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University of Pittsburgh researchers get $7.3M grant to study heart failure-depression link

| Sunday, March 30, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Dr. Bruce L. Rollman, professor of medicine, psychiatry, biomedical informatics and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Courtesy of University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Bruce L. Rollman, professor of medicine, psychiatry, biomedical informatics and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have received a $7.3 million federal grant over five years to study the impact of treating heart failure and depression in patients with both conditions.

“It's an approach that has not been really tried,” said Susan Czajkowski, program director at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, awarded Pitt the grant.

Czajkowski said the study is important because an estimated 5.1 million Americans have heart failure, the heart's inability to pump enough blood. About 25 percent of them suffer from depression, she said.

Heart failure patients who are moderately or severely depressed are four times more likely to die and twice as likely to go to the emergency room or be hospitalized compared with those who are not depressed, according to a study published last year by the American Heart Association.

Czajkowski said the Pitt approach is trying to make it easier for patients.

“They can get care for both heart failure and depression with one medical team,” she said. “You don't have to go to different doctors.”

Dr. Bruce L. Rollman, professor of medicine, psychiatry, biomedical informatics and clinical and translational science at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, leads the study. Called the Hopeful Heart trial, it involves 750 participants from several UPMC hospitals who meet the severity criteria for heart failure and screen positive for depression in the hospital and two weeks after discharge.

The patients will be divided into three groups: One group will get one year of nurse-provided and telephone-delivered “blended” care for heart failure and depression in coordination with the patients' heart doctors and primary care physicians. A second group will receive blended care for heart failure only. And a third will get their doctors' usual care for both conditions.

“I'm excited because I hope it will break down the silos between mental health and medical conditions,” Rollman said.

Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said a 2010 Australian study focused on treating heart failure patients who have depression with anti-depressants. He said it made no significant impact on either illness.

Fonarow, who is not involved in the Pitt study, was eager to see the results of Rollman's approach.

“It will be very important to study this in a rigorous fashion,” he said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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