deaths from neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, the elimination of the risk of post-transfusion hepatitis, and the increased life expectancy for patients with sickle cell disease.

In a session on blood safety, Dr. Harvey Alter, Chief, Infectious Diseases Section, Departmen t of Transfusion Medicine, NIH Clinical Center, discussed the scientific discoveries that led to the elimination of post-transfusion infection from hepatitis C virus. Mr. Carl Weixler, President, Hemophilia Foundation of America, discussed blood supply safety from the perspective of someone living with hemophilia who acquired infections from tainted blood and blood products.

During breakout sessions, NHLBI staff members discussed the NIH grants process, stem cell technology, tissue engineering, and the use of cohort studies for genetic research. Finally, PIO representatives had an opportunity to meet NHLBI staff members in informal discussion groups covering heart development and disease, vascular diseases, lung diseases, airway diseases, blood diseases and resources, and sleep and sleep disorders.

The meeting was held January 30–31, 2006 in Bethesda, Maryland.

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NHLBI Launches Framingham Genetic Research Study

A comprehensive genetic research study to identify genes underlying cardiovascular and other chronic diseases will be launched by the NHLBI in collaboration with the Boston University School of Medicine. The new research effort, the Framingham Genetic Research Study, will be part of the NHLBI’s long-running Framingham Heart Study and will involve up to 500,000 genetic analyses of the DNA of 9,000 study participants representing three generations.

Since 1948, the Framingham Heart Study has studied the health of many of the Massachusetts town’s residents. The study has been the source of key research findings regarding the contributions of hypertension, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and other risk factors to the development of cardiovascular disease.

“This important study will take genetic research in the Framingham study to the next level—accelerating discoveries on the causes, prevention, and treatment of major chronic diseases,” said Dr. Nabel. “Using the latest technology, researchers will be able to obtain more information about the connection between unique genetic variations in DNA and cardiovascular disease risk factors as well as the genetic basis for heart attack, stroke, and other chronic diseases.”

Additionally, the NIH National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the National Library of Medicine, will assist in developing a study database that will be made available at no cost to investigators throughout the world, thereby providing opportunities for other experts to search for associations between genes and diseases.

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