End of Network Report Disparities

For nearly 100 years, the American Heart Association has invested in fighting cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer worldwide

Research is the foundation of all aspects of the AHA’s work. Since 1949, the organization has invested more than $4.6 billion to spur scientific innovations that help people live longer, healthier lives. As science evolves, the AHA’s research has grown and evolved to keep pace.

In 2014, the AHA established the Strategically Focused Research Networks, a unique venture that brings together scientists from multiple institutions to study a common topic from different perspectives. Collaboration across disciplines helps create new ideas, approaches and knowledge. The AHA Board of Directors chooses the topic of each SFRN.

Because heart disease disproportionately impacts under-resourced communities, and under-represented racial and ethnic groups, the AHA committed $15 million to establish the Disparities in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Strategically Focused Research Network. This SFRN gave researchers the critical opportunity to explore complex questions about cardiovascular health as it relates to race and society.

The AHA awarded four Centers $3.7 million each for research beginning in 2015. They are:

  • Medical University of South Carolina, to study post-stroke recovery and disparities in the African American population.

  • Morehouse School of Medicine / Emory University, to target new ways of improving cardiovascular health by understanding the risk and resiliency among Blacks.

  • Northwestern University, to investigate whether phosphate-based additives found in processed foods contribute to racial and socioeconomic disparities in heart failure and chronic kidney disease.

  • University of Colorado Denver, to examine how racial discrimination and subsequent stress increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and health care disparities among urban American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Each Center was required to include a basic science, clinical science and population science research component. Other than that, “they were given free rein to come up with research that made sense for their group,” said Oversight Advisory Committee Chairperson, Cheryl Anderson, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S.

“This SFRN was all about giving scientists a broad opportunity to have a real impact on the disparities of cardiovascular health outcomes across racial and ethnic groups,” she said. “We wanted them to think about everything from genes to society – from the smallest molecular level all the way up to the biggest social construct – and to ask, ‘What are the things that get in the way of us all achieving equitable health outcomes?’”

Each Center designed a two-year research postdoctoral training program for three fellows. Those fellows created relationships with faculty across multiple disciplines, in their own institution and across all four Centers.

“Bringing different types of scientists to the table often gets much better results than if you bring together the same scientists who typically work together,” said Anderson. “There are so many strengths to the multi-disciplinary model. It created so many opportunities to improve cardiovascular outcomes and close the gaps."