The Dallas Heart Study
UT Southwestern Medical Center was awarded the first Donald W. Reynolds Foundation Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center in 1999 in a competitive process involving the top academic medical centers in the U.S. The centerpiece of this Research Center is the Dallas Heart Study (DHS), which is a multiethnic population-based study of 6,101 adults from Dallas County that was designed by Drs. Ronald Victor and Helen Hobbs.
The study is designed to combine the best features of laboratory and population-based research, and aims to:
- Identify new genetic, protein, and imaging biomarkers that can detect cardiovascular disease at its earliest stages, when prevention is most effective
- Identify social, behavioral, and environmental factors contributing to cardiovascular risk in our community, leading to improved community-based interventions
- Enhance our understanding of the biological basis of cardiovascular disease
Participants filled out a detailed health questionnaire including information on health beliefs and behaviors, donated blood and urine specimens for genetic and biomarker studies, and underwent extensive imaging studies of the heart, blood vessels, brain, bones, adipose tissue, and liver.
Participants from the original Dallas Heart Study have recently returned to UT Southwestern for a second detailed study visit. Information collected from this visit will allow investigators to study in great depth factors that contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease. The DHS participants continue to be followed for the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disease through annual surveys and collaboration with hospitals in the DFW metroplex.
Since its inception, laboratory and clinical investigators have worked together to take observations made in the DHS into the laboratory, and to take discoveries made in the laboratory to the general population, thus enhancing the translation of discoveries into new therapies.
James de Lemos, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, calls the DHS, “one of the most significant medical events of the past decade in the DFW Metroplex, and perhaps the most far-reaching.” Dr. De Lemos continues, “The early results of this study are transforming cardiovascular risk factor identification and management . . . and leading to better prevention of heart disease for individuals in the Metroplex and beyond.”
In keeping with its original mandate, the study has made fundamental contributions to the prevention and treatment of heart disease, leading to the publication of over 100 papers in leading medical journals. Some of the major findings include:
- Use of novel genetic research tools to demonstrate that moderate lowering of cholesterol beginning at a young age is a much more powerful way to prevent heart disease and its complications than the current strategy of waiting until middle age or later to begin treatment. This finding will have an important impact on future cholesterol treatment guidelines.
- The discovery of a new therapeutic target for cholesterol-lowering drugs that is being actively pursued by all major pharmaceutical companies.
- The identification of barriers to the treatment of high blood pressure and the development of new strategies to treat high blood pressure more effectively in the community.
- The discovery of a novel DNA sequence variation that increases the risk of having a heart attack and acts independently from all known risk factors. A test for this new gene variant is now commercially available.
- The identification of new target populations for the efficient application of cardiovascular imaging tests.
- The discovery of a new biomarker that predicts the probability of developing heart disease or dying from cardiac causes more powerfully than traditional risk factors or C-reactive protein.
Opportunity for Research and Collaboration
“The DHS provides a resource for the greater scientific community, and especially the UT Southwestern faculty and research trainees,” says Helen Hobbs, M.D., the Director of the DHS. Interested investigators need to write a short proposal that summaries the hypothesis to be tested and the data requested.