UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center awarded $11.5 million NIH grant to study cardiac neuromodulation to prevent lethal arrhythmias

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Kalyanam Shivkumar MD PhD, Director & Chief of Cardiovascular & Interventional Programs for UCLA Health, will lead a multidisciplinary team on a new $11.5 million NIH Program Project Grant (PPG) to study the ability of the nervous system to prevent fatal arrhythmias.

The grant, titled “Cardiac Neuromodulation: Mechanisms and Therapeutics,” includes project leaders Dr. Olujimi Ajijola at UCLA and Dr. Robert Harvey at University of Nevada, Reno. UCLA investigators on the grant include, Drs. Jeffrey Ardell and Zhilin Qu.

Image: Confocal image showing an experimentally created infarction and imaging of nerves
Image: Confocal image showing an experimentally created infarction and imaging of nerves

Decades of research shows that imbalance in the nervous system control of the heart contributes to the initiation of lethal arrhythmias. These arrhythmias are common and are thought be responsible for the vast majority of sudden cardiac deaths, which account for almost 12 million deaths per year worldwide. This is especially true after an initial injury to the heart, for example, a heart attack. This makes cardiac neuromodulation, the use of devices or other therapeutic approaches targeting the nervous system for cardiac benefit, an attractive option.

The multi-institutional National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant will investigate the use of Vagal Nerve Stimulation and other approaches to achieve cardiac neuromodulation with the aim of translating the approach to the clinical arena for patients with heart attack or heart failure.

“The UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center was created to provide exceptional patient care and perform cutting edge research that is needed to answer big questions about lethal arrhythmias,” said Shivkumar, study principal investigator, founding director of the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, and professor of Medicine (Cardiology), Radiology and Bioengineering. “This grant will enable us to build on a journey started in 2002 and which has fostered the careers of several physician scientists and scientists.”

The grant includes three interrelated research projects, with investigators focusing on such areas as the fundamental aspects of how nerves interface with heart tissue, ion channels affected by neurotransmitters and the effect of heart disease on triggering inflammation in neural structures involved in cardiac control.

“This effort promises to reveal fundamental insights into the progression of heart disease,” said Ajijola, associate director of the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center & Electrophysiology Programs.

“The support of the NHLBI for this scientifically important integrated effort by multiple teams is transformational” said Steven Dubinett MD, Dean of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

“We feel that understanding neural control and its modulation represents the next frontier in cardiovascular therapeutics,” said Shivkumar.

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