Upstate News

May 29, 2003
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Institute for Cardiovascular Research opens at SUNY Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University, already recognized as a leader in the study of cardiac arrhythmias, is poised to become one of the leading centers worldwide in all areas of cardiovascular research with the opening of its new Institute for Cardiovascular Research (ICR) June 1.

The institute comprises 10,000 square feet and is located on the sixth floor of Weiskotten Hall. A $1.5 million renovation project has created new lab space equipped with the latest in biomedical technology to give researchers a leg up on developing new therapies to combat heart disease and prevent premature death. (Plans call for the ICR to double in size to 20,000 square feet by 2005 when the fifth floor of Weiskotten Hall will be fully renovated with new lab space and for investigators recruited through both basic science and clinical science departments.)

“The Institute for Cardiovascular Research strengthens what is already a world class research program at SUNY Upstate under Dr. José Jalife’s direction and helps intensify our efforts at discovering new and effective approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease,” said Gregory L. Eastwood, M.D., president of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Cardiovascular disease remains one of most pervasive medical problems in the country today. Nearly 60 million people have some form of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, coronary artery thrombosis and congestive heart failure. Statistics show that heart disease is to blame for approximately 40 percent of all deaths. New York ranks 13th in the nation for age-adjusted death rate for cardiovascular disease.

“Finding new treatments for heart disease needs to be a priority, because the costs of not finding them are too dear, not only in dollars spent on medical care, but also the human toll,” said institute Director José Jalife, M.D., professor and chair of the SUNY Upstate’s Department of Pharmacology. “This institute advances and expands our current research exponentially by bringing together a group of top-flight researchers, by offering us the physical space to fuel collaborations and by fostering the training and education of students interested in cardiovascular science.”

SUNY Upstate is already a recognized leader in the study of cardiac arrhythmias, a term used to denote a disturbance in the heart’s rhythm that can be benign or life threatening. But institute researchers, fueled with $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and supported by new research space, are setting their sights on probing the mysteries of heart failure, one of the most serious forms of heart disease affecting nearly 3 million Americans and sudden cardiac death.

Sudden cardiac death kills 450,000 people a year and attracts widespread media attention because it often is the cause of the death of young athletes who appear otherwise healthy. “We still don’t know why these individuals suddenly drop dead,” Jalife said. “Some individuals have underlying heart problems or genetic factors, but others have normal heart function. Our goal is to find or develop a drug that can be used for people at risk to prevent these deaths.”

Jalife said advancements are being made everyday into the treatment of heart disease, but that it will take the knowledge of physicians, pharmacologists, mathematicians, molecular biologists, geneticists and others working side-by-side to provide the medical community with significant breakthroughs. “This is the main premise of the new institute,” he said. “All the experts needed are at arm’s length. This collaboration is going to benefit our research efforts and move us forward at a great pace.”

Current researchers efforts are directed at:

? studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms whereby heart cells communicate and maintain normal rhythm and contraction;

? elucidating the molecular, cellular and electrophysiologic mechanisms responsible for ventricle and atrial fibrillation, the major cause of sudden cardiac death and stroke, respectively;

? developing genetic models of disease to provide insights into how patients at risk of heart disease might be better treated;

? developing new and more effective forms of treatment, including drugs, implantable devices and surgery to treat arrhythmias and prevent sudden death.

Currently 40 investigators, including faculty members, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and technicians are at work at the institute and Jalife expects 40 additional researchers to sign on with the institute over time. “This new institute has the potential to help SUNY Upstate recruit top-tier researchers from across the globe to central New York which will enable us to expand our research efforts even more and attract additional dollars from a variety of fund sources,” he said.

[b]Editor’s Note: The official opening of the Institute for Cardiovascular Research will be Sunday, June 1, at 3:30 p.m. in Weiskotten Hall, 766 Irving Ave. Tours will immediately follow a brief ceremony at 3:45 p.m.[/b]

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