The American Heart Association and Northwestern Medicine—An Ever-Strengthening Partnership

On Tuesday, May 9, the Northwestern Medicine community welcomed leadership from the American Heart Association (AHA) for what has become an annual celebration of a longstanding beneficent partnership. In 2016, the AHA provided more than $3.3 million in cardiovascular research funding to investigators at Northwestern. This is the sixth year in a row that the funding amount has been over $1 million, and it continues to grow.

“This evening celebrates the incredible interdigitating of the AHA and Northwestern Medicine,” said Clyde W. Yancy, MD, MSc, who is the Magerstadt Professor and chief of Cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s remarkable to see how Northwestern Medicine has melded with the AHA to impact the arc of heart disease, as well as endorse the mission of the AHA through research, leadership, and community involvement.”

Northwestern University is the number one recipient of funding from the AHA in the Midwest region and is one of the top five recipients among institutions nationally. This partnership has led Northwestern Medicine scientists, clinicians, and surgeons to become nationally recognized leaders in their fields.

“You would be hard-pressed to find another partnership as strong, robust, and impactful as that between Northwestern Medicine and the AHA,” said Brian Shields, executive director of the AHA in Chicago.

The AHA is a 93-year-old institution. Since its founding, the organization has funded more than $4 billion in research—making it the nation’s top funder besides the United States Federal Government. Over its years of advancing groundbreaking research across the country, the AHA has supported 38 Nobel Laureates.

Funding from the American Heart Association Impacts Real-Time Research

Event attendees heard from several Feinberg scientists whose work has benefitted from the generosity of the AHA, including Norrina Bai Allen, PhD, MPH, FAHA, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology, and Sanjiv J. Shah, MD, professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology.

Dr. Allen and her team are hoping to better identify children who are most likely to experience rapid declines in health so that future prevention efforts can be targeted to help them achieve and maintain ideal cardiovascular health throughout their lives. They are doing this with the data from five prospective childhood/early adulthood cohorts that track trajectories in cardiovascular health from ages 8 through 55.

“Through this collaborative and interdisciplinary study, we are learning how to prevent heart disease earlier—something we could not have done without the AHA,” said Dr. Allen.

“The AHA is so unique because they seek out areas of study with unmet needs, often affecting underrepresented communities,” said Dr. Shah. “They find these places where there are gaps in scientific knowledge, and then fund new discovery.”

In his work, Dr. Shah seeks to better understand why women are more likely than men to develop a specific type of heart failure in which the heart muscle squeezes normally but is abnormally stiff. In these cases, other organs such as the lung, kidney, and skeletal muscles do not function properly, outcomes are poor, and therapeutic options are few.

A Partnership that Extends to Volunteerism

In addition to the AHA’s valued philanthropy, Northwestern Medicine and the American Heart Association have a tradition of working together to provide leadership in cardiovascular medicine nationally. A number of faculty members are volunteers and have provided volunteer service to AHA.

Robert O. Bonow, MD, who is the Max and Lilly Goldberg Distinguished Professor of Cardiology at Northwestern, is a past national president of the AHA, and Neil J. Stone, MD, who is the Robert Bonow, MD, Professor at Northwestern, is a past AHA national Physician of the Year. Dr. Yancy has held both of these prestigious titles.

Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, Eileen M. Foell Professor and chair of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern, is the current Midwest affiliate president of the AHA. Dr. Lloyd-Jones also serves as senior associate dean for Clinical and Translational Research at Feinberg and director of the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute.

“The AHA is a remarkable organization to volunteer for—they do great work in far-reaching communities,” said Dr. Lloyd-Jones. 

“You would be hard-pressed to find another partnership as strong, robust, and impactful as that between Northwestern Medicine and the AHA.”

- Brian Shields, executive director of the AHA in Chicago