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American Heart Association, AstraZeneca, and Verily award $75 million to heart disease researcher

Brigham & Women’s Hospital’s Calum MacRae hopes project will ‘reinvent’ how heart research is done

by Lisa M. Jarvis
October 7, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 40

Credit: One Brave Idea
Photo of Calum MacRae.
Credit: One Brave Idea

Seeking to shake up the way heart research is conducted, the American Heart Association, AstraZeneca, and Google’s Verily Life Sciences will give physician-scientist Calum MacRae $75 million over five years to try to find the underlying drivers of heart disease. MacRae, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, has assembled an interdisciplinary team to support the ambitious goal laid out by the award, called One Brave Idea.

Coronary heart disease, the accumulation of plaque in the arteries, claims roughly 7 million lives each year. But according to MacRae, the medical community has historically focused on the later stages of the disease when cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure medicines can be given.

MacRae says his team will try to pinpoint “the mix of genes, development, and environment that comes together to lead to coronary heart disease.” He sees the team operating more like a start-up than traditional academic grants allow as it quickly tests ideas for preventing or curing the disease and identifies failures fast.

The American Heart Association unveiled the competition in January and gave researchers just four weeks to fill out a brief application. Some 350 ideas were submitted. The pool was narrowed to 10 scientists who gave face-to-face presentations to the One Brave Idea partners.

At the end of the five years, MacRae hopes the team will have struck upon new pathways to treat heart disease and strategies to prevent it. “Above all, we will have completely reinvented the way we do science in this space,” he says.


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