Top heart disease and stroke research advances in 2019

Medical professional looking through microscope

The American Heart Association identifies the year’s most impactful scientific discoveries

Scientific research is the cornerstone for medical care and innovations that have improved health and longer life for many. The American Heart Association, one of the top funders of heart- and stroke-related research worldwide, has compiled an annual list of major advances in heart disease and stroke science since 1996. Here are the biggest scientific victories achieved in 2019, grouped into 10 subject areas, as determined by the Association’s volunteer leadership.

“Numerous research findings in 2019 yielded critical new information that builds on our vast, existing knowledge of cardiovascular disease – unfortunately, the leading cause of death worldwide. Scientific research and discovery are essential to improving our understanding of the intricacies of how the heart supports, impacts and interacts with every other part of the body, thus improving health outcomes and reducing deaths due to cardiovascular disease,” said Mariell Jessup, M.D., the Association’s chief science and medical officer. “We are proud that since our founding in 1949, the American Heart Association has invested more than $4.5 billion – we are the largest not-for-profit funder of scientific research outside of the U.S. federal government. We remain steadfast in our commitment to innovations and advances through our various programs, including research funding and scientific publishing and education, that ultimately can lead to longer and healthier lives for millions.”

Understanding pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is a rare form of high blood pressure that occurs when vessels carrying blood from the heart to the lungs become hard and narrow. While this rare condition has recently become more common, new research this year has helped reveal how this disease works.

One study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that pulmonary hypertension patients had lower than normal levels of a protein known as BMP9. Researchers also noted that low levels of BMP9 may be a potential mechanism by which some people genetically inherit the disease.

Another study, published in the Association’s journal Circulation, explained how a gene that provides protein production instructions known as BOLA3 plays a crucial role in the disease, opening the door for potential therapies in the future.

Statins help children with inherited cholesterol problem

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a condition where people are born with high levels of LDL cholesterol, which can cause heart attacks starting at an early age. A long-term study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined if cholesterol-lowering statins help children with the condition. Researchers compared the cardiovascular outcomes over 20 years of 214 patients with familial hypercholesterolemia to their 156 parents and found that statin therapy beginning at a young age:

  • reduced incidence of cardiovascular events from 26% to 1% at age 39, and,
  • reduced death from cardiovascular causes from 7% to 1% at age 39.

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