Prevention Narrative Report

Cardiovascular disease and stroke are the leading killers worldwide. Deaths from these diseases — and risk factors for them — disproportionately impact low-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities. The American Heart Association established the Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN) in 2014 to fund cardiovascular research that has the potential to improve the lives of women and men throughout the United States and the world.

Researchers routinely look to the AHA for these types of funding opportunities. The organization is the largest not-for-profit funder of cardiovascular disease and stroke research in the United States, investing over $4.5 billion in research since 1949.

The AHA committed $15 million to establish the Prevention SFRN, giving researchers a unique opportunity to pursue vexing questions about cardiovascular health. The four centers that received the awards are:

  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Northwestern University
  • UT Southwestern Medical Center; and
  • Vanderbilt University

Each center’s research focus included a basic science, clinical science and population science component. The goal was to bring together researchers from different disciplines to generate and accelerate important, novel ideas for cardiovascular prevention — and it did. The centers were funded from 2014 to 2018.

The funded research areas were unique yet complementary, with opportunities for collaboration that could extend beyond the AHA-funded period. The awards resulted in 170 published research papers.


  • Examined if lifestyle education programs with the potential to improve heart health could be targeted to preschool children and their parents and caregivers in under-resourced neighborhoods;
  • Explored whether declines in heart-health measures that occur from childhood to middle age could be reversed;
  • Investigated how salt causes tissue damage and results in high blood pressure;
  • And studied ways to prevent heart failure with preserved ejection fraction. This work has substantially changed how researchers will study the disease

Dr. Alan Go, who chaired the Prevention Strategically Focused Research Network Oversight Advisory Committee, noted how long it takes to get science into clinical practice.

“Part of that is because there aren’t systematic conversations by the people doing some of the most innovative science at the basic, clinical and population levels to recognize where those opportunities are to accelerate the translation from the lab to the patient and to the population,” he said. “A big part of the mission and the vision of these networks is to do that.”

Each center designed a research postdoctoral fellowship training program. These two-year fellowships allowed three young scientists at each center to build research relationships with faculty across multiple disciplines in their own institution and across all four centers.

“Cross collaboration was promoted at meetings of the four centers and at the AHA’s annual Scientific Sessions,” Go said. “This was an opportunity to invest in and build the next generation of cardiovascular researchers.