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Heart Failure Research

As part of a broader commitment to reducing the impact of heart and vascular diseases, the NHLBI funds many studies related to heart failure. The projects we support include basic research, clinical trials, and large longitudinal studies. NHLBI-supported research has led to a better understanding of how healthy eating and exercise can help lower our risk of heart failure and can improve the quality of life of people who have heart failure.

NHLBI research that really made a difference

NHLBI research that really made a difference
  • Risk factors for heart failure with preserved ejection faction (HFpEF): The Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) was one of the first studies to describe heart failure with HFpEF — a type of heart failure that affects primarily older adults. People with HFpEF feel tired even after resting and often experience swelling of their feet and lower legs. The NHLBI-supported study also showed that the condition is more common in people who have obesity and found that chronic inflammation increases the risk of heart failure.
  • Cellular therapies for heart failure: The CONCERT-HF trial looked at whether taking cells from a person’s bone marrow and heart, multiplying them in a lab, and injecting them into the heart could successfully treat heart failure. The results showed the treatments were safe and resulted in lower rates of death and hospitalizations. The study also showed that patients treated with the cells showed improved quality of life as measured by the presence of physical symptoms, like chest pain and lower leg swelling, and emotional symptoms, such as depression and trouble sleeping.
  • Improved diagnosis and treatment: The Heart Failure Network (HFN) provided infrastructure to develop and conduct 14 trials about diagnosis, management, and evaluation of novel drugs, strategies, and devices to improve heart failure outcomes. HFN studies addressed a number of management issues that provided evidence to inform clinical guidelines. Novel drugs, devices, and diagnostic strategies to treat reduced and preserved ejection fraction heart failure were evaluated. As part of the program, nearly 50 cardiology fellows received hands-on clinical trial experience as well as opportunities to participate and lead ancillary and database studies and to publish their analyses and manuscripts. 
  • Benefits of aerobic exercise: The HF-ACTION trial (2002-2008) showed that supervised aerobic exercise followed by home training reduced cardiovascular events and improved quality of life in patients with heart failure and reduced ejection fraction. These findings informed the decision by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to include these patients in cardiac rehabilitation programs,
  • Effective and affordable medicines: The TOPCAT trial (2007-2013) demonstrated that the mineralocorticoid antagonist spironolactone reduced heart failure hospitalizations in older adults who have HFpEF. This inexpensive generic drug represents an attractive therapeutic option for these patients.

Current research funded by the NHLBI

Current research funded by the NHLBI

Our Division of Cardiovascular Sciences and its Heart Failure and Arrhythmias Branch, within the Adult and Pediatric Cardiac Research Program, oversees much of the research we fund on heart failure. We focus on understanding both normal heart function, as well as what happens when the heart begins to fail. Our aim is to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of heart failure.

Current research on heart failure treatments

NHLBI-supported research has contributed to heart failure treatments that have helped people around the world. However, not everyone responds to the existing treatments, which include medicines, implanted devices, and surgery.

Research is ongoing to discover alternative treatments.

  • Heart pumps for the smallest patients: The Pumps for Kids, Infants, and Neonates (PumpKIN) clinical trial is testing a mechanical heart pump that has been designed specifically for young children and infants. Babies waiting for heart transplants are among those who need these pumps.
  • How man-made cells might repair damaged heart muscle: Researchers are creating patches that contain man-made heart cells to repair damaged heart muscle. Currently, stem cells need to be carefully preserved and characterized before use. A patch with man-made cells could potentially have more widespread clinical uses.
  • Risks and treatments for cardiac ischemia that leads to HFpEF: The Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) — Mechanisms of Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction (CMD) Leading to Pre-Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction study examines people with suspected cardiac ischemia but no obstructive coronary disease to better understand the associated risks for heart damage and early mortality as well as potential targets for treatment and prevention of HFpEF.
  • Cost-effective ways to study new medicines: The SPIRRIT trial is a large, relatively simple trial conducted in Sweden and the U.S. examining the effect of spironolactone on heart failure hospitalizations and cardiovascular death for patients with HFpEF. The relatively low-cost study involving minimal laboratory testing represents an attractive new model for future clinical trials.  
  • Comparison of diuretics to treat heart failure: The ToRsemide compArisoN with furoSemide FOR Management of HF (TRANSFORM-HF) trial compares two loop diuretics (torsemide or furosemide) commonly used to treat heart failure congestion to see which is better at stopping or slowing heart failure progression.

Current research on heart failure disparities

The NHLBI supports several projects that explore existing health disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure. One study is looking at whether some populations are underrepresented in heart failure clinical trials.

Other studies are exploring more ways to address and eliminate disparities.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on heart failure disparities at NIH RePORTER.

Current research on causes and prevention of heart failure

The NHLBI supports research into how changes in the heart muscle, reactive oxygen species, and conditions such as atrial fibrillation can cause heart failure.

The projects we fund are also looking at how physical activity and certain nutrients can help prevent heart failure.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on causes and prevention of heart failure at NIH RePORTER.

NHLBI in the Press

A recent study supported by the NHLBI found that young people who have high blood pressure, smoke, or have diabetes also have a greater risk of heart failure than their elders who have the same risk factors: Heart failure risks start young and so should prevention.

Current research on conditions related to heart failure

Some of our current research focuses on heart failure and its link to diabetes and HIV.

  • Improved diagnostic tools: The NHLBI supports research to develop a non-invasive device for the diagnosis of heart failure in people with diabetes. The low-cost, portable device can be used in a variety of settings, from doctor’s offices to health fairs.
  • Impacts of hormones on heart failure: The Avoiding (Heart) Failure: Physiologic-Based Targeting of the RAAS to Treat Subclinical HFpEF among PWH study will look at blocking a hormone called aldosterone and increase another called brain natriuretic peptide. Studies have shown that these hormones occur at abnormal levels in people with HIV. Researchers want to know if normalizing these hormone levels in this population can reduce the incidence of or slow down the progression of heart failure.

Find more NHLBI-funded studies on conditions related to heart failure at NIH RePORTER.

Heart failure research labs at the NHLBI

Heart failure research labs at the NHLBI

Many laboratories within our Division of Intramural Research (DIR) focus on the cause of heart failure.

Related heart failure programs

Related heart failure programs
  • In 2017, an NHLBI Workshop identified research focus areas to advance heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) over the next 5 to 10 years.
  • NHLBI’s Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study has led to many discoveries that have helped us better understand the causes of cardiovascular disease. Researchers use data from this study to explore biomarkers for heart failure, heart failure risk factors, and sex differences in heart failure incidence rates.
  • The NHLBI created The Heart Truth® to raise awareness about heart disease as the leading cause of death in women. The Heart Truth® is focused on making sure that women know about their risk for heart disease and know that healthy lifestyle changes can lower this risk.
  • The Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network (CTSN) is an international network that studies heart valve disease, arrhythmias, heart failure, coronary heart disease, and the complications of surgery. 
  • The NHLBI partners with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) through a Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) called Improving Outcomes in Cancer Treatment-Related Cardiotoxicity. This work has encouraged collaborative and innovative approaches to mitigate cardiovascular dysfunction while optimizing cancer outcomes by understanding the mechanisms of cancer treatment-related cardiotoxicity and translating the findings to improve risk stratification, early detection, prevention, and management.
  • Through NHLBI’s Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) program, researchers can use data from studies focused on heart disorders, including heart failure, to predict, prevent, diagnose, and treat numerous medical conditions based on a patient’s unique genes, environment, and molecular signatures. TOPMed specifically supports NHLBI’s Precision Medicine Activities.
  • The Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Information Coordinating Center (BioLINCC) centralizes and integrates biospecimens and clinical data that were once stored in separate repositories. Researchers can find and request available resources on BioLINCC’s secure website, which maximizes the value of these resources and advances heart, lung, blood, and sleep research.

Explore more NHLBI research on heart failure

The sections above provide you with the highlights of NHLBI-supported research on heart failure. You can explore the full list of NHLBI-funded studies on the NIH RePORTER.

To find more studies:

  • Type your search words into the Quick Search box and press enter. 
  • Check Active Projects if you want current research.
  • Select the Agencies arrow, then the NIH arrow, then check NHLBI.

If you want to sort the projects by budget size from the biggest to the smallest click on the FY Total Cost by IC column heading.

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