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Center for Women's Heart & Vascular Health - Research
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Women's Research & Training Program

The Women’s Research and Training Program at the Texas Heart Institute Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health is a collaborative research and training initiative launched in 2017 that promotes a rigorous and highly cooperative research environment focused specifically on women’s heart and vascular issues.

The program draws upon substantial basic, clinical and population research expertise at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine, while leveraging the strength of THI’s Women’s Center. The team includes Dr. James T. Willerson and Dr. Stephanie Coulter (Texas Heart Institute), Dr. Eric Boerwinkle (Dean UT School of Public Health), Dr. Biykem Bozkurt and Dr. Christie Ballantyne (Baylor College of Medicine), and Dr. Dianna Milewicz (UT Health Science Center).  

The overarching goal of the research is to learn more about non-coronary, non-atherosclerotic, non-inflammatory cardiovascular disease in women, with a particular emphasis on heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) and other diseases primarily affecting women such as fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD). The program will also provide training for physician-scientists who will continue to make discoveries to improve women’s cardiovascular health.

Through the development of gender-specific diagnostic, risk-assessment and preventive strategies for heart and vascular disease, we will improve survival and quality of life for women.

Leadership & Collaborators

James T. Willerson, MD
Texas Heart Institute

Stephanie Coulter, MD
Texas Heart Institute
Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health
Biykem Bozkurt, MD, PhD
Baylor College of Medicine

Eric Boerwinkle, PhD
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
School of Public Health
Christie Ballantyne, MD
Baylor College of Medicine
Dianna Milewicz, MD, PhD
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Program Contact: Keri Sprung, Texas Heart Institute, Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular

Current Projects

Vascular Disease and the Development of Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction in Women
(Principal Investigator - Christie Ballantyne, MD)
Currently there are no effective therapies to treat HFpEF, and thus, improved methods to identify individuals at high risk for development of heart failure and therapies to treat them to prevent heart failure are of paramount importance. This project will help to identify individuals who are at high risk for developing heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. The results will provide critical information to design a large outcomes study that will test if a novel therapy, which has been approved to lower blood sugar, can prevent heart failure in individual with diabetes and pre-diabetes who are at high risk.

Genomic Discoveries of Non-Atherosclerotic Vascular Disease Risk in Women
(Principal Investigator - Eric Boerwinkle, PhD)
This research project will address the overall question of whether genetic (inherited) factors are related to early onset stroke or arterial stiffness, which leads to heart failure in women. Dr. Boerwinkle and his team will investigate if epigenetic factors that can be influenced by environmental effects, such as smoking and identify genetic variation that could be used to improve risk prediction or aid in the identification of novel drug targets. The team will look for genetic signatures underlying non-atherosclerotic events and components that are directly related to heart disease and stroke risk. The hope is that this research will provide a more precise target for future intervention and a refined understanding of the causal link between genetics/epigenetics and non-ischemic vascular disease outcomes.

Smooth Muscle Cell Transcriptional and Epigenetic Changes in Fibromuscular Dysplasia
(Principal Investigator - Dianna Milewicz, MD, PhD)
Fibromuscular dysplasia is a poorly understood vascular disease that affects primarily women and causes hypertension and ischemic strokes. There is no treatment for fibromuscular dysplasia today and the etiology of the condition is poorly understood. Initial studies under Dr. Milewicz direction will provide the first insight into the molecular pathways leading to this condition and hopefully lead to new therapies for fibromuscular dysplasia to prevent strokes and other complications.

Women’s Vascular Research Fellowship
(Training Director - Biykem Bozkurt, MD, PhD)
The fellowship program is part of the Women’s Research and Training Program at the Texas Heart Institute’s Center for Women’s Heart & Vascular Health, and provides focused training in clinical, basic and translational research in cardiovascular health and disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment in women. One, non-accredited two-year fellow position is available each academic year.


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