Director's Welcome

Director, Sam Wickline, MD

A message from our Director, Dr. Sam Wickline

Welcome to the new USF Health Heart Institute (Heart Institute) at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, Fla. The Heart Institute brings together a critical mass of basic science and clinical researchers to address unmet medical needs related to cardiovascular disease (CVD), the number one killer of Americans today.

Deaths caused by heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation far exceed all other causes of mortality, and cost more than $500 billion a year, a figure that the American Heart Association projects will rise to $1.1 trillion by 2035. While clinical translation of cutting-edge research and drug development helped spur a progressive decline in CVD deaths over the last four decades, we now are experiencing a shocking flattening and even reversal of mortality trends due to global epidemics of obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes that predispose more people to CVD.

Through better understanding of the genetic, molecular, and environmental drivers of heart and vascular disease, the Heart Institute ultimately aims to better detect and prevent disease rather than respond late in the disease process to life-threatening events such as heart attacks and strokes.


Challenges in the fight against cardiovascular disease

The Heart Institute emerged from a confluence of critical challenges that now threaten progress against CVD.

First, although various forms of CVD affect more than 40 percent of the U.S. population -- 27 percent for heart disease and stroke alone -- only 5 percent of the NIH budget is devoted to heart disease and stroke research. If these funding shortfalls are not addressed, the pace of future innovations for understanding and treating CVD will slow.

Second, development and approval of new pharmaceuticals to treat CVD appears significantly slower than that for new cancer drugs, for example, in part a consequence of the enormous expense and regulatory requirements for clinical cardiovascular trials. This means that research translating laboratory findings to the care of patients with CVD will be less attractive to pharmaceutical companies than new agents with easier (i.e., cheaper) paths to FDA approval.

Third, CVD is well recognized as a disease of aging. Health care costs for CVD will continue to rise and divert local and national resources from research, especially in those states like Florida, with one of the older populations in the nation.


New facilities, top talent to advance leading research

Recognizing these challenges, USF, the State of Florida, and the local business community joined together to bolster the fight against CVD – creating a plan with immediate implications for health care research and delivery and for business growth in the Tampa Bay region and the State. The approved plan calls for a new co-located Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute building at Water Street Tampa. This new facility, expected to begin construction in August 2017 near the waterfront in downtown, includes four floors (100,000 square feet of usable space) dedicated to cardiovascular and related research. State-of-the-art laboratories and core facilities will open by late 2019 to foster scientific exchange and collaboration among teams of scientists working in basic, translational and clinical research areas including:

  • heart failure due to hereditary genetic factors and atherosclerosis.
  • coronary artery disease detection, cure, and prevention.
  • stroke early risk assessment and prevention.
  • blood clot prevention with safer medicines not causing bleeding.
  • peripheral vascular disease in patients with limb ischemia.
  • cancer-related heart disease due to chemotherapy.
  • gene and stem cell therapies to regenerate heart and vascular tissues.
  • new engineering initiatives in molecular imaging and nanotechnology.

Successful scientists from existing departments at USF and the College of Medicine will join the Heart Institute, and we will recruit new internationally recognized faculty from around the world. A clinical research unit will facilitate testing of our scientific innovations. Proximity to Tampa General Hospital, USF’s primary teaching hospital and cardiology faculty practice site, will enhance clinical care and teaching and further speed bench to bedside translation of scientific breakthroughs.


USF’s strengths in medicine, engineering and entrepreneurship combined

Other far-reaching developments at USF will also promote the mission of the Heart Institute to rapidly make a difference in the lives of patients with CVD or those at risk for heart or vascular diseases. USF has a PhD degree program in biomedical engineering, and the Colleges of Medicine and Engineering recently partnered to form a new Department of Medical Engineering to focus on how to best help patients and improve medical care. We will work together on the engineering aspects of new diagnostics and therapeutics, such as designing nanostructures that can detect very early disease in cells and in tissues, and then deliver targeted gene and drug therapies to adjust the production of both harmful and helpful proteins to control or even prevent disease.

The Heart Institute also is committed to helping expand regional business by channeling its own intellectual property into new commercial enterprises and engaging in community redevelopment with local companies. We expect to attract attention to the Tampa Bay area for its as an emerging center of innovation. And, we are encouraged by the strategic decisions of international pharmaceutical giants like Johnson and Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and most recently Amgen, to locate corporate administrative functions such as their “Capability Centers” in Tampa.

We welcome your input and help in the fight against CVD. You can contribute personally by moderating your own risk factors such as high blood pressure, weight, diet, and physical activity. and by supporting the facilities and resources needed to attract the brightest minds to the Heart Institute.. Our mantra is “make a difference,” and we look forward to conducting our critical mission to reduce death and suffering from CVD over the next decade and beyond.

Sam Wickline, MD
Director, USF Health Heart Institute