Allison Reiss, MD ’83, Leads AHA-Funded Heart Study

Winthrop receives American Heart Association Grant-in-Aid for study linking low dose methotrexate to second heart attack prevention

By Courtney Allison

formal group

Caption: Pictured inside Winthrop’s new Research and Academic Center are (l.-r.) Deborah Whitfield, Director, Clinical Trials Center at Winthrop; Don Brand, PhD, Director, Health Outcomes Research; Joshua De Leon, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Training Program, Director of Nuclear Cardiology and Director of Cardiovascular Research; Allison Reiss, MD, Head, Inflammation Section at Winthrop Research Institute; Steven Carsons, MD, Chief of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at Winthrop; Ellen Eylers, MPH, MSN, RN, Research Coordinator, Cardiology Department; Wendy Drewes, BSN, RN, CCRC, Cardiology Research Coordinator; and Alexander Schoen, MBA, Director, Office of Sponsored Programs at Winthrop-University Hospital.


“It takes a village,” said Allison Reiss, MD, Head, Inflammation Section at Winthrop Research Institute (Downstate ’83), as she and her team gathered recently to celebrate receiving a Grant-in-Aid from the American Heart Association (AHA). The grant, titled, “Methotrexate and Cholesterol Transport Regulation: Impact of Treatment Regimen in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome,” poses the question: “Will reducing inflammation prevent a second heart attack?” and is designed to assess the impact of low dose methotrexate (a widely used anti-inflammatory therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)) on cholesterol transport in the body. Dr. Reiss is the Principal Investigator, with co-investigators Alan Jacobson, MD, Chief Research Officer at Winthrop; Joshua De Leon, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Training Program, Director of Nuclear Cardiology and Director of Cardiovascular Research; and Steven Carsons, MD, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology.

“We have an amazing team effort and approach here at Winthrop and we couldn’t have achieved this honor without each individual,” said Dr. Reiss, crediting the research associates, technicians, coordinators and volunteers who also helped make the grant possible (see below). “I am also forever grateful to SUNY Downstate where I got my start in Medicine as a young woman from Brooklyn with a lot of determination and minimal financial resources.”

“This is a potential game-changer in the way we treat heart attacks, especially those in people with diabetes or at a high risk for diabetes because of metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson describes Dr. Reiss’s work as “invaluable.” “It really plays into the potential underlying mechanisms of why this drug – methotrexate – might work and goes to the core of the underlying biological mechanism of the study,” he said.

coffee

Dr. Reiss (second from left) gathers with her team to celebrate the American Heart Association grant.

The grant builds on the work Dr. Reiss and her team at Winthrop began in 2014 as part of a major study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the Cardiovascular Inflammation Reduction Trial (CIRT), which had a similar goal to that of the recent grant. Through this study, Dr. Reiss and her team have been investigating whether taking low dose methotrexate reduces cardiovascular events in individuals with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome who have had a heart attack or multiple coronary blockages. The recent grant awarded to the team signals the start of a sub-study that will be even more in-depth, making Winthrop an “independent and innovating contributor to the science,” according to Dr. Reiss.

“It gives us the opportunity to answer the ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ is happening in the blood in regards to methotrexate that is protecting patients,” said Dr. Reiss. “Through this research, we can determine how patients can be best treated and how people handle the drug.”

Dr. De Leon is the leader of the clinical aspect of the project, identifying cardiology patients for the trial, and Dr. Carsons lends an immunological perspective from his experience as a rheumatologist who works with methotrexate in his arthritis patients.

“One of Winthrop’s strengths rests in its ability to bridge the laboratory and the bedside,” said Dr. De Leon. “This group has been so innovative in generating new knowledge and discovering the role of inflammation in altering how the cell handles cholesterol at the basic level, and how inflammation worsens atherothrombosis (the hardening and narrowing of the body’s arteries). This grant is the next step in translating all these years of basic research to patient care.”

“Our team’s unique ability to study the molecular interface between inflammation in the body and the development of heart disease has led to this important approach to cardiovascular disease prevention,” said Dr. Carsons.

The results of this study have the potential to open up new ways to treat cardiovascular disease and come up with a mechanism to identify patients who will respond best to the treatment.

“It means so much to be funded by the American Heart Association, a prestigious and renowned organization that has made so many contributions to allocating funds for heart disease and preventing heart attacks,” said Dr. Reiss. “We are looking forward to honoring this incredible award and doing this work to make a substantial contribution to medical knowledge of patient care.”

Winthrop University


 

Team:

In addition to Dr. Reiss, Dr. De Leon, Dr. Carsons and Dr. Jacobson, the following people were instrumental in achieving the grant:

Darnice Fulton, Secretary, Winthrop Cardiology Associates, PC.

Debbie Famigletti, Administrative Coordinator, Division of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology

Lora Kasselman, PhD, Research Associate, Winthrop Research Institute

Nicolle Siegart, Research Technician, Winthrop Research Institute

Carla Lyons, Executive Assistant to Dr. Jacobson

Ellen Eylers, MPH, MSN, RN, Research Coordinator, Cardiology Department

Wendy Drewes, BSN, RN, CCRC, Cardiology Research Coordinator

Donald Brand, PhD, Director, Health Outcomes Research

Melissa Fazzari, PhD, Director, Department of Biostatistics
Heather Renna, Research Technician, Winthrop Research Institute

Alexander Schoen, MBA, Director, Office of Sponsored Programs

Hirra Arain, Student Volunteer, Winthrop Research Institute

Samiraly Moosa, MD, Research Volunteer, Winthrop Research Institute

Deborah Whitfield, Director, Winthrop-University Hospital Clinical Research Center

 

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