In 2014, the Texas Heart Institute (THI) was again ranked among the nation's top heart centers. This represents the 24th consecutive year of top rankings for THI as a heart center by U.S. News & World Report's annual guide to "America's Best Hospitals."
As THI embarked on its 53rd year, it has new and unparalleled capabilities and resources in an alliance that does not exist anywhere else in the region. THI and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) finalized a partnership that will make THI stronger and—with the continued generosity of its donors—enable it to do even more to reduce the significant toll of cardiovascular disease.
Adult Stem Cell Research and Therapy
Adult Stem Cell Therapy offers hope to the almost six million Americans who have congestive heart failure, a progressive and eventually fatal form of cardiovascular disease that affects the pumping ability of the heart. Approximately half of patients with severe heart failure will die within five years after diagnosis. Stem cells are “generic” cells that can regenerate themselves and promote repair of damaged tissue. In stem cell therapy today, stem cells are typically removed from another part of the patient’s own body—usually bone marrow, blood, adipose tissue, or the heart itself. The cells are then transplanted into the heart, where they can lead to the repair of heart muscle cells and growth of new blood vessels.
- In 2014, the THI Stem Cell Center actively participated in the prestigious Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network (CCTRN), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). THI, one of the original five clinical sites nationwide, was recently awarded a seven-year extension with additional funding of $5.7 million (CCTRN II). Included in this second phase will be investigation of novel cell combinations in heart failure and novel clinical research in intermittent claudication—pain in the legs with walking caused by atherosclerosis in the arteries of the legs. Additionally, THI is expanding its recruitment efforts by establishing a referral network of physicians and hospitals throughout Houston and by working to expand this network throughout Texas. Also funded by CCTRN II, the Nursing Skills Core Training Program at THI inducted its second trainee in 2014. This program is designed to train nurses in the extremely specialized field of stem cell research.
- Under the direction of Dr. James T. Willerson, THI President, and Dr. Emerson Perin, Director of Clinical Research for Cardiovascular Medicine and Medical Director of the Stem Cell Center, clinical trials sponsored by the CCTRN and other corporate benefactors were designed to improve outcomes for patients with chronic ischemic heart disease, left ventricular dysfunction, and peripheral vascular disease. In these pioneering studies, THI investigators examined novel stem cell types and critical therapeutic protocol factors, including cell doses and routes of delivery, to establish improved therapeutic outcomes for stem cell therapy. The THI Stem Cell Center currently has seven Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved adult clinical stem cell projects that are providing treatment for patients with heart and vascular diseases.
- In addition to researching stem cell therapy, the Stem Cell Center continues to participate in a clinical device trial for heart failure treatment. This involves implanting a percutaneous device that walls off part of the left ventricle to reduce left ventricular volume. The device may improve blood flow and reduce the severity of symptoms in patients who are currently being treated with conventional drug therapy or who have advanced heart failure necessitating a heart assist device.
- The Stem Cell Center participated in a phase II clinical gene therapy trial to evaluate the use of hepatocyte growth factor in patients with chronic limb ischemia. Publication of the results of this trial is currently pending. International collaboration is ongoing and includes planning and development of the phase III trial for wound healing.
- The Stem Cell Center is also active in preclinical research. In August 2013, Dr. Perin was named the THI 2013 McNair Scholar, an honor designed to recognize and support the work of outstanding scientists and physicians. This is a five-year award, and in 2014, it supported innovative preclinical research focused on combining early detection and assessment of aortic aneurysms with stem cell therapy to reduce the risk of aneurysm rupture. In addition, the Stem Cell Center preclinical team collaborated with the Texas A&M Institute for Preclinical Studies (TIPS) in a trial of stem cells for treating chemotherapy-induced congestive heart failure.
Stem Cell Engineering
Under the direction of Dr. Robert J. Schwartz, researchers in the Stem Cell Engineering Laboratory are focused on developing methods that will allow them to obtain human skin cells and stem cells from fat tissues and convert them into heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes).
- The researchers are working to identify the optimal cell types for regenerative therapy and, thus, overcome the technical and ethical issues involved with the use of embryonic stem cells. In keeping with THI's mission to reconstitute a human heart, the researchers plan to grow the cells they “engineer” on artificial biomatrices. In so doing, they will contribute to the understanding of how cardiomyocytes develop the capacity to beat.
- Dr. Schwartz and his team are also working to identify small molecules that can be used as catalysts to increase cardiomyocyte production efficiency.
Regenerative Medicine Research
As Director of the Regenerative Medicine Research Program at THI, Dr. Doris Taylor remains involved in cutting-edge work involving both laboratory and clinical studies.
- In 2014, the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology (CCOB) successfully completed its first year in operation. A collaborative program shared by THI and the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the CCOB is directed by Dr. Taylor. It comprises a team of scientists, engineers, physicians, and veterinarians whose aim is to reduce the toll of chronic disease and aging in both humans and animals.
- The Biorepository and Sample Profiling Core (BRSPC) Laboratory, also directed by Dr. Taylor, received, processed, and stored thousands of patient samples and analyzed more than 14,000 variables involving blood, bone marrow, and tissue samples. These variables included biomarker measures of inflammation, stem cell quantity and function, and tissue repair after injury. The BRSPC Lab froze and inventoried these samples for future studies while continuing to do research based on findings from earlier analyses. Two of the Laboratory's large projects are for the CCTRN and for the Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network (CTSN), both of which are funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of NIH. The BRSPC Lab has just received an additional grant to expand the CTSN program.
- In the Organ and Tissue Repair Laboratory, Dr. Doris Taylor’s “Build a Heart” program successfully expanded its extracellular matrix production from small animals to large animals―an important step on the way to the application of this technique in humans.
- Dr. Taylor and colleagues from Baylor College of
Medicine and the University of Texas (UT) co-chaired a Texas Medical Center
(TMC) committee evaluating the potential for creating a TMC-wide regenerative
medicine institute. Through collaborative efforts with institutions both within
the TMC and abroad, the goal is to bring together ideas from across the globe
to create ground-breaking treatments that will benefit Houston and the entire world
and will solidify THI's role as a leader in cell genetics and regenerative
This year, CBS's 60 Minutes program featured a
portion of Dr. Taylor's work on the differences between
men and women's stem cells. In addition, the CBS website, 60 Minutes Overtime, featured
an exclusive interview with Dr. Taylor in her lab. There was also a segment that
aired earlier this year featuring Dr. Taylor and her team on the Science
Channel's Stem Cell Universe program
with noted physicist Stephen Hawking. Houston's Channel 2 News also filmed the
THI Regenerative Medicine Research Lab for a health news feature that was
carried by other NBC network news affiliates around the country.
The Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory (CRL), directed by Dr. James Martin, is focused on understanding how specialized signaling pathways influence adult tissue development and regeneration.
- The CRL researchers have established a direct link between the genes that regulate cardiac regeneration and Duchenne muscular dystrophy–associated cardiomyopathy, which is the progressive weakening of the heart muscle caused by a genetic mutation. Dr. Martin and his team will use insights from these studies to identify therapeutic options that will promote normal heart function and regenerative capabilities in patients with this disorder.
In addition, the
researchers are developing novel cardiac therapies, such as the use of
gene-editing technology to restore the function of mutated genes that cause
genetic cardiovascular disorders. They have also constructed small-molecule
inhibitors designed to treat heart muscle damage that occurs after a heart
- In 2014, Dr. Martin and his group strengthened their work in elucidating the genetic pathways that are active during cardiac renewal and regeneration in the mammalian fetal heart just before the heart loses its ability to regenerate. They identified several genes that are turned on in the fetal heart and that may be therapeutically targeted in adult hearts to enhance cardiac regeneration. The researchers also characterized the genetic pathways that are active during cardiac arrhythmias. By obtaining an in-depth understanding of these pathways, they can develop ways to regenerate heart muscle and prevent atrial fibrillation. They have already identified promising therapeutic targets for suppressing susceptibility to atrial fibrillation.
Wafic Said Molecular Cardiology Research
Researchers in the Wafic Said Molecular Cardiology Research Laboratories at THI, directed by Dr. Richard Dixon, strengthened their innovative work in adult stem cell therapeutic mechanisms and in stem cell and gene therapies for treating pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Dr. Dixon established extensive collaborations
both inside and outside THI that allowed his team to make several important
discoveries in 2014. He collaborated with Dr. Taylor to enhance tissue
regeneration by developing a small-molecule "stem cell glue" that can be used
to more effectively target stem cells to the site of injury in damaged
tissues. Dr. Dixon also established collaborations with Dr. Robert
Schwartz, Director of Stem Cell Engineering at THI, and Dr. James Martin,
Director of the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory at THI, to form a core group
of researchers who can rapidly bring cardiac stem cell therapies to clinical
- Dr. Dixon and his team have developed noninvasive molecular imaging systems for visualizing plaques likely to rupture and cause a heart attack (vulnerable plaques). The researchers worked with the molecular modeling department at UT Austin to create computer models of vulnerable plaque development.
- Dr. Dixon established a collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Hartgerink, of the Chemistry Department at Rice University, to develop and test synthetic peptides with angiogenic properties. The peptides were found to significantly enhance healing in animal models of peripheral arterial disease. This research is being further expanded to investigate the use of synthetic peptides in animal models of heart attack.
- Dr. Edward Yeh (a 2008-2013 THI McNair Scholar) and his team continued to advance two critical interrelated topics in cardiovascular research: 1) how heart-development–associated gene regulation controls the expansion of selected cardiac stem cells to improve cardiac function after therapeutic use and 2) how therapy with certain stem cells works mechanistically to repair damaged hearts.
- THI scientists have shown that aged human stem cells and murine stem cells lose their ability to promote regeneration in injured hearts and blood vessels. THI geneticists and stem cell biologists collaborated to identify genes that are involved in heart muscle regeneration and prevention of cellular deterioration associated with aging. They demonstrated that blood flow could be increased by transplantation of aged cells that overexpress genetic factors. It is believed that these gene products act together to enhance cardiovascular regeneration and restore the aged cells to their youthful capacity and that these cells will be effective for “regenerative” therapy in older heart patients.
- The State of Texas committed $2.5 million in
each year of the September 2013-August 2015 biennium for the Texas Heart
Institute's Adult Stem Cell Research Program under the direction of Dr.
Cardiovascular Surgical Research
- Surgeons and cardiologists in THI's Center for Cardiac Support continued their leadership in the use of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) for support of patients with severe heart failure. In 2014, 75 patients received LVADs under the direction of Dr. O. H. "Bud" Frazier, Dr. William E. Cohn, and Dr. Hari R. Mallidi. Dr. Frazier has now implanted more than 1,000 assist devices in humans with heart failure. The HeartWare LVAD recently received FDA approval as a bridge to transplantation, providing an additional option for patients requiring LVAD support. Dr. Frazier and his team were instrumental in developing the HeartWare pump. In fact, every cardiac assist device currently being used in humans received developmental support from these researchers. Almost 200 patients with assist devices are actively followed in the THI clinic.
- Dr. Frazier continues to lead the development and evaluation of two total artificial hearts (TAHs). The first is a dual-pump, continuous-flow TAH, which has received over $7 million in cumulative funding from the NIH and other sources. This work has given researchers valuable insights into the effects of continuous (nonpulsatile) flow on mammalian physiology. Continuous flow is the current standard for mechanical support devices. The second TAH is being developed under the directorship of Dr. Daniel Timms, who was recruited to THI along with his team of engineers through the generous support of Jim McIngvale and his family. Timms' innovative TAH is small, lightweight, and designed to enable total heart replacement. Because it contains only a single moving part, it should be extremely durable. Currently, the device is being refined and tested in order to be ready for possible human trials in the near future. It has worked well in animal studies of up to thirty days.
- Dr. Frazier's team is also continuing to develop and test new heart assist devices, including the HeartMate III, which uses a magnet to suspend its single moving part (an impeller). Clinical trials are being planned for 2015, and THI is expected to participate in these trials. In addition, cardiologist Dr. Reynolds Delgado is continuing his work on a new assist device that is wrapped around the aorta rather than being attached directly to the ventricle. Called the C-Pulse System, this device can be implanted through a small chest incision and is intended for patients with moderate-to-severe heart failure. THI researchers are also participating in the NIH Pediatric Circulatory Support Program, whose goal is to develop an assist device for children in collaboration with Jarvik Heart, Inc.
- Under the direction of Dr. Cohn, THI's Center for Technology Innovation made advances in a number of promising technologies, including a miniature heart assist device the size of a pencil eraser, which targets heart failure at a relatively early stage. Like a pacemaker, the mini-pump is inserted intravenously. The simplicity of the procedure allows quick recovery, and the device can easily be changed should the need arise. It may also be useful for children with debilitating heart failure. In addition, the Center is evaluating a minimally invasive transcatheter pump, which is placed in the descending aorta for treatment of heart failure. This technology was invented by Dr. Delgado and is being developed by Procyrion, Inc. Another of the Center's projects involves a novel treatment for mitral regurgitation that does not require a chest incision or cardiopulmonary bypass. Moreover, Dr. Mallidi is developing a device that will perfuse donor lungs until they can be transplanted. Currently, donor lungs remain viable for only a short time. The new device should significantly increase the time they can survive outside the body.
THI's Adult Cardiac Surgery Department, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Coselli, continues to perform innovative clinical studies for severe, life-threatening heart conditions.
- The aorta is the major artery that transports blood from the left ventricle to the rest of the body, and aortic rupture caused by "ballooning" (aneurysm) or tearing (dissection) of the aortic wall results in more than 10,000 deaths annually in the United States. Early diagnosis is critical for some types of dissections, which, if left untreated, kill 33 to 50 percent of patients within 24 to 48 hours. Dr. Coselli's team is continuing to collaborate with researchers from Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Oregon, the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and Baylor College of Medicine to evaluate a blood test that may help diagnose these dissections early.
- In 2014, Dr. Coselli and cardiologist Dr. Jose Diez continued to participate in the CoreValve clinical trial to replace diseased aortic heart valves without the need for open heart surgery. The trial involves replacing a stenotic aortic valve by using a specially designed delivery catheter system. THI is one of 45 sites that collectively have enrolled more than 3,500 patients in this trial. All of the patients were too ill to have traditional open heart surgery. Thus far, nearly 75 percent of them have survived without a major stroke. One year after the procedure, the risk of stroke was 4.1 percent. The CoreValve has recently been approved by the FDA for use in high-risk patients who otherwise would not be candidates for valve replacement.
In addition to providing histopathologic support for THI colleagues from other departments, the Cardiovascular Pathology Laboratory is involved in a number of research projects.
- A special focus of the Laboratory is the study of patients with end-stage heart failure and continuous-flow mechanical support, with an emphasis on identifying those whose disease has improved enough to allow device explantation. This research includes studies of cardiac remodeling and the effects of continuous flow on human physiology. Other special topics include sarcoidosis-related cardiomyopathy and adriamycin-induced heart failure.
- Along with their colleagues at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, THI researchers continued working on the second phase of a study focused on perioperative aortic graft infections. This year, in collaboration with the US Army, the researchers will continue to assess the maximal protective effect of a novel, locally developed, triple-antimicrobial-bonded aortic graft in preparation for a possible clinical trial.
- The THI pathologists continued to collaborate with MD Anderson Cancer Center's Imaging Department to proceed with additional work in the third phase of a project intended to assess the maximal capabilities of a new flat-panel computed tomography imager and magnetic resonance imager.
- In 2014, the THI pathologists continued their efforts resulting from collaborative, grant-funded work in atherosclerosis imaging research. These projects focus on mainly on enhancement of the diagnostic capabilities of several imaging modalities (optical coherence tomography and combined intravascular ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging) and are being done in collaboration with UT at San Antonio and Austin.
Investigators in the Electrophysiology Research Laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Jie Cheng, continue to focus on understanding how various types of abnormal heart rhythms develop.
- Dr. Cheng's group recently identified a novel mechanism that contributes to atrial fibrillation, the most common sustained arrhythmia. This mechanism involves a neuronal transmitter called vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). Dr. Cheng and his team described how a receptor gene of VIP is expressed abnormally in the atria of patients with heart failure. The researchers hypothesize that increased abnormal VIP receptor expression parallels the progression of heart failure and correlates with arrhythmogenic ion-channel dysfunction in response to VIP. In an animal model, they plan to study how these abnormal receptors alter the response of heart tissue to VIP. They hope to develop a specific inhibitor against abnormal receptors that would affect diseased tissue but have little effect on normal heart tissue. They have applied for a grant to test their hypotheses.
- The researchers have identified the mechanism by which B-type natriuretic peptide promotes arrhythmias. This peptide is secreted from the heart's pumping chambers as heart failure develops and worsens. The group's initial findings brought attention to this common peptide, which is not only a marker for assessing heart failure, but also a target for preventing and treating the disease.
Electrophysiology Clinical Research & Innovations
- Dr. Cheng and his team have found a way to prevent the anti-tumor drug doxorubicin from depleting human cardiac stem cells. Doxorubicin is one of the most effective anti-tumor agents, but it can be toxic to heart muscle. The THI researchers have found that a drug called iloprost, which is used to treat pulmonary hypertension, can protect the heart against the toxic effects of doxorubicin. They hope that this drug may be approved for use in cancer patients undergoing doxorubicin therapy.
- The researchers have also been conducting extensive screening studies to identify genetic mutations that may put people at risk for arrhythmias and other cardiovascular disorders. These studies hold promise for developing personalized therapies tailored for individual patients.
Dr. Mehdi Razavi directs the Electrophysiology Clinical Research & Innovations (ECRI) program at THI. His goal is to develop an infrastructure for translational and clinical cardiac arrhythmia research and innovation that will establish THI as a nationally and internationally recognized leader in the field of cardiac arrhythmias.
- In clinical studies, the ECRI researchers are identifying how symptoms begin in patients who have asymptomatic arrhythmias, specifically atrial fibrillation, which can cause blood clots to form in the left atrium and result in a stroke. Dr. Razavi is involved in a clinical trial that is investigating a novel, catheter-based way to isolate the part of the left atrium that is responsible for such strokes. He is also evaluating a new 3D analysis and mapping system to detect the sources of arrhythmias and, thus, identify targets for catheter ablation.
- In animal studies, Dr. Razavi and his team are analyzing the effects of different treatment options on cardiac arrhythmias. For example, they are studying a new catheter that can be used to predict the occurrence of cardiac perforation, a potential complication of arrhythmia ablation procedures. The investigators are also collaborating with Rice University on several projects that will integrate the Rice professors' engineering knowledge with the Razavi team's medical knowledge to develop new device-related treatments for cardiac arrhythmias.
Cardiovascular Experimental Imaging and Therapeutics
The Cardiovascular Experimental Imaging and Therapeutics (CVEIT) Laboratory, directed by Dr. Brian Walton, focuses on developing and evaluating technologies that enhance cardiovascular imaging and therapeutics for atherosclerosis.
- Dr. Walton's group has now completed the third year of a collaborative NIH grant involving the CVEIT and Texas A&M University. Through this collaboration, the researchers developed a screening technology for identifying patients with unstable atherosclerotic blockages (plaques) that increase the risk of a heart attack. With this novel technology, particular plaque types can be identified according to their biochemical composition. In early 2015, this technology will be evaluated in animal studies. Another ongoing goal of the CVEIT and Texas A&M University is the development of a polymer embolic foam that can prevent leaks around grafts used to repair abdominal aortic aneurysms.
- In collaboration with researchers at UT's MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Walton and his team have developed a nanoparticle technique for detecting atherosclerotic plaque. This technique will also be used to deliver drugs to specific tissue sites during a procedure or in an outpatient setting. In their studies, the researchers used this nanoparticle technology to deliver molecules that block the expression of genes involved in the development and progression of atherosclerosis. They examined whether blocking the expression of these genes could reduce the plaque buildup that occurs in atherosclerosis. As the result of these studies, Dr. Walton and his team identified a particular gene that may be a potential drug target in diabetes, atherosclerosis, and other diseases. This novel nanoparticle technology, used in conjunction with the delivery of molecules that reduce target gene expression, has been awarded a provisional patent.
Other Research Projects
- THI-affiliated physicians were among the first in the nation to begin implanting bioresorbable stents, in place of metal stents, as scaffolds to open blocked coronary arteries. Designed to disappear within six months to two years, these stents may prevent the inflammatory reaction that develops after time with metal stents. This method may also allow fuller coverage of blocked arteries in patients with more advanced disease.
- A minimally invasive option for aortic valve replacement is a procedure in which a catheter is inserted into an artery in the groin and advanced into the heart. A balloon at the end of the catheter, with a replacement valve folded around it, delivers the new valve to take place of the old one. Among THI physicians involved in this type of treatment are Drs. Ali Mortazavi, Neil Strickman, Zvonimir Krajcer, Ross Reul, David Ott, Guiherme Silva, David Fish, and Jose Diez.
- Structural heart disease, which includes any cardiac abnormality that interrupts normal blood flow, is a new subspecialty that has emerged over the last decade. Under the direction of Dr. Guilherme V. Silva, members of THI's Structural Heart Disease Program are working to develop new transcatheter therapies for treating a variety of conditions, including congenital defects, without open heart surgery.
- The TEXGEN Program, led by Drs. Willerson, Eric Boerwinkle, and A. J. Marian, continued to focus on delineating genetic factors and early markers that can identify individuals at risk for cardiovascular disease before clinical signs develop. In 2014, the TEXGEN group identified several novel genetic markers and other risk factors (eg, low vitamin D levels) associated with human heart failure. The researchers also secured federal funding for continuing these studies.
- Dr. Mohammad Madjid and his team continued their groundbreaking research concerning the link between influenza and heart disease. This team has proven the importance of influenza vaccines and antiviral medications for preventing heart attacks linked to the flu virus. Their research is reflected by new national guidelines that emphasize how important it is for high-risk populations to get influenza vaccinations. Team members have been invited to lead task forces for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association, and the American College of Cardiology and have received requests for multiple international collaborations. The program is currently expanding to include the study of different inflammatory biomarkers (proteins measured in the blood) for identifying patients with a particularly high risk of cardiovascular events. This work involves a database of several thousand subjects studied in a previously NIH-funded project.
- From January 1 through December 31, 2014, THI was awarded 15 new research grants and contracts totaling $6.2 million in funding over the life of the projects.
- Currently, THI has 72 active research projects.
- During 2014, THI's Continuing Medical Education (CME) website featured 68 online courses with CME credits. There were more than 215,000 page views, 136,000 visitors, and 2,490 online CME certificates awarded.
- THI sponsored 13 live CME symposia and 24 regularly scheduled series.
- The Scientific Publications Department edited 472 manuscripts and other materials that documented the important basic science and clinical research being done at THI; 372 manuscripts were published in scientific journals, and 146 more were accepted and are pending publication.
- The THI Journal continues to be published six times annually and includes articles about discoveries and advancements in cardiovascular medicine. The journal is distributed to 50,000 cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons in the United States and to other physicians worldwide. Its last printed issue was published in December 2013. In 2014, the journal changed to an online-only format. Past issues of the scientific bulletin Heart Watch are available in both English and Spanish on the THI website.
- In 2014, THI's Library and Learning Resource Center was accessed more than 22,000 times; reference and computer support was provided to more than 1,800 persons; over 260 mediated literature searches were performed; and more than 40 classes were offered.
Community Outreach & Education
- Under the medical direction of cardiologists Dr. Paolo Angelini and Dr. James Willerson, THI's Center for Coronary Artery Anomalies (CCAA) is performing an ongoing, large-scale study aimed at preventing sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the young. In the United States alone, one or two children per week succumb to SCD. Most of these children were born with high-risk heart defects that are hard to detect and may not cause symptoms until tragedy strikes. By focusing on prevention, the CCAA offers a higher level of protection than is afforded by current practices. It provides pre-participation certification examinations that are primarily based on a child's medical history and a simple, noninvasive screening study. The study takes about 30 minutes and includes electrocardiography and magnetic resonance imaging of the heart in a mobile imaging unit. With the cooperation of the Houston Independent School District and parents in the greater Houston area, the Center has screened, free of charge, thousands of middle- and high-school students—not just athletes—as part of a scientific study of SCD. The mobile imaging unit and the study itself have mostly been funded by a generous donation from the Kinder Foundation's Outreach Program.
- THI's Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health (WHC), under the direction of cardiologist, Dr. Stephanie Coulter, continues to focus on heart disease in women by addressing the significant gender gaps that exist in cardiovascular medicine, by educating women and the physicians who care for them, and by investigating the causes of excess cardiac risk in minority populations. The mission of the WHC is to reduce the devastating impact of heart and vascular disease on women through a coordinated program of education, research, treatment, and prevention strategies.
The Center is conducting unique research to identify and explain heart and vascular disease and health trends in the female community through the Houston Heart Reach for Women project (HHR). Participation is voluntary, requires consent, and is delivered at no cost to the participants. Since the Center's inception in 2010, more than 1200 individuals have participated in screenings at 21 health fair and clinic events. The WHC collaborates with established community service organizations to provide screening in underserved and underinsured communities. It has developed a cost-effective outreach model that can be implemented across the community for both men and women. These screenings are also an opportunity to share educational resources developed at THI, such as "Ask a Texas Heart Doctor" and the Project Heart K-6 online curriculum.
The WHC supported THI's educational charter in multiple ways and hosted the Fifth Annual Symposium on Risk, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease in Women. The symposium included nursing education credit hours and had a record number of attendees. Dr. Coulter and other members of the WHC Speakers Bureau, composed of volunteers from the THI professional staff, participated in 15 additional meetings and events throughout the community, including breakfast clubs, alumni meetings, and community center activities, reaching hundreds of women across the Houston area. The WHC also supported 10 additional WomenHeart Houston support group events in 2014. WomenHeart Houston provides peer-to-peer patient support and education for women with heart and vascular disease. It is the Texas Medical Center's only support group for such women.
Through the THI website, women from around the world can also access current comprehensive educational materials, including online assessment tools, "Know Your Numbers" information, e-newsletters, health news, and facts about other heart topics. These valuable resources empower women to take ownership of their cardiovascular health and live a heart-healthy lifestyle. To date, the WHC has published 34 monthly newsletter editions of "Straight Talk from Stephanie." These succinct messages from Dr. Coulter address topics related to women and heart disease and aim to separate fact from fiction. The WHC uses social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, to promote activities in the community and share Dr. Coulter's monthly newsletter.
- Throughout 2014, THI benefited from broad media exposure, with more than 400 "hits" in local, regional, national, and international outlets. These included feature stories on the BBC, the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and CNN;a segment filmed for CBS's 60 Minutes;and stories in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Houston Chronicle, Houston Business Journal, Business Week, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, San Antonio Express News, Business Week, U.S. News &World Report, London Spectator, Le Monde (Paris), Indian Economist, Australian Courier-Mail, Science magazine, Nature magazine, The Huffington Post, The Atlantic, and Forbes. THI also received publicity from National Public Radio, WCGS Radio (New York), MSNBC, CNBC, CNN Money.com, UNIVISION (New York), and various other national and international media.
- The THI website, www.texasheart.org, had more than 3.8 million unique visitors during 2014. Seventy-five percent of them visited the Heart Information Center, which features a reference library of 172 lay-oriented topics on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. This information is available in both English and Spanish. The Center also features educational programs for women (The Center for Women's Heart and Vascular Health) and for children (Project Heart). A question-and-answer forum ("Ask a Texas Heart Institute Doctor") is provided by 42 THI staff cardiologists, surgeons, and experts in pathology, nuclear medicine, pharmacology, and nutrition (see below). In 2014, THI was recognized nationally with an e-Healthcare Leadership Award for best Social Networking.
- In the past year, more than 273,000 visitors used the services of "Ask a Texas Heart Institute Doctor," which provided answers to more than 1,100 new questions. Since September 2009, this program answered 6,360 questions from 85 countries worldwide, including all 50 US states.
- 12 UT scientists and support staff work on collaborative research programs in space provided by the Texas Heart Institute on the 10th floor of The Denton A. Cooley Building.
- Members of UT faculty were principal investigators on grant funding to THI totaling $506,315, which was used to support research activities at THI directly or through subcontracts in 2011 (the most recent fiscal year financial reports). State funding, paid through UT Health to THI, totaled $2,446,643 in 2012.
- THI Research Compliance Programs maintain and foster the highest-quality standards for research conducted by dedicated professional and research staff affiliated with the Texas Heart Institute. The goals of the program are to ensure safety, quality, and strict adherence to applicable local and federal guidelines. Compliance Program personnel help investigators and research staff learn about and adhere to regulations; prepare timely reports; and maintain timely and accurate data. The program's effectiveness is measured by metrics related to compliance with regulations.
- THI received an unmodified (unqualified) opinion by its certified public accountants, McConnell &Jones LLP, for the most recent financial audit.