Research Accomplishments

AHA $5 billion funded for research banner

Celebrating Our Research Investment 

Funding research is a cornerstone of the American Heart Association’s lifesaving mission and a key to our future. On July 1, 2022, the AHA reached a monumental milestone of more than $5 billion invested in scientific research. Since 1949, the AHA has made significant annual investments in research that include funding 15 Nobel Prize winning scientists, in addition to breakthroughs in cardiovascular and stroke discovery, translation, and clinical application through more than 47,000 projects. As the largest non-profit, non-governmental funder of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research in the U.S., this achievement can be measured in longer, healthier lives for untold individuals and families around the world.

Nobel Prize Winners

Fifteen investigators, who have received AHA-funding at some point in their careers, have won Nobel Prizes. Learn who they are and about the work that led to this achievement.

Women in Research

The AHA has a rich history of female leadership and participation in research, and supports their success by alleviating barriers and ensuring workplace equity.

A Lifesaving History Through Research

On June 10, 1924, a handful of pioneering physicians and social workers met in Chicago to form the American Heart Association, believing that scientific research could lead the way to better treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure. Here is a timeline showcasing research milestones throughout AHA's nearly 100 years of lifesaving history.

1915: Looking for answers

Nearly a decade before the formal creation of the American Heart Association, physicians and social workers convene to find more answers about the mysteries of heart disease

1924: American Heart Association is founded


Six cardiologists form the American Heart Association as a professional society for doctors. One of the founders, Dr. Paul Dudley White, described the early years as a time of “almost unbelievable ignorance” about heart disease.

1925: Scientific Sessions begins

1925The AHA holds its first Scientific Sessions meeting where scientists and healthcare professionals learn the latest developments. Held every year since, except during World War II, the gathering grows to become the largest annual cardiovascular meeting in the U.S. and a leading international destination for the cardiovascular health community.

1944: Saving the lives of 'blue babies'

Collaborating with pediatric cardiologist and future AHA President Helen Taussig, cardiac surgeon Alfred Blalock connects oxygen-rich and oxygen-deprived blood vessels in a child with Tetralogy of Fallot. With this heart defect, some oxygen-poor blood is pumped to the body instead of to the lungs due to a hole within the heart, leaving children with blue-tinted skin due to a chronic lack of oxygen. The so-called Blalock-Taussig bypass is lifesaving. Dr. Taussig went on to received four AHA grants between 1956 and 1964 to support her work.

1948: First funding for researchers

1948 GrantThe AHA awards its first research grant, to Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi, a 1937 Nobel Prize winner. He emigrated from communist Hungary to the U.S. the year before, where he set up a laboratory and continued his work on muscle research in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He also won an AHA grant in 1950. The grants help fund studies about the energy that muscles, such as the heart, need to contract.

1949: Research explores diuretics to help control blood pressure

Funding enables Dr. Alfred Farah to examine whether a group of chemical compounds work as diuretics. Diuretics, also called “water pills,” help rid the body of excess sodium and water. They are used to treat heart failure and help control blood pressure.

1950: New use for an old drug

Dr. William Schwartz receives AHA funding and discovers that sulfanilamide, a drug used to treat bacterial infections, acts as a diuretic in people with congestive heart failure. Diuretic, which help move extra fluid and salt out of the body, remain one of the best medicines for high blood pressure and heart failure.

1956: The AHA's first statement on smoking and heart disease

The AHA’s first statement on smoking and heart disease asserts, “Much greater knowledge is needed before conclusions can be drawn concerning possible relationships between tobacco smoking and increased death rates from coronary heart disease.” This is an early illustration that all research and AHA statements are based on conclusive evidence.

1956: A dietary fat - cholesterol link

Dr. Ancel Keys, supported with AHA funding, first links dietary fat with cholesterol. This discovery spurs the AHA to assume a leading role in urging Americans to change their eating habits.

1956: The power of electricity

For the first time in human medicine, an external defibrillator successfully restores a steady rhythm to a quivering heart. Dr. Paul Zoll leads the study with funding from the AHA. The next year, electrical engineers Dr. William Kouwenhoven and doctoral student Guy Knickerbocker unveil the first portable external defibrillator.

1957: First pacemaker implanted

The first battery-operated, wearable pacemaker is implanted in a patient. The research leading to this discovery, pioneered by Dr. William Weirich and funded by the AHA, led to the development of the fully implanted pacemakers used today.

1957: Blood pressure lowering drug discovered

Dr. Edward Freis, funded by the AHA, determines chlorothiazide is effective in reducing blood pressure.

1958: Helping blood flow

Radioactive potassium and rubidium are used to measure regional blood flow in research led by Leo A. Sapirstein, M.D., and supported by the AHA. The findings help advance knowledge of blood flow throughout the entire circulatory system. 

1958: Oxygen demand linked to chest pain from poor blood flow

Through his AHA-funded research, Dr. Louis N. Katz determines that the heart's demand for oxygen is specifically tied to blood flow to the heart muscle. The finding helps explain chest pain caused by inadequate blood flow through the arteries.

1960: First successful pacemaker surgeries reported

Dr William Chardack Dr. William Chardack reports the first successful surgeries for a completely implanted pacemaker. He is funded by the Erie County Division of the New York State Affiliate. Production of implantable pacemakers quickly gets underway.

1960: First artificial heart valve replacement

Heart Valve

Dr. Albert Starr performs the first long-term successful mitral valve replacement with a caged ball valve, ushering in a new era of valve replacement. He is supported in developing the artificial heart valve by the AHA and assisted by hydraulic engineer Lowell Edwards. The Starr-Edwards valve is still used today, along with other artificial heart valves.

1960: Specialized heart cells discovered

Dr. Brian Hoffman publishes a new account of specialized heart tissues that control cardiac excitability. His work is supported by the AHA.

1961: Saving hearts with CPR


Aided by AHA funding, Dr. William Kouwenhoven, Guy Knickerbocker and Dr. James Jude show how combining mouth-to-mouth breathing with chest compressions creates cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the lifesaving actions of CPR. We now know that immediate bystander CPR can double or triple the odds of surviving cardiac arrest.

1961: Pioneering microsurgery

Dr. Julius Jacobson performs surgery with the aid of a microscope. With AHA funding, he becomes a pioneer in microsurgery, which leads to advances in coronary artery surgery, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, limb reimplantation, gynecology, orthopedic surgery and tumor surgery. 

1964: AHA's first female career investigator grantee

Biochemist Mildred Cohn is the AHA's first female career investigator. She receives AHA support for the remainder of her research career. Her work contributed to the development of the MRI, one of the most sophisticated imaging methods used today.

1964: Imaging technique for diagnosing Myocardial disease

Dr. Richard Ross, aided by the Maryland Affiliate, measures myocardial blood flow using radioactive xenon. This improves diagnosis of patients with myocardial disease.

1965: Pediatric pioneer takes AHA reins

Dr. Helen Taussig becomes the first woman president of the American Heart Association. Taussig is considered the founder of pediatric cardiology, and with surgeon Dr. Alfred Blalock and laboratory technician Vivien Thomas, pioneered the "blue baby" operation that helped establish the field of pediatric cardiac surgery. She received four AHA grants between 1956 and 1964.

1966: Technique corrects heart defects in newborns

heart defects AHA funding leads to a technique developed by Dr. Willian Rashkind, known as the founder of interventional cardiology. The procedure to correct septal defects in newborns, demonstrates that major heart procedures can be performed through a catheter.


1966: 20-year study shows risks of blood pressure

Dr. Maurice Sokolow, who received AHA funding, announces the results of a 20-year study showing that hypertension can decrease life expectancy. The research also finds persistently elevated blood pressure increases the risk of complications, including heart enlargement and eye abnormalities. 1966: New option to treat heart disease

1966: New option to treat heart disease

William C. Elliott, MD, shows that isoproterenol improves the amount of blood pumped by the heart, providing a new treatment option for heart disease patients. He received AHA funding in 1962.

1968: Drug found to lower cholesterol

With AHA support, Dr. William Conner uses cholestyramine to lower blood cholesterol. Cholestyramine is among the various cholesterol-lowering drugs still used today. 

1971: A Nobel for cyclic AMP

Dr. Earl Sunderland

Dr. Earl Sutherland is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for earlier work identifying a molecule called cyclic AMP (or adenosine monophosphate). This small molecule is found inside cells and plays a central role in myriad cellular functions, contributing to disorders as diverse as heart failure and cancer. In 1967, he had received an AHA Career Investigatorship.




1971: The connection between kidneys and blood pressure

Funded by the AHA, Dr. Arthur Guyton provides evidence of the overriding dominance of the kidneys in long‐term regulation of blood pressure and in hypertension.


1985: Drs. Brown and Goldstein awarded Nobel Prize fundamental cholesterol findings

Drs. Joseph L. Goldstein and Michael S. Brown, both of whom received AHA support early in their careers, win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on the role of low-density lipoprotein receptors in controlling blood cholesterol levels. Their research provides new insights into the ways fatty cholesterol enters body cells and why cholesterol levels may become too high. (They won the 1984 AHA Research Achievement Award for the same cholesterol-related discovery.)

1986: Funding for the future

A partnership between the Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation and the AHA, leads to establishing the AHA-Bugher Foundation Centers for Molecular Biology in the Cardiovascular System. Using a $9.4 million contribution from the Bugher Foundation, the AHA administered six centers from 1986-96. About 120 clinically trained fellows learned molecular biology techniques through the efforts of the six centers. This success leads to later Bugher grant programs for the investigation, prevention and treatment of stroke. By 2023, gifts from the foundation to the AHA had exceeded $50 million.

1987: Statins get their start

The cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin is released into the market after the FDA approved its use in 1984. Scientists with research roots in the AHA made significant contributions to lovastatin testing.

1990: First drug approved for infants with heart, lung defects

Developed by AHA career investigator Dr. John Clements, Exosurf Neonatal, the first synthetic lung surfactant to treat respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is approved by the FDA. The syndrome is a life-threatening condition for premature infants with heart and lung defects.

1992: Drs. Krebs and Fischer awarded Nobel Prize for protein research

Drs. Edwin G. Krebs, and Edmond H. Fischer are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of how proteins are switched on to perform functions within cells  Dr. Krebs, whose research had funding support from the AHA, received the Association's Research Achievement Award in 1987.

1998: Nitric oxide findings yield Nobel Prize

Drs. Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their insights on nitric oxide, a gas that dilates blood vessels by relaxing their smooth muscles. Furchgott received AHA funding in 1952-54, and Ignarro was the 1998 recipient of the AHA’s Basic Research Prize. 


2001: Mechanical pump helps patients awaiting transplant

AHA-funded researcher Dr. Christine S. Moravec reports that mechanical pumps, called left ventricular assist devices, can reverse diminished heart muscle performance in people with heart failure who are awaiting transplantation. The study is among the first to look at recovery mechanisms that control the heart’s ability to contract during stress.

2003: Making stents more effective

The FDA approves the first drug-coated stent to keep blocked arteries open. Dr. Andrew R. Marks, a researcher funded by the AHA in the 1990s, developed the coating to release medication that prevents new blockages by inhibiting the growth of vascular smooth muscle cells at the stent site.

2003: Nobel Prize recognizes a fluid discovery

Nobel prize

AHA-funded researcher Dr. Peter Agre is co-awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins, proteins that govern the movement of water in and out of cells. His work leads to new research examining brain swelling after a stroke and water retention in heart failure. Dr. Agre received AHA Established Investigator funding from 1987-92.

2007: Nobel Prize for discovery in gene targeting

funded researcher

Dr. Mario Capecchi shares the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries in gene targeting. Gene targeting is used in research for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and other conditions. Dr. Capecchi received AHA Established Investigator Award funding from 1969-73.

2007: Funding and fats 

Funding from the AHA enables Dr. Stephen Young to identify a new molecule that may help regulate the delivery of fats to cells for energy and storage. The finding could lead to a better understanding of how we use fats from the foods we eat.

2008: Simpler CPR for bystanders


The AHA releases new recommendations that bystanders who are untrained, unwilling or unable can use Hands‐Only CPR to help an adult or teen who collapses suddenly, delaying rescue breaths until help arrives. The change reflects findings from multiple studies from Dr. Gordon Ewy and colleagues showing that uninterrupted, high-quality chest compressions without rescue breaths can be lifesaving in the first minutes of a sudden cardiac arrest.

2008: A glowing genetic tag earns Nobel Prize

Dr. Martin Chalfie shares the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing green fluorescent protein as a genetic tag to see inside living cells, including heart cells, to better understand how the cells are made and how they work. The AHA funded Chalfie earlier in his career with a British‐American Research Fellowship in 1977.  

2008: Spina Centers focus on results

The American Heart Association-Pharmaceutical Roundtable-David and Stevie Spina Outcomes Research Centers launches. The focus is on the results of healthcare interventions for people who have or are at risk for heart disease and stroke.

2009: Cardiac Myogenesis research centers launch

The American Heart Association-Jon Holden DeHaan Foundation Cardiac Myogenesis Research Centers of Excellence launches. The centers conduct studies to determine how regeneration of those cells can help improve outcomes for heart attack and heart failure patients.

2011: Nobel Prize awarded to Early AHA-Funded researcher

Dr. Ralph Steinman shares the 2011 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his discovery of how the immune system responds to infection. Steinman, whose work has provided critical insights in heart transplantation, received AHA funding as an established investigator in the 1980s

2012: AHA funded researcher awarded Nobel Prize

Dr. Robert Lefkowitz is co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors. These allow cells to sense and respond to internal and external signals, such as flavors, odor, light and danger. Such studies have been instrumental in developing more effective drugs to treat cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Dr. Lefkowitz received AHA research funding from 1973–1979, and won the 2009 AHA Research Achievement Award.

2013: Pressing for precision medicine

With $30 million in funding over five years, the AHA establishes the Cardiovascular Genome‐Phenome Study to accelerate groundbreaking research into personalized medicine. The project is an innovative collaborative among the AHA, Boston University and University of Mississippi Medical Center. Boston University is the academic coordinating center home of the Framingham Heart Study, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center is the coordinating center home of the Jackson Heart Study. The Jackson Heart Study also involves Jackson State University and Tougaloo College as partner institutions. The initiative becomes the AHA Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine.

2013: Government tobacco grants program launches

AHA receives a five-year $19.6 million grant as one of 14 Tobacco Centers Of Regulatory Science (TCORS) funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a part of an on-going interagency partnership. This leads to the formation of the AHA Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center (A-TRAC), constituted by the American Heart Association (AHA) and eight leading academic institutions to aid the development and evaluation of tobacco product regulation by the FDA and thereby contribute to the protection of public health and reduction of tobacco-related disease, disability and death.

2014: More research into children's hearts

heart disease

The Children's Heart Foundation (CHF) partners with the American Heart Association to establish the AHA/CHF Congenital Heart Defect Research Awards. A total of $22.5 million would be awarded to support investigators who are actively conducting basic, clinical, population or translational research directly related to congenital heart defects.

2016: A bold new research initiative

The AHA launches One Brave Idea™, an unprecedented research initiative awarding a total of $75 million to one team focused on a game-changing approach to combat heart disease. It’s funded by the AHA, Verily and AstraZeneca, with additional support in 2018 from Quest Diagnostics. In 2016, Dr. Calum MacRae is selected — from a pool of 349 applicants in 22 countries — to lead One Brave Idea. He was chosen for his vision to identify coronary heart disease at the earliest stages.

2019: AHA funded researcher wins Nobel Prize

Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University was co-awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovery of how cells sense and acclimate to oxygen availability, the mechanism for one of life’s most essential adaptive processes. Dr. Semenza has received five AHA research grants. The Association’s support of his now Nobel Prize-winning work on HIF-1 began in 1993.

2019: Countering the rise of e-cigarettes

funding initiative

The AHA unveils a multimillion-dollar initiative to discourage children and young adults from vaping. This includes nearly $17 million in grants to accelerate research on nicotine addiction among youth, plus research on cessation and a campaign called “Quit Lying” to call out false information promoted by the e-cigarette industry. Among the results is the 2022 Cardiopulmonary Consequences of Vaping in Adolescents: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association

2020: Pivoting for the pandemic

Decorative elementThe AHA quickly began work to ensure optimal care for coronavirus patients with cardiovascular disease, who have an increased risk for adverse outcomes with COVID-19. The result is OVID-19 Content: An AHA Compendium.. The site houses research-based resources for health systems, clinics, care providers, patients and the public, including the COVID-19 CVD Registry. Powered by the AHA’s Get With The Guidelines® hospital quality improvement program with data available on AHA’s secure Precision Medicine Platform, the registry rapidly improved knowledge transfer. In 2022, with more than 75,000 patients enrolled, 89 research proposals received and 21 papers published so far, registry achieved its objectives and remains open for data download.

2021: AHA Presidential Advisory Calls for Action on Structural Racism and Health Disparities

As part of the priority set in the AHA Presidential Advisory, the AHA committed $100 million over five years for new research initiatives focused on equitable health and programs that support diversity in the biomedical workforce pipeline. The commitment was exceeded in 2022 with research networks on Prevention of Hypertension, Disparities in Cardio-Oncology, Science of Diverse Enrollment in Clinical Trials and Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes.

2022: Systems change in rural health

The Association begins seeking proposals for $20 million in research projects for its Health Equity Research Network on Improving Access to Care and Other Health Inequities in Rural America.


2022: $5 Billion in Research Funding

AHA $5 billion funded for research banner The AHA reaches a milestone of more than $5 billion invested in over 47,000 scientific research projects since 1949, building upon our work as the largest nonprofit, nongovernmental funder of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular research in the U.S.

2023: Nobel Prize Awarded to Early AHA-Funded Researcher

Photo of Dr. Katalin Kariko (photo credit: Peggy Peterson Photography, courtesy Penn Medicine)Katalin Karikó, Ph.D., adjunct professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania, receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine alongside Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D., for their seminal studies into messenger RNA (mRNA), a molecule vital to developing the COVID-19 vaccine. In the 1990s, Dr. Karikó received two AHA grants that helped launch her career.
Photo credit: Peggy Peterson Photography, courtesy Penn Medicine


2024: Health and hope

Celebrating 100 years of saving and improving lives, the AHA launches new strategies to build on that success for the next century with this vision statement as its guide: Advancing health and hope for everyone, everywhere.