Funded Research Breakthroughs

Research Funded by the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association has funded more heart disease and stroke research than any organization outside the federal government, thanks to the generosity of donors and supporters. Here's a brief look at some of the groundbreaking research we've funded:

1940

First AHA research grant goes to Nobel Prize winner

The American Heart Association awarded its first research grant in 1949, to Nobel Prize winner Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, followed by a second American Heart Association grant in 1950. The grants help fund studies about the energy that muscles, such as the heart, need to contract.

Research explores diuretics to help control blood pressure

Funding in 1949 enabled Dr. Alfred Farah to examine whether a group of chemical compounds work as diuretics. Diuretics, also called “water pills,” help the body get rid of excess sodium and water and help control blood pressure.

 

Drug works as diuretic to treat high blood pressure, heart failure

Sulfanilamide, a drug used to treat bacterial infections, was found to act as a diuretic in people with congestive heart failure. Dr. William Schwartz makes the discovery in 1949. Diuretics remain one of the best medicines for high blood pressure and heart failure.

 

1950

Dietary fat linked to cholesterol for first time

The link between dietary fat and cholesterol was made for the first time in 1956 by Dr. Ancel Keys. The American Heart Association quickly takes the lead in helping Americans change unhealthy, high-fat eating habits.

External defibrillator shocks human heart back to normal for first time

An external defibrillator successfully returned a quivering heart back to a steady rhythm for the first time in humans. Dr. Paul Zoll led the 1956 the study.

First pacemaker implanted in patient with heart block

The first battery-operated wearable pacemaker was implanted in a patient with heart block caused by surgery. The 1957 research, led by Dr. William Weirich, is still significant today because this discovery led to the development of today's fully implanted pacemakers.

Drug's ability to lower blood pressure discovered

Dr. Edward Freis determined in 1957 that the drug chlorothiazide can reduce blood pressure. Chlorothiazide and other antihypertensive drugs help dramatically reduce the complications and deaths caused by high blood pressure.

Research advances knowledge of how blood flow works

Radioactive potassium and rubidium were used to measure regional blood flow in 1958 research led by Dr. Lewis Sapirstein. The findings help advance knowledge of blood flow throughout the entire circulatory system.

Oxygen demand linked to chest pain from poor blood flow

Dr. Louis Katz determined that the heart's demand for oxygen is specifically tied to blood flow to the heart muscle. The 1958 finding helps explain the chest pain caused by inadequate blood flow through the heart arteries.

1960

First successful pacemaker surgeries reported

The first successful surgeries for completely implantable pacemakers were reported by Dr. William Chardack in 1960. Production of implantable pacemakers quickly gets underway.

First artificial heart valve replacement performed

The first successful artificial heart valve replacement was performed in 1960 by Dr. Albert Starr, who developed the mechanical heart valve with hydraulic engineer Lowell Edwards. The Starr-Edwards valve is still used today, along with other artificial heart valves that have saved the lives of millions of people with diseased heart valves.

CPR found to provide blood flow after cardiac arrest

Drs. William Kouwenhoven, James Jude and Guy Knickerbocker reported in 1961 on the value of external cardiac massage — better known as CPR — in providing blood flow to vital organs for people in cardiac arrest. The research was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Microsurgery performed, leading to widespread advances

Microsurgery pioneer Dr. Julius Jacobson performed surgery in 1961 with the aid of a microscope. Microsurgery leads to advances in coronary artery surgery, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, limb reimplantation, gynecology, orthopedic surgery and tumor surgery.

First woman named career investigator, helps develop MRI

The American Heart Association chose biochemist Mildred Cohn in 1964 as its first female career investigator. This honor provided funding for the remaining 14 years of her research career. Her work contributed to the development of medical technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, or the MRI, one of the most sophisticated imaging methods used today.

New technique corrects heart defects in newborns

Dr. William Rashkind in 1966 developed a technique to correct septal defects in newborns. The procedure, called a balloon atrial septostomy, showed that major procedures could be performed inside the heart through a catheter.

20-year study shows high blood pressure decreases life expectancy

Results of a 20-year study led by Dr. Maurice Sokolow showed in 1966 that high blood pressure decreases life expectancy. The research also found that a persistently elevated blood pressure increases the risk of complications, including heart enlargement, eye abnormalities and enlargement of the heart's main pumping chamber.

New treatment option found for heart disease patients

Dr. William Elliott in 1966 showed that isoproterenol improves the amount of blood pumped by the heart, providing a new treatment option for heart disease patients.

Drug found to lower cholesterol

Dr. William Conner showed in 1968 that cholestyramine can lower cholesterol in the blood. Cholestyramine is among the various cholesterol-lowering drugs still used today.

1990

First drug approved to treat infants with heart, lung defects

The Food and Drug Administration in 1990 approved Exosurf Neonatal, the first synthetic lung surfactant to treat respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition for premature infants with heart and lung defects. The drug was developed by American Heart Association career investigator Dr. John Clements.

2000

Mechanical pump helps heart failure patients awaiting transplant

Christine Moravec reported in 2001 that mechanical pumps called left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) can reverse diminished heart muscle performance in people with heart failure who are awaiting transplant. The study was among the first to look at recovery mechanisms that control the heart's ability to contract in times of stress.

Drug-coated stent opens blocked arteries

The Food and Drug Administration in 2003 approved the first drug-coated stent to keep blocked arteries open while also releasing therapeutic agents. Dr. Andrew Marks developed drug-coated stents to prevent the tiny wire tubes from accumulating fatty plaques.

Molecule helps explain how fat from foods is used

Dr. Stephen Young identified a new molecule in 2007 that may help regulate the delivery of fats to cells for energy and storage. The finding could lead to a better understanding of how we use fats from the foods we eat.

CPR without rescue breaths found to be effective

Dr. Gordon Ewy accumulated evidence from multiple studies dating to the 1990s that showed uninterrupted, high-quality chest compressions — without mouth-to-mouth respiration — are important for keeping blood circulating to vital organs. As a result of this research, the American Heart Association releases new recommendations in 2008 that say bystanders can skip mouth-to-mouth and use hands-only CPR to help an adult who suddenly collapses.

Funded research surpasses $3.9 billion for first time

The American Heart Association surpassed the $3.9 billion mark for the first time in funded research in 2015.