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Published on March 16, 2022

Breakthrough Leadership | Cone Health Heart & Vascular

Reading Blood Pressure

MEET THE INNOVATORS: Watch Bridgette Christopher, MD, Daniel Bensimhon, MD, Tiffany Randolph, MD, and Thomas Stuckey, MD, talk about the patient benefits of clinical trials at Cone Health’s LeBauer-Brodie Center.

A Legacy of Heart Care Innovation at Cone Health

A legacy of ingenuity, passion and concern for the community has created a culture of “practical innovation” in heart and vascular care at Cone Health. Groundbreaking clinical trials at the LeBauer-Brodie Center for Cardiovascular Research and Education allow for quick implementation of major advances in care, saving countless lives and improving health for thousands of patients. Today’s pioneers are bringing some of the most-advanced capabilities available to the Triad and building on decades of leadership in heart and vascular care innovation.

In the mid-1980s, a group of Cone Health physicians sought to improve survival rates of patients suffering from acute myocardial infarction — commonly known as a heart attack. Their tactic? Replacing the use of risky clot-busting drugs with a new approach called balloon angioplasty, involving the insertion and inflation of a balloon to quickly open the blocked artery and restore blood flow to the heart. Deemed renegades at the time, Cone Health cardiologists Bruce Brodie, MD, and Richard Weintraub, MD, pioneered this life-saving procedure.

“A small number of cardiologists nationally were really setting the stage for a big international breakthrough, including us in Greensboro, and it was controversial at the time,” says Thomas Stuckey, MD, another member of the group advocating this trendsetting procedure.

Ultimately, the physicians were successful. After multiple trials were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other publications, balloon angioplasty became the nationwide standard of care, helping reduce the rate of deaths following a heart attack in the U.S. from 25% to 2%.

The LeBauer Cardiovascular Research Foundation, founded in 1991 by Drs. Brodie and Stuckey and Denise Muncy, RN, was at the forefront of this movement. 

In the years to follow, Cone Health cardiologists played prominent roles in subsequent innovations that further improved patient outcomes, including stents that keep the arteries open after the balloon angioplasty and an emphasis on a rapid response process that dramatically reduced the average wait time for heart attack patients to receive treatment. This focus on practical innovation has led to benefits locally, with The Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital noted for one of the lowest heart attack readmission rates in the U.S.

“It’s truly been the privilege of a lifetime,” Dr. Stuckey says. “We’re able to provide world-class care because we constantly come back to practical innovation, a willingness to test new approaches, to do things better in ways that improve patient outcomes, as the basis of everything we do.”

Dr. Stuckey has led continued breakthroughs as a cofounder and current medical director of the LeBauer-Brodie Center for Cardiovascular Research and Education. The center has been home to more than 500 clinical trials.

“Clinicians are often cautious in changing their approach to care,” Dr. Stuckey says. “When they’re part of a safe clinical trial where new approaches are being tested, then care changes and improves faster because your staff and your physicians are learning in real time how they can do things differently and better — sooner.”

The LeBauer-Brodie Center’s ongoing national leadership continues to draw top medical talent to Cone Health. An array of 31 clinical trials with nine more on deck are now underway there.

In the stories linked below, take a glimpse into the future of heart and vascular care at Cone Health.

Tiffany Randolph, MDAlleviating Hypertension

Physician Lead: Tiffany Randolph, MD, Cardiologist

The Trial: Remote Blood Pressure Monitoring for Resistant Hypertension

Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. — about 116 million people — have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, a condition that increases the force of blood against artery walls and can lead to health problems, including heart disease. In 2021, Dr. Randolph created the Advanced Hypertension Clinic, designed to provide accessible, comprehensive and coordinated care for patients with high blood pressure and, in particular, to help those with continuing high blood pressure even after using medications to treat it. Now, Dr. Randolph is launching a 2022 study that employs Bluetooth technology, telemedicine and community partnerships. The trial aims to lower blood pressure faster, allowing for fewer office visits, especially for those who have trouble making in-person appointments. Learn more.

James D. Allred, MDChipping Away at AFib Detection in Stroke Patients

Physician Leads: Pramod P. Sethi, MD, Medical Director, Cone Health Stroke Center; James Allred, MD, Medical Director, Atrial Fibrillation Clinic, Cone Health Heart & Vascular Center

The Trial: Stroke of Known Cause and Underlying Atrial Fibrillation (STROKE AF) 

This national study was designed to improve the detection of atrial fibrillation (AFib) in stroke patients. The team’s findings mean thousands of additional stroke patients each year will receive life-saving AFib-prevention medication. The Journal of the American Medical Association and Science magazine are among several publications to report on this study, coauthored with other leading neurologists and cardiologists from health systems including Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Learn more

Bridgette Christopher, MDCardiometabolic Solutions

Physician Leads: Bridgette Christopher, MD, PhD, Cardiologist; Cristina Gherghe, MD, Endocrinologist

The Trial: Coordinate Diabetes

More than 32 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, and patients with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease as those without diabetes. Although the No. 1 cause of death in diabetic patients is cardiovascular disease, the coordination of care is often challenging for metabolic disorders present in diabetic patients and cardiac issues. The Coordinate Diabetes trial, overseen by the LeBauer-Brodie Center in partnership with Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), is studying techniques to help keep patients on medications, while monitoring patient outcomes, including whether they stay out of the hospital. The multidisciplinary approach and focus on communication have revealed the benefits of working together across disciplines instead of isolating the treatment of sugar-related issues and cardiovascular disease. Learn more.

Wells Brabham, MD, and Dalton McLean, MDBarostim Beats Heart Failure

Physician Leads: James Allred, MD, Electrophysiologist; Wells Brabham, MD, Vascular Surgeon; Dalton McLean, MD, Cardiologist

The Trial: Baroreflex Activation Therapy (Barostim)

About 6.2 million adults in the U.S. have heart failure, a condition in which the heart does not pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Current treatments have limited success in reducing symptoms and strengthening the heart. Cone Health was one of the highest enrollers of patients in the country for the Barostim clinical trials, with heart failure specialist Dalton McLean, MD, identifying most of the patients for the trial with Kimberly Lutterloh, RN, and providing cardiology care for many of them. Drs. Brabham and Allred (Cone Health Principal Investigator) are among the first physicians in the U.S. to install a Barostim, and in June as part of a clinical trial, they became the first in the world to use a new, minimally invasive technique called BATwire to implant the device. The clinical trial showed this treatment reduces symptoms of heart failure substantially, enabling patients to increase physical activity that in turn strengthens their heart. Learn more.

Learn more about heart and vascular clinical trials and research

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Pictured at top from left: Dalton McLean, MD; Tiffany Randolph, MD; Thomas Stuckey, MD; Bridgette Christopher, MD, PhD; Wells Brabham, MD; James D. Allred, MD; Jennifer Knapp, RN, lead clinical research coordinator.

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