By Ryan Ball

The Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Department of Surgery was recently awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to join the Cardiothoracic Surgery Trials Network. The consortium of sites throughout the United States and Canada has been charged with the mission to develop, coordinate and conduct collaborative, proof-of-concept studies and interventional protocols to improve cardiovascular disease outcomes.

The grant money will provide infrastructure support over a five-year period as USC operates as one of the core sites in the network. Michael Bowdish, MD, assistant professor of surgery and director of the Keck School’s mechanical circulatory support program, serves as the principal investigator for the USC site. Bowdish will work with the other nine centers’ steering committees to decide which trials will be performed. The centers will then conduct the same four or five trials, working collaboratively from design to analysis of results and the publishing of papers.

“Many of the trials are designed to look at things that we, as surgeons, have done for years but have no corresponding data,” he explained. “Another goal is to do experimental, groundbreaking, small trials that are truly revolutionary — for example, stem-cell and small-molecule therapy.”

Bowdish said one of the major goals has been to increase the amount of federal dollars coming into the department.

He also noted that one of the strengths of the initiative is its multidisciplinary nature. His co-investigators at the Keck School are cardiologist Dave Shavelle, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine and director of the Interventional Cardiology Fellowship and director of the LAC+USC Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory; and Christi Heck, MD, MMM, chief of neurology and director of the USC Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. Neurology is involved because all of the trials are being designed with an interest in how heart surgery affects the brain.

Other network participants include the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Duke University, Baylor Research Institute, the University of Virginia and the Montreal Heart Institute. NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research sponsor the endeavor.

“This grant helps put USC’s Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute on the same playing field as some of the best cardiovascular programs in the United States and Canada,” Bowdish remarked.

This is the second funding received by the Cardiothoracic Surgery Trials Network.

The group’s most recent trial, a study showing roughly equivalent outcomes for patients who had leaky heart valves replaced versus those who had them repaired, was recently presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, with simultaneous publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.

More information on the Cardiothoracic Surgical Trials Network can be found at