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Wake Forest Baptist Joins National Minority Heart Research Project

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center researchers have been engaged by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to participate in the first large-scale cardiovascular disease study of African-Americans.

Based at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Miss., the Jackson Heart Study (JHS) is examining the factors that influence the development of cardiovascular disease in African-American men and women and in doing so, will enhance the overall knowledge of cardiovascular disease in the United States and improve prevention efforts focused on African-Americans.

“We are very pleased that we are now able to add cutting edge cardiovascular imaging provided by Wake Forest Baptist to the testing we are doing to improve our understanding of this still epidemic disease,” said Jackson Heart Study principal investigator Herman A. Taylor Jr., M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and Shirley Professor for the Study of Health Disparities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “The reputation of leadership and excellence made Wake Forest Baptist our first choice for this important new component of the Jackson Heart Study.”

Wake Forest University Health Sciences, Division of Radiological Sciences will provide the core Computed Tomography Reading Center (CTRC) for the Jackson Heart Study. Wake Forest Baptist researchers lead by principal investigator J. Jeffrey Carr, M.D., M.S.C.E., professor of radiology, cardiology and public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist will coordinate and analyze approximately 4,000 computed tomography (CT) scans of JHS participants to measure coronary artery and abdominal artery plaque build up as well as characterize patterns of fat deposition.

“This project builds on our extensive experience in this area as the CTRC for some of the country’s most important cardiovascular studies,” said Carr. “Including the Women’s Health Initiative, Coronary Artery Risk Development In young Adults (CARDIA), the Family Heart Study (FHS) and the Diabetes Heart Study, in addition to our role as co-investigator and consultant to the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Framingham Heart Study.”

The Framingham Heart Study is one of the oldest studies of cardiovascular disease covering three generations of individuals with an objective to identify the common factors or characteristics that contribute to cardiovascular disease. By following research participants over a long period of time important new information about why people have heart attacks and strokes has been learned. Unfortunately, important information about minority populations remains unanswered.

“Results from our work in MESA and other studies indicate that African-American men and women have less calcified plaque in their heart vessels, yet this is not reflected in a reduced risk of heart disease,” said Carr. “The Jackson Heart Study provides an opportunity to gain important new insights into heart disease in African-Americans.”

“We anticipate that this project will provide opportunities for collaboration between the Jackson Heart Study and the Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health,” said co-investigator Alain G. Bertoni, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of public health sciences and internal medicine and director of research for the Angelou Research Center. “What we learn about cardiovascular disease in African-Americans in the Jackson Heart Study may provide insight into prevention of cardiovascular disease in North Carolina where African-Americans have an increased burden of this group of diseases relative to whites.”

“We are very excited about this opportunity to collaborate with investigators from the Jackson Heart Study. This is a very important study in understanding cardiovascular disease disparities in African-Americans,” said Ronny A. Bell, Ph.D., M.S., interim associate director of the Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health and associate professor of epidemiology and prevention.

The other aspect of this study is focused on the role of obesity and heart disease. The CT scan will provide a means of understanding how different people store fat and relate that to their future risk of heart disease.

“We know that obesity and specifically central or visceral fat seems to significantly increase an individual’s risk for a variety of health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease,” said Carr. “We would like to get a better understanding of the health consequences of being overweight and identify more effective strategies in reducing the risk to individuals.”

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Media contact: Jim Steele, jsteele@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu; or Karen Richardson, krchrdson@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4587.

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,238 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.


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