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Center for Cardiovascular Research at JABSOM

August 22, 2014
  • Dr. Ralph Shohet

Members of the Shohet Lab team celebrate the 2010 $1 million gift to the Center for Cardiovascular Research.  Read more

An anonymous act of generosity

In 2010, an anonymous donor contributed $1 million to endow the directorship of the Center for Cardiovascular Research (CCR) at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.  

“I am forever grateful to this donor for being the first to make such a large private investment in our cardiovascular research program,” said Dr. Ralph Shohet, Professor of Medicine and Director of the CCR. He continued, “The income from this endowment helps support the recruitment of new scientists and the initial projects of young investigators exploring new ideas for treating heart disease.”

The fund enhances the director’s ability to strategically invest in the CCR and recruit top research talent. It also provides pilot or bridge research funding to promising new investigators and assists faculty and staff in their professional development. 

Doing more for patients today

In 1977, Dr. Shohet’s grandfather died of a heart attack.  He remembers his uncle trying to resuscitate him in the bedroom and then in the ambulance, and his grandmother’s devastation. 

Center for Cardiovascular Research Director Dr. Ralph Shohet is helping CCR realize its potential to improve our health and community.

More people die of heart disease in Hawai‘i and across the country than any other cause.  “People are not dying of infectious disease in their 50s anymore; they’re dying of heart disease in their 70s,” notes Shohet. Advances in clinical care make it possible to do much more for heart patients now than could be done 30 years ago. Dr. Shohet thinks that “if we had been able to treat my grandfather with modern approaches we might have had another 10 years with him.”

More advances are on the horizon. Dr. Shohet explains, “There is nothing more exciting than exploring human disease biology with the tools of molecular science.  Every day we improve our understanding of how our heart works, how it goes wrong, and how to prevent and cure problems.  These discoveries, involving what is the leading cause of death and disability in our community, are really what drive us and keep us tap-dancing into work each morning.”

Dr. Shohet has the enthusiasm, training, and curiosity to open those doors of molecular discovery through his work and that of his colleagues at the Center. After medical school and post graduate fellowships in molecular cardiology, molecular biology, and clinical cardiology, he taught and conducted research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas for 13 years before his recruitment to the John A. Burns School of Medicine in 2005. “I found it very attractive to build a program and come to a new place where my particular training and skills are so needed – where I feel I’m a critical part of the medical school,” said Shohet.

Center for Cardiovascular Research

Dr. Shohet established the CCR shortly after his arrival. It has grown to become an interdisciplinary research and education institution, employing over 30 faculty, fellows, technicians, and graduate and medical students. It is the focal point for cardiovascular research for the University of Hawai‘i and the State.

In 2012 Judith Pyle funded the Judith Dion Pyle Endowed Fund for the Robert Hong, MD Professorship in the Cardiovascular Fellowship Program to enhance cardiovascular research, care and treatment in the islands.

Dr. Anne Kemble, Dr. Kahealani Rivera, Judy Pyle and Dr. John Michael Chua Chiaco celebrating Pyle’s 2012 gift.

Since Dr. Shohet arrived, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized the Center’s excellence with awards of more than $20 million to support recruitment of new faculty, training of young investigators, core equipment and technologies required for molecular medicine, and ongoing research. Just last year he was awarded an NIH training grant, the first at the School, to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the CCR.

The Center for Cardiovascular Research focuses on:

Investigating heart and blood vessel diseases. Understanding how the heart and blood vessels respond to stress is the Center’s central goal.  Five principal investigators lead research in different aspects of cardiac function. These include the genetic response to low oxygen levels, how inflammation affects the heart and blood vessels, how diabetes damages the cardiovascular system, and how different kinds of cells in the heart “choose their fate”.

Developing new therapies. Researchers are investigating ways to improve gene therapy to treat diseases. For example, they are developing a new technology that directs genes to the heart and other organs, using microbubbles as a delivery system. The surface of the bubbles is loaded with DNA that will express a therapeutic gene and these bubbles are popped as they pass through the heart using low frequency sound waves. 

Training students, new investigators, and clinicians. The Center trains graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and young investigators to develop the skills required to become independent investigators. They have also developed an innovative program to teach high school biology teachers about modern techniques in molecular biology. The CCR also provides research training for the new cardiology fellows at Queen’s Medical Center, who represent the next generation of cardiologists in Hawai‘i.

Support the Center for Cardiovascular Research

If you are interested in supporting CCR as a donor, make a secure gift online.

If you would like to learn how you can support UH students and programs like this, please contact us at 808-956-8700 or send us a message.