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Home > News Room > Heart Center of Niagara announces research partnership

Heart Center of Niagara announces research partnership

NIAGARA FALLS – Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center and The Heart Center of Niagara today announced March 14 they will partner with GE Healthcare, the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences at the University at Buffalo and Niagara University to conduct groundbreaking research into the use of non-invasive imaging devices for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac disease.

Research will be coordinated through the Center of Excellence and conducted by physicians from Memorial’s departments of Cardiology and Diagnostic Imaging assisted by students from UB and the Academic Center for Integrated Sciences at Niagara University.

The first study will begin as soon as GE Healthcare’s revolutionary new imaging system, the 64-slice LightSpeed VCT, is installed at Memorial’s new Heart Center and Emergency Department. That 56,400-square-foot facility, currently under construction on the medical center’s campus, is scheduled for completion during the fourth quarter of this year.

Memorial will be one of the first hospitals in the United States to purchase and configure a 64-slice LightSpeed VCT for cardiac use.

Initial studies will identify the impact of high-resolution, non-invasive CT coronary arteriography in a community hospital setting on the subsequent use of invasive arteriograms, commonly called coronary angiograms. The Heart Center’s working hypothesis is that high-resolution, non-invasive CT arteriography will replace invasive coronary arteriography in a significant percentage of cardiac patients.

Subsequent research will measure the impact of diagnosing cardiac patients using high-resolution CT scans combined with Positron Emission Tomography, or PET scans.

According to a study authored by Heart Center Medical Director Michael Merhige, M.D., a University at Buffalo clinical associate professor of nuclear medicine, the standalone use of non-invasive PET scans has already reduced the incidence of invasive coronary arteriograms and coronary bypass surgeries without adversely affecting patient outcomes. Dr. Merhige presented those findings March 8 at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session in Orlando, Fla.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to explore the potential of using PET imaging and CT angiography in cardiac care with highly respected medical, academic and commercial research associates,” Merhige said. “We can’t wait to get started on what we’re convinced will be a longstanding and productive partnership.”

Today’s announcement marks Memorial Medical Center as the most progressive community hospital in New York state and one of the most innovative in the United States, President and CEO Joseph A. Ruffolo said.

“We believe combining PET technology with the use of CT angiography represents the best hope for turning around the region’s dismal death rate from cardiac disease,” Ruffolo said. “It has the potential for detecting heart disease up to 10 years before a patient exhibits symptoms, and it’s safer and less costly than the invasive technology now in common use. Working with GE and our academic partners, we hope to validate that belief.”

GE’s LightSpeed VCT is the world’s first volume CT system. It enables cardiologists to capture images of the heart and coronary arteries in five heartbeats — something no other CT system can offer. Its speed allows physicians using the LightSpeed VCT to effectively freeze the motion of the heart in a single scan and secure exceedingly high-quality images of coronary arteries in sub-millimeter detail.

"As the world's leader in CT for nearly three decades, GE Healthcare is committed to investing in research and developing innovative imaging technologies that play a key role in the fast, accurate, noninvasive diagnosis of heart disease," said Jim Davis, Vice President, GE Healthcare. "We applaud Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center's efforts to provide this innovative, lifesaving technology to this region of New York, and we are eager to help launch this important research on how the LightSpeed VCT will help cardiologists treat more patients more effectively."

Dr. Bruce Holm, executive director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and Senior Vice Provost at the University at Buffalo, said the research to be done at The Heart Center of Niagara dovetails nicely with the center’s mission.

The Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics is part of a billion dollar statewide high-technology and biotechnology effort aimed at making New York a worldwide leader in university-based research, business creation and job development. The Center, which links university researchers with business and industry leaders at the leading edge of growth industries in the most advanced areas of high technology and biotechnology, has garnered more $200 million from state, federal and philanthropic sources, as well as its business partners.

“There has been a significant investment of public and private monies in the life sciences and health care in our region, where the Center of Excellence, the Heart Center of Niagara and Niagara University have all received funding to build facilities and expertise,” Dr. Holm said. “This unique research initiative is an ideal example of how to make the most of that investment by coordinating resources across the region. The Center of Excellence is pleased to contribute its expertise in research methods, bioinformatics and genomics to this collaborative effort.”

Research support will also be provided by the Academic Center for Integrated Sciences at Niagara University under the direction of Robert S. Greene, Ph. D., chair of biology and director of the Center for Biological, Chemical and Technological Sciences.

“Niagara’s new research laboratories, coupled with faculty expertise, lend themselves directly to questions critical for Heart Center research on the causes and effects of coronary artery disease. Initial research will focus on genes that influence these processes and that have diagnostic and prognostic importance,” Greene said.

“Niagara University’s partnership with The Heart Center’s research and educational goals will help to foster a healthier and more robust population and economy in Niagara County and Western New York,” he added.

BuffLink Inc., a private, nonprofit corporation founded in 2001, will seek to translate research done at Memorial into innovative commercial enterprises, said spokeswoman Marnie LaVigne, Ph.D.

“Actively pursuing opportunities such as this will help position Buffalo Niagara as a generator for economic growth well into the 21st century,” LaVigne said.

Ruffolo called the BuffLink connection a key component of the research effort.

“The greatest research in the world is worthless unless you can bring it to market so it will benefit the patients it’s meant to help,” Ruffolo said. “BuffLink’s involvement will ensure that any economic development spurred by this research will create jobs for our local economy.”


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