May 9, 2003

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Johns Hopkins Receives $24 Million from Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to Study Sudden Cardiac Death

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has been awarded a four-year, $24 million gift from the Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to establish a multidisciplinary center focused exclusively on reducing the rate of sudden cardiac death.

Scientists supported by the new Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at Johns Hopkins will aggressively pursue novel biological therapies, including stem cells, to prevent abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death in patients recovering from heart attack. They also will use modern imaging techniques to better define the functional, structural and metabolic features of the heart posing the greatest risk for life-threatening arrhythmias in post-heart attack patients. In addition, they will look to identify genetic and protein-related indicators of sudden cardiac death, and develop new methods to study genetic markers among patients at varying levels of risk for the condition.

The funding also will be used to support cardiovascular research training for fellows and junior faculty.

"Sudden cardiac death is ripe for a biological revolution," says Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D., director of the new Reynolds Center and professor of medicine. "If we can understand why specific patients have arrhythmias, we can target those patients for intensive therapy while sparing others. Therefore, treatment will become increasingly customized to the patient, based upon knowledge of the individual abnormalities underlying a person's risk for sudden death."

An estimated three to four million Americans with hardening of the arteries currently are candidates for implantable defibrillators, devices that shock the heart back to normal rhythm during electrical misfiring, says Marbán, the Michel Mirowski, M.D., Professor of Cardiology. Yet most patients with the devices will likely never need them, making this widespread treatment "economically impractical," he says.

"We now have powerful biological, genetic and epidemiological tools that will enable us to control and conquer sudden cardiac death as never before," says Myron L. "Mike" Weisfeldt, M.D., chairman of the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. "The Reynolds Foundation has made possible resources and the prospect of tremendous progress."

Marbán's research has focused on the molecular determinants of cardiac function and how it goes awry in disease states. He recently developed a biological pacemaker in an animal model of arrhythmia. Co-director of the center is cardiologist Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., who specializes in the heart's electrophysiology. Robert Weiss, M.D., an expert in cardiac imaging, and geneticist and computational biologist Aravinda Chakravarti, Ph.D., director of the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, are project leaders. Chakravarti is renowned for his studies of predisposing genetic factors in such common and complex human diseases as diabetes, heart disease and mental illness. Among his research interests are the development and use of methods to generate efficient genetic maps of complex traits and diseases in isolated human populations.

"With the support the Reynolds Foundation has provided, Johns Hopkins is well-positioned to make major scientific discoveries and train a new generation of clinical investigators," says Edward D. Miller, M.D., dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We are pleased to be a partner in the Reynolds Foundation's broad-based efforts to combat the devastating toll of heart disease."

Adds Johns Hopkins University President William R. Brody, M.D., "Sudden cardiac death remains a problem of major public health proportions. With this grant, our scientists will apply the full armamentarium of contemporary biology and population science to address this condition, which strikes some 460,000 Americans each year."

Johns Hopkins investigators will collaborate with those at three other cardiovascular clinical research centers established by the Reynolds Foundation, at Harvard Medical School and its affiliated Brigham & Women's Hospital, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Stanford University Medical Center.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Reynolds was the founder and principal owner of the Donrey Media Group, which he created in 1940 with the purchase of the Okmulgee Daily (Okla.) Times and the Southwest (Ark.) Times Record. During Reynolds' lifetime, he owned and operated more than 70 businesses, the majority of which were in the communications/media field. These holdings were primarily in the field of daily newspapers, outdoor advertising and cable television companies. Headquartered in Las Vegas, the foundation is one of the 50 largest private foundations in the United States.

With this grant, commitments to the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign total just over $1 billion, 50 percent of the $2 billion goal. Priorities of the fund-raising campaign, which benefits both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, include strengthening endowment for student aid and faculty support; advancing research, academic and clinical initiatives; and building and upgrading facilities on all campuses. The campaign began in July 2000 and is scheduled to end in 2007.

Weisfeldt is the William Osler Professor of Medicine, Chakravarti is the Henry J. Knott Professor of Medical Genetics and Miller is the Frances Watt Baker, M.D., and Lenox D. Baker Jr., M.D., Dean of the Medical Faculty.

Related Web sites:

Johns Hopkins - Division of Cardiology:
Institute for Molecular Cardiobiology at Johns Hopkins:
Donald W. Reynolds Foundation: