Construction begins for USF Health Heart Institute


Heart disease continues to be the No. 1 cause of death in the country, and goes neck-and-neck with cancer in Florida with more than 40,000 deaths in the state each year, according to the Centers for Disease and Control.

To combat this disease, the USF Health Heart Institute will embark on new methods for researching cardiovascular health. Scheduled for completion in 2015, the construction of the new building began last month following a ground-breaking ceremony.

At the ceremony, USF President Judy Genshaft and leaders of USF Health met with local officials and members of the community.

“USF is working tirelessly to make heart disease less of a threat to the health and well-being of our community,” Genshaft said at the ceremony. “… Here, doctors and scientists will work together in the latest research discoveries with the best cardiovascular care. We bring the most creative solutions to treat heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If we can reduce the human toll that heart disease can take, we’ll change the future for individuals and their families in our community.”

The project, a five-story, 100,000-square-foot building, is expected to cost about $50 million and has thus far, the project has received $21.4 million from the state and Hillsborough County with $30 million anticipated to come from a combination of public and private sources, including funding from the state Legislature and private donations.

Dr. Arthur Labovitz, department chair of cardiovascular sciences in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and Dr. Stephen Liggett, vice dean for research in the College of Medicine, are currently serving as the Institute’s acting directors.

Liggett said the Institute will serve as a way to bring together researchers from multiple departments by providing office and lab space. Until construction is complete, Liggett said he and others at the university will keep the project going and recruit faculty for the Institute.

Focusing on what he calls a “balanced multidisciplinary basic-science approach” to understanding the root causes of heart disease, Ligget said the Institute will focus on four core laboratories for basic and applied research: Pharmacology and Drug Discovery, Integrative Cell/Organ Physiology, Regenerative Sciences and Bioinformatics and Genomics.

Genomics, which will includes methods of predicting, diagnosing and treating cardiovascular disease using personalized DNA, is currently being used at USF. A recent trial study at USF Health used blood samples from USF patients and compared them with a database of patients from the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Harry van Loveren, interim director of the Morsani College of Medicine, said genomics is a form of personalized medicine that he hopes can lead to patients living happier and healthier lives.

“Your DNA already knows if you are going to have a heart attack, and when,” van Loveren said. “Your DNA already knows if one of our drugs will save your life, or if one of our drugs won’t. The genomics heart research done here will unlock your personal DNA, see into your future and hopefully change it.”

USF intends to invest up to $25 million in resources for genomics-based medicine and recruitment of faculty for the Institute.