The Framingham Heart Study (FHS), the nation’s longest running cohort study with longitudinal analysis of cardiovascular disease, has been renewed for an additional six years and $38 million dollars from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The contract will support examining the elderly groups of the cohort study starting later this year in hopes of better understanding the biology of aging and determinants of health and disease in older people, as well as examination of the younger generation of the FHS after a couple of years. Examples of studies in the older cohort include studying liver fat, platelet function, arterial stiffness, the heart and great vessels and patterns of thousands of circulating blood proteins in the elderly participants.
“With the rapidly increasing number of Americans over the age of 65 years, comprehensive studies of older individuals are invaluable,” explained Vasan Ramachandran, MD, FACC, principal investigator and Boston University director of the FHS and professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). “The opportunity to perform comprehensive analysis of phenotypic abnormalities in older individuals using state-of-the-art scientific technology is unparalleled. Serial follow-up of the younger cohorts will also yield critical insights into the development of cardiovascular disease over the life course.”
In addition, the funding allows for continued maintenance of study operations, its data and bio-sample collection as well as follow-up and surveillance of all cohort participants and continued analysis of their data. It also facilitates integration of newer, cutting-edge ancillary studies in the study’s core protocols.
In its seven decades, the FHS has been responsible for numerous research breakthroughs, including smoking’s contribution to heart disease risk (1960); identifying fundamental risk factors for heart disease (1961); the benefit of physical activity and the risk posed by obesity, with regard to heart disease (1967); heightened stroke risk from high blood pressure (1970); and the importance of so-called good cholesterol in reducing death risk (1988). Now 70 years later, researchers are studying the children and grandchildren of those original participants which has led to groundbreaking discoveries in other domains including neurodegenerative diseases, obesity, lung abnormalities and pulmonary fibrosis.
Over the last two decades, the FHS reported definitive evidence that parental occurrence of heart disease or stroke by age 65 increased the risk of heart disease and stroke two- to three-fold in their children. Ongoing collaborative genetic research with other groups in large consortia have identified hundreds of new genetic loci that contribute to the risk of developing risk factors and heart disease and stroke.
In 1948, under the direction of the National Heart Institute (now the NHLBI), researchers of the FHS opened their doors and recruited 5,209 men and women between ages of 30 and 62. Their objective was to identify the common factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease by following its development over a long period of time in participants who have not yet developed overt symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or suffered a heart attack or stroke.
“The study’s ambitious mission not only educates the public on the implications of their research findings, but also provides the next generation of scientists with vital training opportunities,” said Karen Antman, MD, BU Medical Campus provost and BUSM dean.
Since 1971, Boston University has been the recipient of contracts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to administer the FHS.