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AHA Funded Research Milestones

1940 - Present


Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1937 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine, receives the first AHA-supported research grant. The $25,000 grant covers equipment and staff salaries. Szent-Gyorgyi receives a second grant (for $10,000) in 1949. Both grants are awarded to enable him to do fundamental studies on muscle energetics.

With national AHA support, Dr. Alfred Farah examines the influence of sulfahydryl compounds as diuretics. The next year, Dr. William Schwartz, also receiving national funding, finds sulfanilamide can act as a diuretic. Diuretics help treat congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.


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

Dr. Paul Zoll, aided by the Massachusetts Affiliate, publishes the first report of the successful ending of ventricular fibrillation in humans by externally applied countershock.


Dr. William Wierich, assisted by support from the Minnesota Affiliate and joined by Drs. Vincent Gott and Walter Lillehei, implants the first externally powered pacemaker in a patient with a surgical heart blockage.

Dr. Edward Freis, funded by the Nation's Capital Affiliate and the National Center, determines that cholorothiazide, taken alone or with other anti-hypertensive drugs, is effective in reducing blood pressure.


Dr. Lewis Sapirstein, supported by the AHA Central Ohio Heart Chapter, uses radioactive potassium and rubidium to measure regional blood flow. This helps advance knowledge of blood flow throughout the entire circulatory system.

Dr. Louis Katz determines the relationship between the oxygen demands of the myocardium and coronary blood flow, increasing the understanding of the pain of coronary insufficiency. He received national research program support.


Dr. William Chardack reports surgery for a completely implanted pacemaker. He is funded by the Erie County Division of the New York State Affiliate.

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 was supported in developing the artificial heart valve by the Oregon Affiliate and assisted by engineer Lowell Edwards.

Dr. Brian Hoffman publishes a new account of the specialized heart tissues controlling cardiac excitability. He received national research program support.


Drs. William Kouwenhoven, James Jude and Guy Knickerbocker, with support from the Maryland Affiliate, report in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the application of external cardiac massage (CPR) on 118 patients.

Dr. Julius Jacobsen, with funding from the Vermont Affiliate, begins performing surgery with the aid of a microscope. Microsurgery ultimately leads to changes in coronary artery surgery, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, gynecology, limb reimplantation, and orthopedic and tumor surgery.


American Heart Association chooses biochemist Mildred Cohn as its first female career investigator. This honor provided research funding for the remaining 14 years of her research career.  She overcame religious and sex discrimination to advance the study of metabolic processes -- research that contributed to the development of medical technologies like magnetic resonance imaging.  Dr. Cohn's honors included the National Medal of Science, the first woman appointed to the editorial board of The Journal of Biological Chemistry, and the first woman to become president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. She worked in laboratories or wrote papers with six Nobel laureates. She was also inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

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


In a project funded by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Heart Association, Dr. William Rashkind develops transeptal balloon septostomy, a procedure to correct septal defects.

Dr. Maurice Sokolow, who received national funding, announces the results of a 20-year study showing hypertension can decrease life-expectancy and that higher average daily blood pressure increases the complications of hypertension.

Dr. William Elliott shows that isoproterenol improves cardiac output in selected patients, providing a new means of treatment. He received national research program support.


With national support, Dr. William Conner employs cholestyramine to lower cholesterol in the blood.


Dr. Earl Sutherland is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for identifying cyclic AMP as the intra-cellular messenger. In 1967 he had received a Career Investigatorship through the national research program.

Dr. Arthur Guyton provides evidence of the overriding dominance of the kidneys in long-term regulation of blood pressure and in hypertension. He was funded by the National Research Program.


Drs. Joseph Goldstein and Michael Brown, sponsored by the AHA in 1972, 1973 and 1975, are awarded 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.


Dr. John Clements, an AHA Career Investigator since 1964, receives U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an artificial surfactant called Exosurf Neonatal, which counteracts Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a common cause of death for premature infants.

Dr. Andrew R. Marks' earlier basic research on calcium channel function provided preliminary data for the understanding of how the drug-eluting stent would work.  The arterial stent has been a major medical advance for treating blockages.  To address the complication of re-blocking of the artery caused by the cells from the blood vessel growing on the stent, Dr. Marks coats the stents with a couple of drugs, one being Rapamycin.  Since 1986, Dr. Marks received seven AHA awards for a total of $1,217,296.84.


Dr. Edwin Krebs, along with Dr. Edmond Fischer, is 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 was supported in part by the AHA, had received the association's Research Achievement Award in 1987.


Three Americans were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of nitric oxide -- a colorless gas that makes blood vessels dilate by relaxing the vessels' smooth muscles. The AHA funded one of the awardees, Dr. Robert Furchgott, from 1952-54. The AHA selected another of the Nobel Prize winners, Louis Ignarro, as the 1998 recipient of the AHA's Basic Research Prize presented at the AHA's 71st Annual Scientific Sessions.


Dr. Peter Agre is awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins, proteins that govern the movement of water in and out of cells.  Dr. Agre received American Heart Association Established Investigator funding from 1987-92.


Dr. Mario Capecchi is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries in gene targeting. Dr. Capecchi received American Heart Association Established Investigator Award funding from 1969–73.


Dr. Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Prize recipient in Chemistry, received the British-American Research Fellowship from the American Heart Association in 1977. This fellowship gave U.S. postdocs access to training in Great Britain and British postdocs access to training in the United States. Dr. Chalfie's AHA-funded work used a fluorescence technique. Subsequently, Dr. Chalfie developed (by the mid-90's) green fluorescent protein (GFP), a visualization technique that has had a huge impact on our understanding of cellular structure and function of many cell types, including heart cells.


Ralph Steinman, MD, recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of dendritic cells and their role in adaptive immunology. In the 1970’s, Steinman discovered the immune system's sentinel dendritic cells and showed that these cells, along with other parts of the immune system, could activate what is known as “adaptive immunity,” to help curb infections and to develop immunologic memory for protection in the future. The basic insights provided by his work have also been critical in the field of cardiac (or organ, including heart and lung) transplantation. Dr. Steinman’s research on dendritic cells and transplant biology was supported via an AHA Established Investigator award from 1980-1985.


Robert Lefkowitz, MD, co-recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors, which allow the body’s cells to sense and respond to internal and external signals, such as flavors, odor, light and danger. Studies of this kind have been instrumental in the development of more effective drugs to treat cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Dr. Lefkowitz, the James B. Duke Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, received research funding from the association from 1973 to 1979, and in 2009 won our Research Achievement Award for his transformative discoveries of cellular receptors, seminal findings that have created a cascade of biomedical innovation leading to more effective treatments for human disease.