In the late 1990s, the head of Cardiology, R. Sanders Williams, MD, told Helen Hobbs, MD, about a call for applications from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation in Las Vegas. The Reynolds Foundation was offering what would become a 10-year, nearly $60 million grant to create a Center for Cardiovascular Disease research. “I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it,” Hobbs recalls.
Her lab had recently identified two recessive forms of severe high cholesterol, an exciting discovery that called for its own new research. That and the sheer size of the grant, which ensured a crowded field of the country’s top academic medical centers, made the opportunity a long shot at best. Ultimately, however, Hobbs and Ron Victor, MD, now Director of the Hypertension Center at Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Institute in Los Angeles, accepted the challenge and became Co-Principal Investigators.
After the initial review, UT Southwestern emerged as one of the five finalists —an elite group that included Johns Hopkins, Duke, Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco.
The centerpiece of the medical school’s proposal was the Dallas Heart Study (DHS), which incorporated a sample population of more than 6,000 adults from Dallas County. The study combined the best features of laboratory and population-based research. Its key design feature —captured in its theme: Taking Diversity to Heart — was to effectively leverage the genetic diversity in Dallas.
The goal was to identify new genetic, protein, and imaging biomarkers that could detect cardiovascular disease at its earliest stages. It was also designed to examine the social, behavioral and environmental factors contributing to cardiovascular risk in order to find effective interventions.
In 1999, the team’s efforts were rewarded with the first of many Reynolds Foundation grants going to UT Southwestern. The result was the establishment of the Donald W. Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center, a multidisciplinary collaboration among geneticists, epidemiologists, and clinical and molecular biologists. Over the next 25 years, the collaboration would lead to the discoveries of major genes and proteins that contribute to heart and metabolic disease.
The Dallas Heart Study has become one of UT Southwestern’s greatest research projects. The data gathered has been, and will continue for decades to be, an invaluable resource to young cardiologists in clinical research as well as to those in related fields such as obesity and liver disease.