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Heartening developments: Stanford expert discusses innovations in cardiac care

February is American Heart Month, and to mark the occasion I sat down with Robert Robbins, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery (and director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute), to ask him about innovations in cardiac care and what the future holds. My Q&A was recently posted on the Stanford Hospital & Clinics website, and I’ve included a few highlights below.

Robbins on minimally-invasive aortic valve replacement:

As part of a clinical trial, we’re doing some valve replacements transfemorally — that is, using a catheter to maneuver the new valve through blood vessels to the heart. Only one small incision to the femoral artery is needed, and the procedure generally takes little more than an hour. Recovery time is a few days.

On heart health and the human genome:

Much of the work in this area is being done at Stanford, where we have a lot of strength not only in mapping DNA but also interpreting the massive amount of data it produces. Our researchers will be able to create algorithms and ways to manage and interpret this data. One day you’ll probably be able to walk into your doctor’s office and say, “Here’s my genetic code. What does it mean?”

Another great hope is to customize drug therapy to specific cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, based on your genetic profile. If your genes make certain proteins or enzymes that metabolize a certain class of drugs better than another class, then doctors could use this so-called pharmacogenomic approach to customize treatments.

On stem cells:

I think they hold huge promise, but we’re not ready yet to employ stem-cell therapies to treat end-stage heart failure. But I do believe our group here at Stanford, one of the world’s leaders in this area, will be the first to put embryonic stem cells into the human heart.

Previously: Either you’re a woman or you know one: Help spread the message of women’s heart health, A focus on women’s heart health and At new Stanford center, revealing dangerous secrets of the heart
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