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Atrial-Fibrillation.jpg


Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a heart rhythm disorder characterized by irregular heartbeats in the heart’s upper chambers, called the atria. In AFib, the electrical signals that regulate the heartbeat become abnormal, causing the heart to beat too fast or slow instead of contracting normally. Atrial fibrillation can have detrimental effects such as stroke, heart failure, and blood clots. 


Image Credit: cdc.gov


As a result of the irregular heart beatings, a variety of symptoms can be present such as:

  • Palpitations (fluttering, pounding, or rapid sensation)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness / lightheaded
  • Chest pain

In some cases, people with AFib may not experience any symptoms, making it difficult for some people to tell whether or not they may have AFib.  

Some broader symptoms can include:

  • Abrupt weight gain
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Fainting
  • Nausea and appetite loss
  • Depression

Sometimes even these broader symptoms can not help people determine if they have AFib. The only way for people to know if they have AFib without experiencing any symptoms is to get tested and diagnosed by a doctor. It is strongly recommended that if a person has any of the risk factors below, they get checked, just to be safe, by a doctor. 

AFib is often seen in older adults, with risk factors that include:

  • History of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Advancing age
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart failure
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Smoking or excessive alcohol use

Some treatments are more effective when delivered in the early stages of AFib, which means that a person should not postpone getting checked by a doctor for AFib. However, symptoms and causes of AFib can often differ between men and women. In women, AFib usually is caused by problems with the heart valves. Compared to men, where AFib usually stems from coronary artery disease (CAD). As a result, women with AFib have a greater chance of having a stroke than men with AFib. Women with AFib also are more likely to have heart attacks and congestive heart failure than men with AFib. As a result, treatments for men and women often differ slightly. 

Treatment for AFib is typically a medication to control heart rhythm and prevent blood clots. However, in some cases, procedures such as electrical cardioversion, ablation, or implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator may be necessary. Men with AFib are often placed on non-drug therapies such as pacemakers and catheter ablation. Women with AFib are more likely to have a cardioversion and be prescribed antiarrhythmic medications such as dofetilide. However, typical treatments for both men and women include blood-thinning medications, surgery, and lifestyle changes to manage AFib risk factors. 

Written by: Sofia H. Davila, Clinical Researcher


Sources:

Miller, K. (2022, December 27). Atrial fibrillation: The difference between men and women. Healthgrades. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/atrial-fibrillation/atrial-fibrillation-the-difference-between-men-and-women 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, October 14). Atrial fibrillation. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 17, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/atrial_fibrillation.htm


Love.jpg

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In the 1990’s the philosopher Haddaway posed a critical question: What is love? This Valentine’s Day, many of us will experience love and companionship. We like to think of love as an amorphous, idealistic quality, but there are serious biological underpinnings. What is the biology behind love, and is the heart really where love lies (spoiler: maybe?)

We know that the brain directs our physical actions, but for the brain to come up with an idea, it needs input from the outside world. Interestingly, the brain can’t sense anything directly. If someone were to open up your skull and have a poke around, you would undoubtedly have a weird bit of sensation, but you wouldn’t experience the feeling of touch on the brain. We need special sensors (usually located on the skin) to feel things like touch. Indeed, our brain relies on signals coming in from all over the body to tell us about the outside world. Interestingly, we also rely on signals to tell us about the inside world – what we are experiencing. The brain interprets signals from the body, and we can experience that interpretation as an emotion.

As an example: your heart beats automatically all day, every day, at a hopefully regular interval of around once a second. When you see a scary event, such as a wild lion charging you, your brain and body respond in sync. The heart rhythm changes, beating much faster to provide your muscles, sensory organs, brain, etc., extra oxygen in order to move fast. But this effect isn’t strictly rational. After we escape from the lion, we still feel “amped up.” This effect can last for thirty minutes or so, and the reason for the long-lasting effect is complicated. Our autonomic nervous system – the one in charge of things we don’t consciously control – has kicked into action. This pathway acts like cupid, shooting cortisol through our body and activating special nervous system pathways that take a while to cool down. But our brain also looks at the state of our body to interpret our emotional state. If our palms are sweaty, we’re breathing heavily, and our heart is racing, the brain interprets that as being amped up and decides we’re still pretty excited or scared. The brain is in charge of deciphering which emotion we’re feeling, but the body lets us know how strongly we’re feeling that emotion.

This is why we sometimes still feel the need to continue an argument after the other party has conceded. It’s why telling someone to “calm down” doesn’t work – but taking some deep breaths does. Meditation, stretching, exercise, and sleep all affect our emotional state because the brain looks at the condition of the body and tries to figure out how it’s feeling. In addition, a healthy heart that can respond well to changes may increase a person’s emotional regulation. Does it do this with love as well?

According to neuroendocrinology researcher Robert Sapolsky, it does! The science may not be entirely clear, but the easiest way to be certain of this is by looking at the irrationality of love. Love doesn’t make sense, and it’s so strong that we base enormous portions of our life just on this single emotion. Love is the basis of countless pieces of art, works of literature, grand buildings, and justifications for war. When we experience love – that fluttering of the heart, the excitement and elation, the involuntary smile on our face, and the giddiness so high that our mouths stop working and we say embarrassing, cheesy things – it’s the body to blame. Our heart races when we’re in love and the brain sees this as a huge exciting event – because it is. Just seeing the person we love can change our heart rate. Physical touch from a loving partner can help lower our heart rate in response to stressful situations. And the long-term effects of companionship sometimes include a partial synchronization of our heart rhythms.

We can thank our hearts for at least some of what we call love. This Valentine’s day, get your heart racing with a partner or loved one, and keep that heart beating strong!

By Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Ditzen, B., Neumann, I. D., Bodenmann, G., von Dawans, B., Turner, R. A., Ehlert, U., & Heinrichs, M. (2007). Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32(5), 565-574. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2007.03.011

Kandel, E. R., Schwartz, J. H., Jessell, T. M., Siegelbaum, S., Hudspeth, A. J., & Mack, S. (Eds.). (2000). Principles of neural science (Vol. 4, p. 980). New York: McGraw-hill.

Mather, M., & Thayer, J. F. (2018). How heart rate variability affects emotion regulation brain networks. Current opinion in behavioral sciences, 19, 98-104.

Sapolsky, RM. (various works)


Smoking.jpg

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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States. There are several risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This can include things you can’t change, such as sex, age, and genetics. They can also include things you can change. The WHO identifies four big behaviors that can change your risk of developing CVD:

  • Poor diet
  • Low exercise
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking

These behaviors generally lead to other undesirable indicators of health, including obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar, and increased cholesterol. Clearly, ceasing the behavioral risks is a high priority. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done.

One of the most difficult habits to quit is smoking. Studies show that those attempting to quit without assistance have an over 90% relapse rate. Several medications exist to help quit smoking, including Bupropion SR (aka Wellbutrin) and Varenicline (aka Chantix). There are also nicotine-based alternatives, including gum, inhalers, lozenges, nasal sprays, and patches.  Nicotine rewires the brain as it’s consumed. It releases dopamine, the brain’s reward drug, and rewards us for smoking. Researchers think the frequency of smoking may be partially to blame for the intensity of the addiction. The amount of dopamine released is not particularly high compared with other drugs, but nicotine also causes changes to the striatum. The striatum is part of the reward circuit in the brain. Through a complicated mechanism, nicotine increases the amount of a protein called FosB, which changes the striatum’s sensitivity to dopamine. This is a change at the genetic level which makes the brain more susceptible to further reward signals. Nicotine seems to make normal activities more pleasurable. Unfortunately, as nicotine adjusts the brain’s mechanisms, the brain relies on it to get to a baseline of reward. Upon quitting smoking, the brain finds normal activities less enjoyable.

On its own, nicotine may have negative effects, and in heavy doses it has been shown to be dangerous. The biggest dangers of smoking, however, are likely in the myriad of other chemicals in tobacco and cigarettes. Though nicotine causes changes in the brain, cigarettes cause changes to the fats in your body, further increasing CVD risk. Along with this, cigarettes cause cancer, COPD, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and immune system changes. Clearly, quitting smoking is critical to health. With the addictive nature of nicotine and the low success rate of quitting cold turkey, assistance may be needed. 

The brain gets addicted to nicotine, but we can fight back using behavior. You can actually help yourself “break the cycle” of nicotine addiction by changing your daily routines. For example if the first thing you do in the morning is reach for a cigarette, change your routine to going to the bathroom and brushing your teeth first instead. Behavioral interventions can make a significant difference. Combining behavior changes and counseling with a nicotine replacement or medication can help quit rates approach 30%. Indeed, nicotine replacements are most effective when used with behavioral interventions. 

Changing your behavior or routine can have positive impacts on your health. So next time you want to reach for a cigarette, grab your phone instead! Give us a call and discover what clinical trials you can take part in!



Sources:

Bancej, C., O’Loughlin, J., Platt, R. W., Paradis, G., & Gervais, A. (2007). Smoking cessation attempts among adolescent smokers: a systematic review of prevalence studies. Tobacco control, 16(6), e8-e8. https://doi.org/10.1136%2Ftc.2006.018853

Fiore, M. (2008). Treating tobacco use and dependence; 2008 guideline. https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/6964/cdc_6964_DS1.pdf

Garbin, U., Fratta Pasini, A., Stranieri, C., Cominacini, M., Pasini, A., Manfro, S., … & Cominacini, L. (2009). Cigarette smoking blocks the protective expression of Nrf2/ARE pathway in peripheral mononuclear cells of young heavy smokers favouring inflammation. PloS one, 4(12), e8225. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0008225

Koren, M. (Host). (2022, May 22). Nicotine replacement therapies to help stop smoking  [Audio podcast episode]. In Medevidence! Truth behind the data. ENCORE Research Group. https://www.buzzsprout.com/1926091/10484183-nicotine-replacement-therapies-to-help-stop-smoking

Messner, B., & Bernhard, D. (2014). Smoking and cardiovascular disease: mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction and early atherogenesis. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular biology, 34(3), 509-515. https://doi.org/10.1161/ATVBAHA.113.300156

NIDA. (2018, September 28). Recent Research Sheds New Light on Why Nicotine is So Addictive. https://nida.nih.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2018/09/recent-research-sheds-new-light-why-nicotine-so-addictive

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress: a report of the Surgeon General. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK294320/


atrial-fibrillation-afib.jpg

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The familiar wub-dub of the heart accompanies us throughout our lives, providing a gentle beat that keeps us alive. But for some of us, the beat might not be so steady. For 33 million people worldwide, the heartbeat lacks a rhythm at all. It sounds like shoes in a clothes dryer and gets progressively worse. This is called Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib for short. The risks of AFib increase with age, and there is a genetic component as well. Other risk factors include:

  • Heart failure
  • Ischemic (low blood flow) heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sleep Apnea

In order for AFib to occur, doctors believe there needs to be a trigger and a substrate. A trigger, or driver, is the electric signal that travels to the heart and initiates an arrhythmic event. This can be from several areas, but is frequently from one of the big pulmonary veins that carry oxygen to the heart. A substrate is the underlying condition that makes a sustained event possible and could be structural or electrical. Common substrates include the electrical system of the heart, dilation (or stretching) of the atrium, cellular-molecular changes, and/or an increase in disruptive cells called fibroblasts. In general, many or all of these changes would occur, leading to constant AFib.

AFib is very dangerous. Other than a wonky pulse, there are three major complications: heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction (a heart attack). Heart failure is when the heart can’t pump enough blood, while stroke and myocardial infarction can be caused by stray blood clots. Heart failure is both a risk and a symptom, which illustrates one way in which AFib is a progressive disease. Through complicated electric and biocellular mechanisms, long term AFib seems to cause more AFib.

Treating AFib has proven difficult. It is effective to treat the underlying risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes, but this is difficult and the actual cause of AFib isn’t always clear. Controlling the rhythm of the heart is also tough and risky, as messing with heart rhythm can easily lead to big problems. Atrial fibrillation ablation is an effective treatment. It is an intensive surgical procedure where doctors scar problem areas to reduce electrical activity. Even with this method, the risk of resurgence is over 30% after 5 years.

Two of the biggest complications of AFib are related to blood clots. Because of this – and the difficulty of other treatments – major pharmaceuticals often target thromboembolisms, or clots. The clotting system itself is very complicated. A simple version is that platelets activate and produce several enzymes. These enzymes make thrombin, which makes a big mesh-like protein called fibrin. This would be a slow process, except that thrombin also activates amplifier enzymes, which makes this process very fast. The fibrin then catches red blood cells and blocks wounds – or blood vessels. When these clots travel to the brain they can cause a stroke. When they restrict blood flow to the heart they can cause a myocardial infarction – a heart attack.

Classic anticoagulants, such as Warfarin (also called Jantoven and Coumadin) work by stopping the clots before they start. These are Vitamin K dependent anticoagulants and can be effective at reducing clots. Unfortunately, they are occasionally too effective. The biggest side effect of Vitamin K dependent anticoagulants is increased bleeding. This can be a serious problem for several patients, including high-risk older patients. 

Doctors are investigating new classes of medications which do not depend on vitamin K. These are called Non-vitamin K oral anticoagulants (NOACs) and some target the amplification pathway of clotting instead. There are  currently four FDA-approved NOAC drugs on the market; dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apixaban (Eliquis), and edoxaban (Savaysa). Thrombin and fibrin still get produced and some clotting can occur, but the rapid amplification is shut down. The hope is that this can allow the body to repair trauma and stop external bleeds without building internal clots from AFib. With your help and participation in clinical trials, we can push science without pushing clots.

By Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources:

Iwasaki, Y. K., Nishida, K., Kato, T., & Nattel, S. (2011). Atrial fibrillation pathophysiology: implications for management. Circulation, 124(20), 2264-2274. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.111.019893

Wijesurendra, R. S., & Casadei, B. (2019). Mechanisms of atrial fibrillation. Heart, 105(24), 1860-1867. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/heartjnl-2018-314267

Vann, M. R. (May 10, 2013) The Sound of an Afib Heartbeat. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/sound-of-afib-heartbeat.aspx


Heart-Failure.jpg

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When EMTs arrive on the scene of an emergency, they have to remember their ABCs. These are Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. The absolute top priority for any patient is to ensure they have an open airway to breathe, that air is entering the lungs, and that the heart is pumping blood to the brain and other organs. This is also the most important thing our body does in daily life as well. We can go weeks without food, days without water, hours without ice cream, and minutes without oxygen.

In order to get oxygen from the lungs to our brain and organs, we rely on one of the most remarkable organs in our body: the heart. The heart pumps automatically, nonstop, 24/7, from womb to grave. It consists of four chambers, two on top, and two on the bottom. Each heartbeat pulls blood into the top two chambers and pumps it out of the bottom two. The bottom two are more muscular and do the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the heart can deteriorate and lead to heart failure. 

Heart failure is a condition where the heart can’t pump well enough to deliver oxygen to the organs effectively. The heart is still pumping, but organs are not receiving enough oxygen to function. This is not good. Heart failure affects over six million Americans and ten times as many people worldwide. Risk factors for heart failure include:

  • Heart disease, including Coronary Artery Disease
  • High Blood pressure
  • Tobacco
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Heart failure has several signs and symptoms. Some of the most consistent are edema and shortness of breath. Edema is fluid trapped in the body’s tissues and most often pools in the lower extremities and the abdomen. Shortness of breath is due to the heart failing to deliver enough oxygen. This is particularly prevalent when trying to do activities or when lying down. Shortness of breath can keep patients from exercising or sleeping, which only exacerbates problems. Patients who have limited exercise in their routine may not be aware of progressive difficulty, masking this important symptom.

Other symptoms can be broad and nonspecific. They include:

  • Sudden weight gain
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Lightheadedness and fainting
  • Depression
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Irregular heartbeat, high pulse, and palpitations
  • Fatigue

If you have heart failure and find yourself experiencing several of these conditions simultaneously, especially with edema and shortness of breath, we urge you to contact your physician immediately. Additionally, you may want to keep track of your level of fatigue because this symptom increases as the heart failure progresses. The excellent news is that new and exciting monitoring devices are currently being developed to help patients manage their heart failure and determine if their condition is deteriorating.

Check out clinical research options available to you with ENCORE Research Group on our enrolling studies page. 

By Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources:

Albert, N., Trochelman, K., Li, J., & Lin, S. (2010). Signs and symptoms of heart failure: are you asking the right questions?. American Journal of Critical Care, 19(5), 443-452. https://doi.org/ajcc2009314

Groenewegen, A., Rutten, F. H., Mosterd, A., & Hoes, A. W. (2020). Epidemiology of heart failure. European journal of heart failure, 22(8), 1342-1356. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejhf.1858

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (October 14, 2022). Heart failure  https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_failure.htm


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Heart failure is quite frankly, a terrifying sounding condition. It is severe, but not as immediately drastic as it sounds. Put simply, heart failure is when the heart fails to pump as much blood as the body will need long-term. The heart works like a balloon, filling with blood and contracting to pump it out. Ejection fraction is a term used to describe the amount of blood pumped out compared with the total the heart can hold. In a normal heart, 50-70% of blood is ejected with each heartbeat. When this amount falls below 40%, a person has a reduced Ejection Fraction (the rEF of HFrEF). This is a serious condition.

The heart pumps blood to every cell in the body. This is how cells receive oxygen and nutrients, and how they get rid of waste products. Without enough blood, cells suffocate. Oxygen isn’t reaching cells and the brain interprets this as being short of breath. Common symptoms of HFrEF include:

  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing, especially when lying down or sleeping
  • Inability to exercise
  • Ankle swelling

Inside the body, doctors can also look for diagnostic markers. These may include structural changes to the heart and increased natriuretic peptides. Natriuretic peptides are hormones that regulate the amount of salt and water in the blood. They act as vasodilators, opening blood vessels which can be helpful in compensating for heart failure. The body attempts to compensate for the loss of oxygen and nutrients in the blood in many ways, but long term the body has trouble sustaining with heart failure.

Who is at risk of developing HFrEF? Unfortunately, it is more prevalent in the United States than almost anywhere else, affecting 6.5 million Americans each year. Risk factors include age, being male, obesity, and smoking. Additionally, other medical conditions increase your risk of developing Heart Failure with reduced Ejection Fraction. Previous heart attacks, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension are some associated conditions. All told, HFrEF leads to around a million hospitalizations every year, and being hospitalized for HFrEF comes with a low 5-year survival rate.

What can be done? There are several methods of dealing with a reduced ejection fraction. Some methods treat symptoms, such as diuretics, and others can help reduce mortality, such as beta-blockers. There are several other medications and even some implantable devices that can help with HFrEF. These can help improve your ejection fraction or health outcomes but are not yet a silver bullet. New medications with increased outcomes and fewer side effects are entering clinical trials and may help with the underlying condition. To learn more about current heart failure research options, call our office today.

Written by Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Bloom, M. W., Greenberg, B., Jaarsma, T., Januzzi, J. L., Lam, C. S., Maggioni, A. P., … & Butler, J. (2017). Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. Nature reviews Disease primers, 3(1), 1-19. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrdp201758

Martinez-Rumayor, A., Richards, A. M., Burnett, J. C., & Januzzi Jr, J. L. (2008). Biology of the natriuretic peptides. The American journal of cardiology, 101(3), S3-S8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2007.11.012

Murphy, S. P., Ibrahim, N. E., & Januzzi, J. L. (2020). Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction: a review. Jama, 324(5), 488-504. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.10262


Diet-and-Exercise-May-Not-Be-Able-to-Help-With-This-Inherited-Cardiovascular-Risk-Factor.jpg


If someone in your family had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 60, you could be at risk and might want to have your blood tested for this little-known hereditary risk factor, Lp(a). Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Determining and reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease is critical. 

Lipoprotein(a), also called Lp(a), pronounced “LP Little a” is a particularly dangerous culprit.  Its levels are controlled by a single gene, and a single genetic variation in this gene is enough to drastically change Lp(a) levels. Unfortunately, since it is genetically determined, diet, exercise, and lifestyle have little or no effect on Lp(a) levels. High Lp(a) can contribute to several cardiovascular conditions. These include a two to three times increase in the risk of developing:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Peripheral heart disease
  • Aortic valve stenosis
  • Ischemic stroke

Lp(a) has been referred to as the evil twin of the more familiar LDL (bad) cholesterol and is a triple threat because it is:

  1. Pro-atherogenic:  higher risk fatty deposits in the walls of arteries
  2. Pro-thrombotic:  promotes blood clots
  3. Pro-inflammatory:  inflammation is an important risk of cardiovascular disease

There are two methods of measuring Lp(a).  The most common method of measuring Lp(a) is by mass, in mg/dL. Measuring how many individual particles, regardless of size, is another method and is measured in nmol/L. It is important to know which method was used when understanding your numbers. If you have never had your Lp(a) level checked, we offer Lp(a) testing to our ENCORE community for those who pre-qualify (call for details). 

Currently, there are no approved therapies to lower Lp(a) levels and reduce one’s risk.  However, three exciting therapies are currently being studied in clinical trials at ENCORE Research Group sites across Florida. The good news is that because of clinical research and your involvement, we have new treatments for elevated Lp(a) on the horizon!

Written by Benton Lowey-Ball, BS Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources:

Kamstrup, P. R. (2021). Lipoprotein (a) and cardiovascular disease. Clinical chemistry, 67(1), 154-166. https://doi.org/10.1093/clinchem/hvaa247

Miksenas, H., Januzzi, J. L., & Natarajan, P. (2021). Lipoprotein (a) and cardiovascular diseases. JAMA, 326(4), 352-353. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.3632

Health.harvard.edu

Amgenscience.com


The-Fight-Against-Hypertension.jpg

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Hypertension is one of the most prevalent conditions on the planet. Scientists estimate that it affects 30-45% of adults, somewhere over a billion people! Hypertension is the chronic elevation of blood pressure. The CDC defines it as above 130 mmHg systolic or above 80 mmHg diastolic. For short periods of time, elevated blood pressure can be useful – for exercise, say. People can have high blood pressure for years without symptoms. For long periods of time, however, hypertension is deadly serious. Unfortunately, living with high blood pressure can lead to a host of problems. Hypertension can lead to heart attack and stroke, and damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, and even eyes!       

Everyone is at risk of high blood pressure. In America, men have a higher likelihood of hypertension. There are also differences in ethnicity and race, non-Hispanic Black or African American adults are at the highest risk. Unfortunately, even the lowest risk categories still have around a 40% prevalence of high blood pressure. Clearly this is a large issue in America and around the world.           

The big culprit behind hypertension is the Renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS). RAAS is a critical system for maintaining blood pressure. It regulates two primary factors: the amount of blood and how constricted blood vessels are. It does this through the kidney, liver, and adrenal gland (just above the kidneys). In response to body signals, the kidneys release an enzyme to the liver. In response, the liver produces the hormone angiotensin I. Another enzyme, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) converts this to angiotensin II, which goes to work.  

Angiotensin II has wide-ranging effects to increase sodium and water retention. It also causes blood vessels to constrict. Angiotensin II is very short-lived, only lasting 1-2 minutes. One of its many effects is to get the adrenal gland to produce aldosterone. Aldosterone has similar effects as angiotensin II, but instead of a few minutes, it takes hours or days to take effect. The end result is that two major hormones – one fast-acting and one slow-acting – cause high blood pressure.          

There are many medications available to fight hypertension. Most of these, such as diuretics or beta-blockers, have wide-ranging side effects. This is because they are system-wide, indiscriminate actors on the body. Beta-blockers, for instance, slow the heart. This is helpful in lowering blood pressure but obviously leads to other effects on the body. RAAS-acting specific medications may be more helpful in combating hypertension with minimal side effects. ACE inhibitors, for instance, stop the fast-acting angiotensin II from having its effect on the body. This targeted approach to hypertension can lead to fewer side effects in some patients. Unfortunately, by acting on only the fast-acting portion of RAAS, they must be taken daily. Even worse, a few missed doses can have longer-term effects on blood pressure. Luckily, researchers are investigating other targeted methods of reducing the effect of RAAS, and blood pressure! Keep an eye out for a clinical research study to help investigate this exciting part of the fight against hypertension.

Written by: Benton Lowey-Ball, B.S. Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources

Fountain, J. H., & Lappin, S. L. (2017). Physiology, renin angiotensin system.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. (September 27, 2027). Facts about hypertension. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm


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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Though there are several types of heart disease, one of the main ways the heart actually dies is through congestive heart failure, when the heart fails to pump effectively. Ineffective pumping causes blood and other fluids to build up throughout the body. Eventually, the fluid buildup may keep the heart from functioning at all, a condition called acute decompensated heart failure. This is an emergency condition, and without rapid medical treatment quickly leads to death. Fortunately, with early intervention, several patients can recover – at least temporarily. Clearly, one of the keys to saving people is early intervention.

The vocal cords and lungs may be affected by congestive heart failure. As these fill with fluid, there are changes in how the voice sounds. These changes are difficult for people to hear, but technology might be able to help out. One type of technology looking to tackle the topic is a deep neural network called HearO.

Deep neural networks are a subset of artificial intelligence. These systems learn how to make predictions from examples. The HearO system, made by the company Cardio Medical, analyzed the voices of people with congestive heart failure. The system learned by comparing people’s voices while they were “wet” (fluid-filled while in the hospital) and “dry” (after hospital treatment and discharge). Using this, the system learned to detect voice differences in the severity of the condition.

The HearO system has now been packaged as a smartphone app. Patients talk into the app every day and it compares their voice to itself. It scans for changes that indicate a fluid build-up (and danger!). The hope is that HearO will help detect changes in the voice before acute decompensated heart failure occurs. Clinical trials are currently underway to test the HearO’s effectiveness and some of our ENCORE Research Group sites are enrolling for this. 

Written by: Benton Lowey-Ball, B.S. Behavioral Neuroscience



Sources:

Amir, O., Abraham, W. T., Azzam, Z. S., Berger, G., Anker, S. D., Pinney, S. P., … & Edelman, E. R. (2022). Remote speech analysis in the evaluation of hospitalized patients with acute decompensated heart failure. Heart Failure, 10(1), 41-49.

Brooks, M. (2015, December 15). Smartphone app could give voice to congestion in heart failure. Medscape. https://www.cordio-med.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/smartphone-app-could-give-voice-to-congestionin-heart-failure.pdf

Tomov, N. S., & Tomov, S. (2018). On deep neural networks for detecting heart disease. arXiv preprint arXiv:1808.07168.




MedEvidence! Radio is a monthly live broadcast from WSOS 103.9 FM / 1170 AM with Kevin Geddings and Dr. Michael Koren. This month’s MedEvidence Radio discusses Damar Hamlin’s cardiac event during a football game on January 2, 2023.

We will dive into the following:
🩺 Commotio cordis
🩺 Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
🩺 Atrial Fibrillation
❤️ Cardiovascular Health
🔬 Clinical Research Trials

Dr. Michael Koren is a practicing cardiologist and CEO at ENCORE Research Group. He has been the principal investigator of 2000+ clinical trials while being published in the most prestigious medical journals.  Dr. Koren received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine with a fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.  On a personal note, Dr. Koren has a lifelong interest in history, technology, Public Health, and music. He has written two musical plays.


Listen to the full episode here:


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Healthy eating and exercise can help with not only your waistline but also cardiometabolic health. Carrying around extra fat can negatively affect your whole body; some areas of concern include the liver, heart, and joints. Although many people can maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine to keep the weight off, some folks need extra help with medication.

The liver is the largest organ inside your body and is integral in filtering harmful substances from your blood. When too much fat builds up in your liver, this is called fatty liver disease. This can progress to damaging and scarring of the liver. The scaring can ultimately lead to liver failure. Lifestyle changes, like healthy eating and exercise, are currently the only treatments for fatty liver disease, although many clinical trials are currently looking for a safe and effective therapy.

Heart disease remains the world’s leading killer. While extra fat itself does not directly cause heart attacks, it leads to other causes that can. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes are among those that build up plaque in the arteries leading to heart attacks. ENCORE Research Group offices have many clinical trials in these areas!

Being overweight can affect your joints by raising your risk of developing osteoarthritis. The extra weight puts additional stress on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, which can cause additional wear and tear. Additionally, inflammation associated with weight gain might contribute to problems in other joints such as the hands.

For the folks who need more than just a healthy diet and exercise to help with medical conditions, the good news is that many new cutting-edge treatments are being studied and are available to you. Call your local ENCORE Research Group office today to get involved in our research trials.

Sources:
heathline.com
health.clevelandclinic.org
health.harvard.edu


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February 20, 2022 BlogCardiovascular

How Do You Know If You Have High Blood Pressure?

The truth is, you don’t. The only way to really know if you have high blood pressure is by getting your blood pressure checked regularly. High blood pressure or hypertension (HTN) is known as the “silent killer” because it causes sudden heart attacks or strokes resulting in serious injury or possibly death with no warning.

The Effects of Hypertension 

HTN causes more than just heart attacks and strokes. Prolonged HTN can cause serious illnesses such as:

  • Kidney Disease — HTN may cause damage to the arteries surrounding the kidney. The damage can affect the kidney’s ability to filter blood efficiently. 
  • Heart failure — Heart failure occurs when the heart has to work harder to supply blood to the body, and HTN can cause extra work for the heart. 
  • Loss of Vision HTN can strain or damage blood vessels in the eyes.
  • Sexual Dysfunction — HTN can lead to erectile dysfunction in men or lower libido in women. 
  • Angina — Over time, HTN can lead to heart disease or microvascular disease (MVD). Angina, or chest pain, is a common symptom.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) — Atherosclerosis caused by high blood pressure can cause a narrowing of arteries in the legs, arms, stomach, and head, causing pain or fatigue.

How to Prevent a Visit from the “Silent Killer.”

One way to decrease your risk of heart disease from HTN is to know your numbers. Below is a chart from the American Heart Association that accurately details healthy vs. unhealthy blood pressure numbers.

The second way is to be aware of your risk. 

There are many risk factors for HTN and being aware of them can give you the knowledge to make healthy changes. 

  • Diet — Diet plays a considerable role in elevated blood pressure levels. Diets high in salty, fatty, and processed food increase your blood pressure, causing HTN. A good diet would be one that is high in vegetables, fruits, and lean meats.
  • Physical Activity — Regular physical activity improves blood circulation and decreases your risk for HTN. 
  • Alcohol and tobacco use — Excessive alcohol and tobacco use can cause HTN and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

Other risk factors that you need to be aware of but are out of your control are:

  • Family history 
  • Age
  • Gender 
  • Race 

Overcome Hypertension 

How can you overcome hypertension? One way is to talk with your doctor about any medications or specific lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk. Another way is to participate in clinical trials. Clinical trials are a great tool to get to know your health more, receive one-on-one quality attention from a medical professional, and access to the latest therapies that are not currently on the market. ENCORE Research Group is currently enrolling in studies for hypertension.  If you or someone you know would like to participate, please call 904-730-0166 or visit encoredocs.com.





Dr.’s Michael Koren and Dennis Leahy wrap up the MedEvidence Lipoprotein A series by exploring Lp(a) clinical trial treatments. Dr. Leahy shares his personal clinical research experience and platform for encouraging everyone to have their LP(a) blood work drawn. Tune in to learn more about this lesser-known condition, possible treatment options, and the future of Lp(a).

Dr. Dennis Leahy is a retired interventional cardiologist living in San Diego. He received his education from Princeton University and Columbia University and his residency at the University of California. In addition to enjoying the opportunity to surf and golf, he has maintained a personal and professional interest in Lipoprotein A research and treatment.

Michael J. Koren, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and Chief Executive Officer at Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, which conducts clinical trials at 7 locations in Florida. He received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.

He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, fellow and two-time president of the Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research, and the regional chapter of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Koren has served as an Investigator in over 2,000 trials and as the international lead investigator for many multi-centered trials, including ALLIANCE, ROLE, TREAT to TARGET, OSLER, and MENDEL studies. He has written and co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and been published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren has also designed a research training course for physicians, now in its 20th year.


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!








Continuing with Part 3 of Dr.’s Michael Koren and Dennis Leahy discussion on MedEvidence exploring Lipoprotein A treatments. Dr. Leahy shares his personal experience with Lp(a), and the duo delves into cutting-edge treatments and research. Tune in to learn more about this lesser known condition and possible treatment options.

Dr. Dennis Leahy is a retired interventional cardiologist living in San Diego. He received his education from Princeton University and Columbia University and his residency at the University of California. In addition to enjoying the opportunity to surf and golf, he has maintained a personal and professional interest in Lipoprotein A research and treatment.

Michael J. Koren, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and Chief Executive Officer at Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, which conducts clinical trials at 7 locations in Florida. He received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.

He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, fellow and two-time president of the Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research, and the regional chapter of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Koren has served as an Investigator in over 2,000 trials and as the international lead investigator for many multi-centered trials, including ALLIANCE, ROLE, TREAT to TARGET, OSLER, and MENDEL studies. He has written and co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and been published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren has also designed a research training course for physicians, now in its 20th year.


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!








Dr.’s Michael Koren and Dennis Leahy, cardiovascular specialists, continue with part 2 in a 4 part series of MedEvidence exploring Lipoprotein A, also know as Lp(a). Dr. Leahy shares his personal experience with Lp(a), and the duo delves into cutting-edge strategies for managing this risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So, tune in to learn more about this lesser known condition and possible treatment options.

Dr. Dennis Leahy is a retired interventional cardiologist living in San Diego. He received his education from Princeton University and Columbia University and his residency at the University of California. In addition to enjoying the opportunity to surf and golf, he has maintained a personal and professional interest in Lipoprotein A research and treatment.

Michael J. Koren, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and Chief Executive Officer at Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, which conducts clinical trials at 7 locations in Florida. He received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.

He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, fellow and two-time president of the Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research, and the regional chapter of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Koren has served as an Investigator in over 2,000 trials and as the international lead investigator for many multi-centered trials, including ALLIANCE, ROLE, TREAT to TARGET, OSLER, and MENDEL studies. He has written and co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and been published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren has also designed a research training course for physicians, now in its 20th year.


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!








Join Dr.’s Michael Koren and Dennis Leahy, cardiovascular specialists, in a 4 part series of MedEvidence exploring Lipoprotein a, also known as Lp(a). Dr. Leahy shares his personal experience with LP(a), and the duo delves into cutting-edge strategies for managing this risk factor for cardiovascular disease. So, tune in to learn more about this lesser-known condition and possible treatment options.

Dr. Dennis Leahy is a retired interventional cardiologist living in San Diego. He received his education from Princeton University and Columbia University and his residency at the University of California. In addition to enjoying the opportunity to surf and golf, he has maintained a personal and professional interest in Lipoprotein A research and treatment.

Michael J. Koren, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and Chief Executive Officer at Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, which conducts clinical trials at 7 locations in Florida. He received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.

He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, fellow and two-time president of the Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research, and the regional chapter of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Koren has served as an Investigator in over 2,000 trials and as the international lead investigator for many multi-centered trials, including ALLIANCE, ROLE, TREAT to TARGET, OSLER, and MENDEL studies. He has written and co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and been published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren has also designed a research training course for physicians, now in its 20th year.


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!







In honor of American Heart Month,  Dr. Michael Koren was on the SCRS Talks podcast to share his top tips for heart health. Dr. Koren also explores how cardiovascular research and treatment have progressed over the past several years and some exciting new learnings for this vital therapeutic area.

Michael J. Koren, MD, is a practicing cardiologist and Chief Executive Officer at Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, which conducts clinical trials at 7 locations in Florida. He received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital/Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/Cornell Medical Center.

He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, fellow and two-time president of the Academy of Physicians in Clinical Research, and the regional chapter of the American Heart Association.

Dr. Koren has served as an Investigator in over 2,000 trials and as the international lead investigator for many multi-centered trials, including ALLIANCE, ROLE, TREAT to TARGET, OSLER, and MENDEL studies. He has written and co-authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and been published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren has also designed a research training course for physicians, now in its 20th year.

On a personal note, Dr. Koren developed a lifelong interest in technology and Public Health during his time at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Harvard School of Public Health. He also loves music. He has written two musical plays.






Dr. Michael Koren sits down with his middle school buddy, Mick LaSalle, a well-known film critic, to discuss changes in the direction of medicine & media. Their “Staten Island humor” is evident as they talk about how the media markets medicine from aspirin to covid, what the media says vs. what the medical data proves.

Dr. Michael Koren is a practicing cardiologist and CEO at ENCORE Research Group. He has been the principal investigator of 2000+ clinical trials while being published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine with a fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital / Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/ Cornell Medical Center.

Mick LaSalle, film critic for The San Francisco Chronicle and former on-air film critic for the ABC-TV affiliate in San Francisco, KGO. He is the author of Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood (2000), Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man (2002); The Beauty of the Real: What Hollywood Can Learn from Contemporary French Actresses (2012); and Dream State: California in the Movies (2021).  With Leba Hertz, he hosted the Mick LaSalle podcast between 2005 and 2010. He wrote and co-produced the Complicated Women documentary for Turner Classic Movies, which Jane Fonda narrated. He has also written introductions to several books, including The Enduring Star, Peter Cowie’s biography of Joan Crawford (Rizzoli, 2009). He met Dr. Michael Koren in Middle School during the 1970s.


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!







Wrapping up this month’s MedEvidence! podcast series on “What to do after a Heart Attack or Stroke?”  Doctors, Michael Koren and Albert Lopez, DO discuss treatments, medications, and clinical research you need to know as a post-heart event patient.

You will learn:

  • Treatment therapies to use after a heart attack or stroke
  • What is Lp(a)
  • Male vs Female Symptoms
  • Cardiovascular Disease Research

Dr. Michael Koren, is a practicing cardiologist and CEO at ENCORE Research Group. He has been the principal investigator of 2000+ clinical trials while being published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine with a fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital / Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/ Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Albert Lopez, DO practices Internal Medicine with Millennium Physician Group in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also a Principal Investigator with ENCORE Research Group specializing in lipid clinical trials. Dr. Lopez, DO completed his residency at the University of Pennsylvania and his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Miami, Florida. He is known as one of the earliest evidence-based physicians in Jacksonville utilizing nutrition and lifestyle for disease prevention.
I believe in “N” of one” because “N of one” is about the patient. If it is not about the patient, then it is about nothing. – Dr. Albert Lopez, DO


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!





This month’s MedEvidence! podcast is a three-part series on “What to do after a Heart Attack or Stroke?” In the first MedEvidence segment we established that people who have had either a heart attack or stroke have a high risk for a repeat procedure or event. We also discussed knowing who’s on your Heart Health Team, PCP, specialist, and family. What’s abnormal, normal, and what to do when symptoms last greater than 20 minutes? In this 15-minute episode, Doctors, Michael Koren and Albert Lopez DO discuss the Risk Factors You Need to know for your heart health.

You will learn:

      • What modifiable risk factors are
      • What non-modifiable risk factors are
      •  What you can do to help your risk factors
      • How clinical trials and research find other drug benefits
      • How to be involved in a clinical trial

Dr. Michael Koren, is a practicing cardiologist and CEO at ENCORE Research Group. He has been the principal investigator of 2000+ clinical trials while being published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine with a fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital / Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/ Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Albert Lopez, DO practices Internal Medicine with Millennium Physician Group in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also a Principal Investigator with ENCORE Research Group specializing in lipid clinical trials. Dr. Lopez, DO completed his residency at the University of Pennsylvania and his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Miami, Florida. He is known as one of the earliest evidence-based physicians in Jacksonville utilizing nutrition and lifestyle for disease prevention.
I believe in “N” of one” because “N of one” is about the patient. If it is not about the patient, then it is about nothing. – Dr. Albert Lopez, DO


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!





This MedEvidence! podcast is a three-part series on “What to do after a Heart Attack or Stroke?” In this episode, Doctors, Michael Koren and Albert Lopez, DO help you identify your heart health team.

You will learn:

    • Who do I call if I think I’m having a heart attack?
    • What are my risks for another event?
    • How can my family help?
    • How to find a clinical trial

Dr. Michael Koren, is a practicing cardiologist and CEO at ENCORE Research Group. He has been the principal investigator of 2000+ clinical trials while being published in the most prestigious medical journals. Dr. Koren received his medical degree cum laude at Harvard Medical School and completed his residency in internal medicine with a fellowship in cardiology at New York Hospital / Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center/ Cornell Medical Center.

Dr. Albert Lopez, DO practices Internal Medicine with Millennium Physician Group in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also a Principal Investigator with ENCORE Research Group specializing in lipid clinical trials. Dr. Lopez, DO completed his residency at the University of Pennsylvania and his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Miami, Florida. He is known as one of the earliest evidence-based physicians in Jacksonville utilizing nutrition and lifestyle for disease prevention.
I believe in “N” of one” because “N of one” is about the patient. If it is not about the patient, then it is about nothing. – Dr. Albert Lopez, DO


Prefer to listen to the podcast without video? You can do that below!



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In 2020 heart disease killed twice as many people as COVID-19 in the United States.1 Some may find this surprising due to the lack of news coverage on heart disease. Historically heart disease has always been one of America’s most serious epidemics.  It has been a leading cause of death since the turn of the 20th Century.  Following World War II, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute began a long-term study known as the Framingham study to identify the cause of heart disease.

The Framingham study is an enormous observational study in Framingham, Massachusetts.  Researchers conducted physical examinations on participants every two years to study contributing factors to heart disease and are now on their 3rd generation of participants.  The Framingham study identified many currently known risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Researchers began developing medications to combat cholesterol levels once high cholesterol was identified as a significant risk factor.

Some of our most exciting research at ENCORE Research Group is for new cholesterol-lowering medications such as Antisense Oligonucleotides (ASOs), Small Interfering RNA (siRNAs), and Adnectins.

Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) are short, synthetic single-stranded fragments of RNA that can reduce, restore, or modify protein expression. ASOs have been designed specifically to target high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the bloodstream in a different way than current medications. They are also being studied to reduce lipoprotein a [Lp (a) or “Lp little a”] in patients with elevated levels by targeting a building block of the Lp(a).

Small interfering RNA (siRNAs) are another type of RNA therapy that is being used in clinical trials to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease. Unlike ASOs which are single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides, siRNAs are double-stranded RNA molecules. SiRNAs are used in the silencing of disease-causing genes for the treatment of atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases.

Adnectins are a class of drugs used to target proteins. Adnectins can be rapidly developed to bind proteins or other necessary targets. Currently, adnectins are being used in clinical trials to bind with a human protein called PCSK9. This binding blocks the interactions between PCSK9 and LDL (bad cholesterol) receptors. As a result, the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body are lowered.

We are optimistic about these new technologies; they may give us the arsenal to fight back against heart disease.

If you have high cholesterol levels that are not being adequately managed by your current medications, we may be able to help you get involved in a research study that may help get you back on track!  As many of our readers know, most research studies offer access to cutting-edge therapies at no cost to patients. Call us to find out how you can get involved today!

[1] CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db427.htm


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Three breakthrough products were approved by the FDA at the beginning of June:
  • Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy (semaglutide) for weight loss
  • Biogen’s Aduhelm (aducanumab) for Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Pfizer’s PREVNAR 20 (pneumococcal 20-valent conjugate vaccine) for the prevention of pneumonia

We had an informative Q&A session with Dr. Michael Koren recently to discuss the recent flurry of FDA approvals of medical products that were developed and then studied at ENCORE Research Group sites.

Q: Dr. Koren, how do you feel about these FDA approvals?
A: It is so gratifying to see the work of ENCORE Research Group’s dedicated people to help make these products available to the general public. Having experience with these products over several years makes me feel comfortable that the FDA made a sound decision.

Q: Can you comment on what it was like to be Principal Investigator for the Wegovy (semaglutide) clinical trials?
A: The understanding of metabolism and how that affects appetite represents a major advance in medicine. Patients who have been working with us over the last five years have had advanced access to semaglutide and many of my patients have had profound weight loss and improvement in their cardiovascular risk factors. It’s quite gratifying to see that this product will now be more broadly available.

Q: Are there any lessons for the general population?
A: The approval of these drugs exemplifies how our patients (ENCORE Community)
have access and opportunities to use medical products before they are available to the general public. In many cases these products provide advantages that are not seen with products already on the market. The fact that patients can get access to these products (or not, in a placebo-controlled environment) without any cost and with the extra benefits of the incredible dedicated staff that we have is perhaps my most gratifying experience.

Q: What’s the next semaglutide?
A: Yogi Berra always said “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But even with my crystal ball low on batteries, I have a feeling that it will be major breakthroughs in the lipid space; the most exciting news since statins first came out. We know that the PCSK9 protein is a bad actor. We are excited because we have data from outcome studies that show decreased cardiovascular risk with the PCSK9 inhibitor therapies, Repatha and Praluent, however these therapies are expensive and difficult to make. New lipid therapies that we are studying include adnectins that neutralize the PCSK9 protein once secreted by the hepatocytes (liver cells). Other new therapies prevent the production of the PCSK9 protein in the first place, including siRNA (small interfering RNA) and ASOs (antisense oligonucleotides). siRNA are used to silence the gene that creates the PCSK9 protein. ASOs target and inhibit the source of PCSK9 protein production.

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You may have heard that people with diabetes are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. This is not the case. The truth is, people with diabetes are more likely to experience severe illness, long lasting effects, or even death if they are infected with COVID-19.

What We Know about Diabetes and COVID-19

In May, a nationwide multicentre observational study called the CORONADO study, observed the mortality risk in people with diabetes who were hospitalized for COVID-19.  The study population was 88% type 2 diabetics and 12% type 1 diabetics.  What they found was that one in ten diabetic patients hospitalized with COVID-19 died within seven days of hospital admission. One in five died within the first 28 days.

How Can We Improve These Numbers?

  • Metformin – Recent studies have shown that metformin decreased the mortality rate of diabetic patients with COVID-19. Those who took metformin had an 11% mortality rate compared to 24%  with type 2 diabetes who were not taking metformin when admitted to the hospital. These studies heavily indicate a strong, positive relationship between metformin, COVID and diabetes.
  • Vaccine – another way to protect those battling diabetes from COVID-19 is to consider getting the vaccine. There have been three emergency use authorized vaccines:  Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.  Each vaccine appears to be safe and effective in adults with diabetes. Rigorous clinical trials tested these vaccines for safety in adults of all ages, races and ethnicities and chronic health conditions.
              • How will the vaccine affect blood sugar levels?
                • Receiving the vaccine can cause symptoms of illness that can increase your glucose levels. However, if carefully monitored and correctly hydrated side effects can be minimal.
              • Do diabetes medications affect the vaccine?
                • Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccine will interact with current medications. However, it may be helpful to avoid injecting insulin or placing a glucose sensor near your vaccine injection site for several days after receiving the vaccine. 
              • Should I get vaccinated if I have diabetes and other health conditions?
                • Complications of diabetes include heart disease and kidney disease.  These conditions put one at higher risk or death from COVID-19. 
                • Vaccination should be a priority for patients with type 2 diabetes who are at very high risk of severe COVID-19 to help protect this vulnerable population.

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5 Things to Know about Lp(a)

Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), is an independent risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the US and globally . You may have heard of LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol,” as a risk factor for heart disease, but Lp(a) can be just as dangerous.  Lp(a) flies under the radar of many physicians. This is because the awareness of Lp(a) is still very low, very little is understood about the protein and the treatment options are limited. 

What is LP(a)?

Lp(a), pronounced “LP little a,”  is a protein that is attached to LDL cholesterol. It is composed of an LDL-like particle, but it has a second protein coiled around it. Recent studies have shown that people born with elevated Lp(a) can be two to four times as likely to have a heart attack or serious cardiac related risk. Lp(a) is present in 20% of the population. 

What differentiates LP(a) from other heart disease risk factors?

LP(a) is so unique because it is a completely genetic risk factor. Meaning, having an elevated LP(a) is almost entirely determined by the genes you inherit. There is no evidence that a healthy lifestyle will lower your Lp(a). However, that does not mean those with high levels shouldn’t practice healthy habits. Reducing other risk factors that are determined by quality of health can still reduce the overall risk of heart disease.

Another risk factor that sets LP(a) apart is that it is an independent risk factor. It has been linked to heart disease in younger adults who are otherwise healthy and have no prior cardiovascular risks. Elevated LP(a) has affected the lives of many who are otherwise healthy. For example, Tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who had his first heart attack at age 36. Bob Harper, a celebrity fitness trainer was also affected and nearly died of a heart attack at age 52.

Who should be tested for Lp(a)?

Studies show that there is a higher risk of a cardiovascular event if Lp(a) levels start to rise above 30 mg/dl. There is an even greater risk at levels 50 mg/dl and higher. There are an estimated one in seven people at or above this threshold. If you’ve had a cardiac event but your cholesterol levels are normal, or you have a family member with heart disease at an early age, have a cardiovascular event despite normal lipid levels, have a family history of Lp(a), or have aortic valvular disease at an early age  then you should get tested for Lp(a).

As mentioned, Lp(a) is a genetically mediated risk factor. “This means it runs in families,” Albert Lopez, MD, DO, FASPC, internal physician and lipid specialist in Jacksonville, FL says. “Those individuals that have it, you have a 50% chance of giving to your children.” Dr. Lopez believes there should be cascade screening, meaning asking family members if they have it and then getting tested.

No FDA approved remedies for Lp(a)

Currently there are no FDA approved remedies for elevated Lp(a). Statins, a widely known and used therapy that lowers LDL cholesterol does not reduce Lp(a) and has been shown to sometimes result in a slight increase. One therapy that has been shown to work is asphersis. This process filters a patient’s blood by circulating it through a machine and removing Lp(a) particles. However, this process is reserved for high-risk patients because it is extremely expensive, requires weekly visits and involves risks. After stopping apheresis, the Lp(a) levels begin to rise again.

New Advancements in Science regarding Lp(a)

Luckily, there are new drugs on the horizon that could potentially help those suffering from elevated Lp(a) levels. “What is exciting is that we are in totally nerd, sci-fi treatments now,” Dr. Lopez says. “We can actually stop your genes from making this protein by using a little snip that crinkles it up and doesnt let it read.” In other words, new studies are using gene silencing techniques to achieve a large and durable reduction of Lp(a). 

These therapies and medicines are still in clinical trials now. ENCORE Research group is conducting research studies for people with elevated Lp(a) in hopes to find a drug that will lower Lp(a) levels. It is up to the public to participate in these research studies to help those suffering from elevated Lp(a) levels.


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December 7, 2020 CardiovascularCholesterol

For some patients, managing cholesterol creates a challenge. Statins are a safe and standard treatment but many people have very high levels of cholesterol that require more than statin drugs alone.  Others cannot easily tolerate statins.  Nonetheless, treating cholesterol saves lives and avoids heart attacks and strokes.

Thankfully, the future is here with new breakthroughs that can change the way we maintain healthy cholesterol levels due to continued research and clinical trial participants. We outline some of these exciting technologies below.

Antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) are short, synthetic single stranded fragments of RNA that can reduce, restore or modify protein expression. ASOs have been designed specifically to target high levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the bloodstream in a different way than current medications. Firstly, ASOs targets the source of the disease resulting in a higher chance of success compared to therapies targeting downstream pathways. Secondly, ASOs are not metabolized by cytochrome P450 as most other drugs are. This significantly reduces the chance of one drug interacting with another drug in the body which could potentially cause more harm than good.

Small interfering RNA (SiRNAs) are another type of RNA therapy that is being used in clinical trials to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease. Unlike ASOs which are single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides, siRNAs are double-stranded RNA molecules. SiRNAs are used in the silencing of disease-causing genes, in this case the genes involved in creating cardiovascular diseases, and it has made great progress. 

Adnectins are a class of drugs used to target proteins. Adnectins can be rapidly developed to bind proteins or other necessary targets. Currently, adnectins are being used in clinical trials to bind with a human protein called PCSK9. This binding blocks the interactions between PCSK9 and LDL (bad cholesterol) receptors. As a result, the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body are lowered.

These technologies hold the potential to not only better manage cholesterol levels and thereby reducing heart attack and stroke risk, but many other conditions as well.

Source:

US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health


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February 4, 2020 BlogCardiovascular

The old saying goes: Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. This exaggeration is- well… an exaggeration, but there are some differences between male and female heart health that causes an inkling of truth to shine out through the expression. The most common kind of heart disease, among both men and women, is coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is caused when cholesterol plaque is built up inside the arteries, and if left untreated coronary artery disease can obstruct blood flow to the heart muscle and lead to a heart attack.

When experiencing a heart attack, the individual will usually experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in their left arm, but these symptoms are not universal. Remember when we were talking about the differences between men and women? Women are more likely to experience uncommon heart attack symptoms than men are! These symptoms can include indigestion, pain in both arms, unusual fatigue and abdominal discomfort. Physicians are still uncertain why women are more likely to experience unusual symptoms. There are some theories about hormonal changes and the difference in valve and vessel sizes, but for the most part it is still unknown.

Lowering your risk of a heart attack, however, is not a mystery. Research shows staying active, eating healthy, and monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly leads to decreased cardiovascular risk.  Research also shows that individuals involved in clinical research have better health care outcomes than those who are not.

We are currently enrolling in studies that may help you lower important factors like elevated triglycerides and cholesterol which may help lower your risk of cardiovascular events.

 

References:

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/menopause_cardiovascular_system.html
https://www.lahey.org/article/differences-between-mens-and-womens-hearts/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018605/
https://www.clinicaltrials.gov


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February 5, 2019 BlogCardiovascular

What causes a heart attack?

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) means that blood flow to the heart muscle has been decreased enough to cause damage to the heart muscle.  Some causes of blocked blood flow include blood clots, cholesterol build up, and rupture of plaque within the blood vessel.  For those who have already suffered a heart attack, it is important to reduce the risk of recurrent attacks. Research has shown that there are several steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of recurrent heart attacks.

 

Proven things you can do to prevent heart attacks

  • Lower cholesterol
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Eat fish
  • Increase physical activity as allowed by your doctor. Inactive people have nearly twice the risk of heart disease as those who are active.
  • Talk with your doctor about medicines that can decrease blood clotting

 

Medications that can reduce risk of heart attack

  • Cholesterol lowering medication, which include statins and non-statins
  • Triglyceride lowering medications
  • Medications that decrease inflammation

 

Current research is underway to study improving health after a heart attack

  • Weight loss: Heart attack is three times higher in those who are obese than in those who are lean.
  • New medications for those with unique cholesterol metabolizing problems.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications targeting inflammation in blood vessels.

 

At ENCORE Research Group we have clinical research studies for many of the risk factors mentioned above. Participating in a research study can help keep you motivated on your journey to better health. If you are interested in participating in any of our research studies, call your local office today!

 

 


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The heart is vital (literally), so it’s important to keep it in tip-top shape! The rest of the body depends on the heart to deliver blood and oxygen to all its cells and organs. If the heart becomes damaged, it can lead to what is known as heart failure. Keeping your heart healthy not only involves proper diet and exercise, but also involves making sure conditions that can cause heart damage are properly managed.

 

Some conditions that can damage the heart are:

  • cardiomyopathy
  • coronary artery disease
  • diabetes
  • heart attacks
  • high blood pressure

 

During heart failure the heart is unable to pump blood effectively enough to meet the body’s demands. Because the heart cannot fulfill its primary duty, it will try to compensate by enlarging itself, increasing muscle mass or pumping faster. The body can also react by narrowing blood vessels and diverting blood away from less important tissues and organs. As heart failure worsens the compensations and symptoms begin to show.

 

Common symptoms of heart failure include: shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing, racing heart, excessive tiredness, loss of appetite, and chest pain. Risk factors for developing heart failure include diabetes, poorly controlled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or family history of heart failure. If you think you might have symptoms of heart failure, it’s important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible.

 

There are about 5.7 million adults in the United States who have heart failure and it’s the leading cause of death in diabetics. In most cases, heart failure cannot be reversed once diagnosed. However, researchers are continuing to study ways to reverse heart failure as well as new and better ways to treat it. Currently, many of our ENCORE research sites have new heart failure research studies enrolling. If you or someone you know has heart failure, and are interested in participating, call our office to find out more!

 


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Three New Breakthroughs in Heart Disease

 

Heart Disease is a general term for heart conditions that negatively impact the heart’s ability to perform its vital functions. On average 1 in 4 American deaths each year are due to heart disease.  Fortunately, each year new discoveries are made that allow us to treat heart disease more successfully.  Here are three of the latest discoveries.

 

  1. Dialysis for Heart Failure?

One of the symptoms of heart failure is fluid retention, which can lead to kidney

problems. Diuretics are currently the standard treatment for fluid retention, however there is a new treatment where a catheter in inserted through the neck so that it surrounds a major lymphatic vessel. The excess fluid is removed from the lymphatic system and then pumped back into the circulatory system where it is removed by the kidneys. This new treatment avoids some of the negative side effects of oral diuretics such as low blood pressure and decreased kidney function.

2. Beta Blockers: Old dog, new tricks?

A new study at York University in Toronto has analyzed the effect of beta blockers on

coronary gene expression in patients with heart failure. Researchers found that beta blockers “largely reverse the pathological pattern of gene expression observed in heart failure.” More research is needed to determine whether beta blockers can be used to protect against heart failure.

3. Tick saliva saving lives?

While ticks are often the subject of nightmares researchers now believe they can lead to a dream solution for myocarditis, heart attack and stroke. Ticks use proteins called ‘evasins’ to escape their host’s detection by blocking the host’s inflammatory response.  Researchers are now isolating these evasins in a ‘bug to drug’ formula.  Hopefully these drugs will be able treat a variety of inflammatory diseases.

At ENCORE Research Group we conduct cutting edge research similar to those seen above.  While we do not have any ‘bug to drug’ studies at this time, we do have a heart failure study involving a new use for an already FDA approved medication.  If you are interested in learning more about our current studies visit our “Enrolling Studies” tab at the top of the page.

 


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If you have high cholesterol you may dread going to your doctor, especially if they are going to complete a cholesterol blood test. You know they prescribed a statin, but the muscle cramping you experience after taking it just isn’t worth it. How do you tell your doctor that the medication they prescribed just isn’t working for you? You are not alone, and there are options available for you.

 

We all know that having excess cholesterol in our blood is a bad thing, but why is it so bad? High cholesterol has often been called ‘The Silent Killer’. In fact, according to the CDC heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 American deaths every year.[1] High cholesterol is known to cause plaque formation in arteries, constricting blood flow to vital organs in your body. Even worse, cholesterol plaques can become dislodged from the walls of the arteries potentially causing blood clots. Both heart attacks and strokes can be caused by plaques reaching the heart or brain respectively. If lifestyle changes such as a good diet and exercise can’t bring down your cholesterol numbers, you may need a medication. The most common cholesterol lowering medications to date are statins such as Crestor, Lipitor, or Zocor.  These medicines have been life saving for many people that can tolerate them. However, some people are intolerant to statins and will experience side effects such as painful muscle cramps, inflammation and more.

 

If you are allergic to or can’t handle statins what can you do? It is crucial to keep your cholesterol levels down, lowering your risk for a heart attack and stroke. You may try one of the medications already on the market for people with statin intolerance such as Zetia, Juxtapid and Repatha. However, each of these drugs have their own risks. Zetia can cause symptoms similar to those caused by statins. Juxtapid, a newer medication, has been found to significantly reduce LDL bad cholesterol by 40-50%.  Sadly, it also caused diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain in 28% of patients.[2] In 2015 the FDA approved Repatha, a new class of drug called a PCSK9 inhibitor that is very successful in lowering LDL.  Unfortunately, due to the cost of development and production the annual cost is around $14,000 dollars making it unaffordable for most people.

 

If you’ve had trouble taking statins in the past you may be asking “what do I do now”? Many of our participants are looking for alternative treatments or want to be part of cutting edge research. I encourage you to check out the cholesterol research studies we are conducting at many of our research centers. You may qualify for a new oral medication or to receive PCSK9 in an upcoming study! The medicines being researched for people who cannot take statins may significantly alter the future of cardiovascular disease.  We need your help to bring these new medications to market!

 

References:

[1] “Heart Disease Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 June 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

[2] Orrange, Sharon, MD. “Finally, a Non-Statin Cholesterol Medication That Works: Introducing Juxtapid.” The GoodRx Prescription Savings Blog. N.p., 06 June 2014. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

 


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