End of Network Report GRFW

For nearly 100 years, the American Heart Association has been dedicated to funding research into cardiovascular disease, which is a leading cause of death worldwide and the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.

An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease, and 90% have one or more risk factors for developing associated conditions. Despite this, however, many lifestyle, genetic and physical factors are not yet fully understood, and women often present with symptoms distinct from male patients.

To further investigate these disparities and explore preventive measures, the American Heart Association — the largest not-for-profit funder of cardiovascular disease and stroke research in the U.S. — focused on women’s cardiovascular health for its recent Strategically Focused Research Network. These networks were established in 2014 to fund research, with $20 million provided for the Go Red For Women SFRN launched in 2016 through funding from longtime donor Sarah Ross Soter and Bill Soter, with support from the AHA.

Five centers across the U.S. were chosen along with 17 fellows as researchers completed basic, clinical and population studies while promoting cross-collaboration and supporting the work of trainees. The projects focused on a range of topics addressing women’s cardiovascular health and risk factors, including heart failure, pregnancy, sedentary behavior, sleep and stress.

The AHA awarded 3.7 million to each of the following five institutions:

  • Columbia University Irving Medical Center studied how sleep patterns, especially inadequate sleep, contributed to nutritional habits and disease, particularly in older and post-menopausal women.

  • Johns Hopkins Medicine researched the differences and higher incidence of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction in older women as opposed to men, monitoring a variety of factors including heart wall thickness, enzyme function and hormones.

  • Magee-Womens Research Institute investigated how pregnancy affects women’s cardiovascular health and future risk of hypertensive disorder, heart disease, stroke and other conditions — whether or not these issues were present before or during labor and delivery.

  • New York University School of Medicine investigated coronary heart disease differences between male and female patients, who often suffer heart attacks despite presenting with non-obstructed arteries.

  • University of California, San Diego explored the harmful effects and how to combat sedentary lifestyle patterns among older female members of the Latina community, trialing different types of educational and behavioral interventions.

Researchers published more than 200 papers after recruiting patients, analyzing data and pursuing unique lines of investigation into risk factors, trends and therapies involving heart disease in women. Fellows and their mentors also presented study goals and findings to conferences and universities across the country.

“Heart disease in women, across the spectrum of heart disease, has been understudied,” said Oversight Advisory Committee Chairperson Kristin Newby, M.D. “This network studied everything from heart failure in women who basically have normally functioning hearts — what we call heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, it’s much more common in women, very difficult to treat, few treatment options but particularly relevant to women — to diseases of pregnancy, which are unique to women and have numerous downstream health consequences from hypertension to delayed future cardiovascular disease; to coronary disease, which is the most common cause of death in Americans overall but presents differently in women both at a symptom level and also at an anatomic level.”

The Go Red for Women SFRN, she said, “really covered the waterfront of heart disease in women at a level of depth that I don’t think has been done to this point.