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An Annual Learning Experience

AHA Blog

As adults in our 20s and 30s, after we leave college or graduate school, we will rarely find another opportunity where we are completely surrounded by other like-minded individuals with an incredible desire to learn. As unfortunate as it sounds, after spending a majority of our life learning, this daily education starts to dwindle. However, for the cardiovascular community, this thirst for knowledge and advancement never ceases to exist. In fact, it's a critical part of the job.

Since 1925, the American Heart Association (AHA) has been hosting its annual “Scientific Sessions,” a five-day program centered on bringing scientists and healthcare professionals together to learn about the latest research, developments, products and techniques in the field of cardiovascular medicine. At the industry's leading international conference, attendees hail from all over the world, including those from Italy, France, Denmark, China, Japan, and the United States, among many others.

This year, during the second week in November, nearly 20,000 cardiologists, medical students, nurses and industry professionals gathered at the AHA Scientific Sessions to converse, collaborate, educate and learn in Orlando, Fla. The world’s foremost cardiovascular clinicians, researchers and academics – many of whom from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania – presented studies, taught seminars, and attended symposiums.

Of the more than 900 sessions, some of this year's most impactful included the news that Google Life Sciences has teamed up with the AHA in a $50 million partnership that aims to understand, reverse and prevent coronary heart disease [read more].

“The announcement of the collaboration to fund a $50 million team was thrilling to hear,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, a professor of Medicine. “Perhaps a radically new approach to scientific discovery will uncover the secrets we need to fight the biggest killer of adults around the world-coronary heart disease.”

Another presentation of results from the SPRINT study showed that a more aggressive reduction in high blood pressure could significantly lower the rates of cardiovascular diseases and death. The SPRINT trial addressed an important issue, namely how aggressively we should treat systolic blood pressure (SBP) [read more].

“The current guidelines recommend keeping SBP below 140 but many have suspected, based on observational studies, that even lower would be better,” said Daniel J. Rader, MD, chair of the department of Genetics and the Seymour Gray Professor of Molecular Medicine. “This study showed that lowering SBP reduced overall mortality by a whopping 27 percent, and the study was stopped early as a result. These results make a compelling case for using combinations of blood pressure medications to more intensively lower SBP in persons at higher risk of cardiovascular disease. It is a landmark study that has clear implications, even a mandate, for incorporation into clinical practice.”

The Prevention of Cardiac Dysfunction during Adjuvant Breast Cancer Therapy (PRADA) study presentation, at which Penn Medicine's own Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE, an assistant professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, served as the discussant, also piqued the interest of many who remained at the conference on the final afternoon, and even got the attention of the Associated Press.

“The effects from PRADA on left ventricular ejection fraction were certainly modest, and it will be important to have the opportunity to see and analyze the primary, intention-to-treat analyses in print,” said Ky. “Long-term follow-up will also be absolutely critical to understand if these early small changes in cardiac function have any long-term impact. However, the study design and results are intriguing and highlight the important need for further advancements in this highly important field.”

In addition to these studies that garnered some of the bigger media hits, Penn Medicine researchers presented critical – and some controversial – data to their peers, continuing to showcase the pivotal work being done here in Philadelphia.

Advancements in resuscitation science were discussed, including a presentation given by Audrey L. Blewer, MPH, assistant director of Educational Programs in Penn's Center for Resuscitation Science, on the success of video-only CPR training without a manikin, which was covered by Medical News Today. The takeaway is that these devices may be a useful alternative to manual CPR, the researchers found.

There were also controversial findings on certain surgical approaches for treating mitral valve conditions. Detailed in a paper by senior author, Michael A. Acker, MD, chief of Cardiovascular Surgery, on mitral valve repair versus replacement for severe valve regurgitation, researchers found replacement to be the more durable treatment option. However during the panel Q&A, some suggested that repair may be the better option for certain patient groups.

Kenneth B. Margulies, MD, a professor of Medicine and research director for Heart Failure and Transplantation, also presented a study on the effectiveness of the diabetes drug liraglutide for the treatment of high-risk heart failure, which was covered by outlets including Cardiology Today and Medscape. However, results showed this alternative use of liraglutide to be ineffective in the treatment of heart failure.

While the topics of these studies, presentations and announcements varied greatly, there was one common thread across all of the sessions: the education, exploration and advancement of the field of cardiovascular medicine.

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Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

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