HOUSTON (September 21, 2009)

UT Houston Researchers embark on innovative study at Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute - TMC that could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease

Researchers at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston are embarking on a state-of-the art comprehensive cardiac health study called the Century Health Study which seeks to prove that an aggressive preventive treatment plan that includes appropriate medication, diagnostic testing, and lifestyle improvements can reverse heart disease.

"Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. We created this study out of a concern for public health and to provide optimal, individualized prevention, as well as effective treatment of coronary atherosclerosis," said Stefano Sdringola, MD, principal investigator and Weatherhead Distinguished Chair of Heart Disease at the UT Medical School at Houston. "We believe that a comprehensive program supporting a healthy lifestyle, in addition to careful medications, will be more effective than standard infrequent instructions on prevention. The study team will follow and support the participants for five years. Using evidence-based medicine, we want to put them in charge of their disease."

The study is based at the Weatherhead PET Center for Preventing and Reversing Atherosclerosis at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

As part of the team approach, the participants will have access to the most advanced coronary blood flow imaging in the world using a cardiac PET scan (positron emission tomography). The team includes interventional, imaging and preventive cardiologists, cardiac nurses, dietitians and exercise specialists.

"It will be the first randomized control study ever done that will evaluate outcomes and costs using a combination of advanced imaging and prevention management, as well as intense individualized treatment to help save lives. We know that we can turn back the clock on heart disease," said Sdringola, an attending physician at the Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute. "We also want to prevent family tragedies, reduce costs and cut back on the number of procedures and/or surgeries that patients undergo."

Eligible patients must be at least 40 years old, have sufficient cardiovascular risk factors, symptoms of heart disease or documented coronary heart disease, and be under the care of a family physician or cardiologist. "The research team will be sharing test results and updates with the study participant's physician. We are providing access to long-term support and testing that would otherwise not be covered by most health insurance providers," said K. Lance Gould, M.D., co-investigator and The Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished University Chair in Heart Disease at the medical school. "The Century Health Study supports, not substitutes, for the care provided by your doctor. Traditionally, physicians are not able to devote the substantial time required for intense personalized lifestyle support, or it is not approved by insurance."

The Century Health Study is supported by a generous gift from Al Weatherhead III and his wife, Celia.

"I'm hoping this will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that preventive medicine is the key to our health," Weatherhead said. "There is no silver bullet. Keeping yourself healthy is a daily commitment. It takes work."

Weatherhead speaks from experience. Almost two decades ago, he became Gould's patient and a believer that he could reverse his life-threatening heart disease. He indeed turned his health around and improved the coronary blood flow to his heart muscle. He believes the Century Health Study will give others the opportunity to do the same.

"If I can get through this, then there is a beam of hope for others," said Weatherhead, whose quest to become healthy is chronicled in "The Power of Adversity: Tough Times Can Make You Stronger, Wiser, and Better," a newly released book by Weatherhead and Fred Feldman. "You just have to keep believing in yourself, and if you take control of your health, you'll inspire others."

To qualify for the study, the participant must first be referred for a standard nuclear stress test and meet other entry criteria. If eligible, participants will be placed into one of two treatment strategies: a standard nuclear stress test guided medical management approach or the PET guided comprehensive lifestyle modification treatment.

In the first group, a participant would be seen by the Century study team once a year for five years. Those visits would include lab work, cholesterol levels and a review of diet and exercise.

For the PET group, the study team will see the participant six times in the first year, and every six months thereafter. Those visits will include physical exams, lab work if needed, and access to a cardiologist, cardiac nurse, dietitian and exercise specialist. The dietitian will review participants' daily diet journal and coach them on healthy eating.

A PET scan will be done at the beginning, middle and end of the study, so participants can see how their lifestyle changes and medical treatment are impacting blood flow in their heart. Researchers at The University of Texas School of Public Health will analyze the economic impact of the five-year study.

"Cardiovascular disease represents one of the three biggest healthcare challenges, in terms of its overall prevalence, impact and costs to society. The Century Health Study is a novel clinical trial that challenges existing standards of care, with an aim to improve both quality and costs through a combination of technology and behavioral interventions," said James Langabeer II, EdD, associate professor of health management at the UT School of Public Health. "If the trial hypotheses are confirmed, the Century study could revolutionize the way we diagnose and treat heart disease in the future."

Jimmy Willard, 54, is already part of the study. "My wake-up call was three years ago. I had a heart attack and triple bypass," said Willard. "That's why I am part of the Century Health Study. With help, I hope to reduce my chances of going through that experience again."

In the two months that Willard has been a part of the study, he has lost 13 pounds and feels stronger every day. "The team really supports me," said Willard. "I am trying to get my family involved in the program. I am trying to be a good role model."