UF cardiologist receives national award for research to improve women’s heart health
The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, also known as WomenHeart, has honored Carl J. Pepine, M.D., MACC, a cardiologist and professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicine, with the Wegner Award for Excellence in Medical Research for his decades of work in the field of women’s heart health.
Pepine, a former chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at UF, fittingly was told of the award on Valentine’s Day. He has been intrigued by the intricacies of women’s cardiovascular health for nearly four decades. His most recent research projects seek to understand the complexities of ischemic heart disease, which involves the smaller blood vessels within the heart in women rather than major blockages of the larger coronary arteries that are common in men. His dedication to understanding the effects of ischemic heart disease in women is what earned him this national recognition.
In addition to conducting research, Pepine maintains his practice at UF Health Cardiology – Springhill and also sees patients at the UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital. It was through his work treating cardiology patients that he first became acquainted with the differences between women and men in terms of cardiovascular issues. Observing the differences between patients of different genders is what allowed him to pose the research questions that he continues to raise today.
“I was seeing an increasing number of women disabled by chest pain,” he said, “but I didn’t see the physical blockage that would cause it among men.”
Pepine has published over 900 original papers, many focused on women’s heart health. His research has led to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
“I feel gratified that I’m being recognized, but there is a lot more to be discovered in this field,” he said.
Pepine is doing his part to advance that research. In October 2017, he was selected to be the principle investigator for a clinical trial to answer pertinent questions regarding angina or chest pain thought to be due to coronary artery disease, or CAD, in women. The research is being funded through a $14.9 million grant from the Department of Defense.
Pepine has led efforts to determine whether aggressive treatment of nonobstructive CAD, which is associated with a build-up in the arteries that doesn’t obstruct blood flow and malfunction of smaller vessels supplying blood to the heart muscle, could reduce the likelihood of hospitalization, heart failure, heart attack, stroke and even death. Treatment in this study includes medications and lifestyle changes aimed at these smaller blood vessels as well as preventing the progression of build-up in the larger arteries.
The study has been coined WARRIOR, or Women’s IschemiA TReatment Reduces Events In Non-ObstRuctive CAD. So far, about 300 of the 4,400 women for the study have been recruited and Pepine said it is too early to know what this four-year study will show. He added the grant and opportunity to do such a large research project, as well as over 20 years of work on the NIH-sponsored Women’s Ischemic Syndrome Evaluation project, may have been factors in his selection for the award from WomenHeart.
The 19th Annual Wegner Awards will be given out in Washington, D.C. in May and will recognize elite members of the medical, public policy and science communities, alongside heart disease survivors.
“On behalf of my team, I am honored to receive the distinguished Wegner Award,’’ Pepine said. “It is incredibly gratifying to know that our work has helped change the landscape for the diagnosis and treatment of ischemic heart disease in women. This has led to more women, disabled by severe symptoms, being addressed, reducing their disability and improving their quality of life.”
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