With $5.4M grant, researchers will study how chemotherapy can weaken the heart — and could offer insights on how to protect it

Funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute will allow a team at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center more time to mentor trainees and conduct research that could lead to better long-term heart health for cancer survivors.

Fadi Salloum.
Fadi Salloum conducts heart failure research at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center and the VCU School of Medicine. His new grant will allow him more time to mentor other researchers and has the potential to improve the heart health of cancer survivors. (Allen Jones, University Marketing)

A research program led by a scientist at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center will expand its efforts toward improving the heart health of cancer survivors through a grant intended to promote innovation and enable researchers to mentor more budding scientists in their fields.

Fadi Salloum, Ph.D., the Natalie N. and John R. Congdon Sr. Endowed Chair at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center, has received an R35 Emerging Investigator Award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The NHLBI intends to award up to eight EIA grants in a given year nationally. Salloum's was one of a handful of proposals selected for funding.

The seven-year, $5.4 million award will fund Salloum’s research program: “Managing Cardiac Toxicities of Cancer Therapy.” The goal of the research is to better understand the basis of cardiotoxicity — damage to the heart caused by chemotherapy drugs — and inform the discovery of new methods of prevention for chemotherapy-induced heart failure. 

“The overall focus in our lab is on heart failure, which may be attributed to several causes, including myocardial infarction, or heart attack, FDA-approved chemotherapeutic drugs with known cardiotoxic effects and genetic diseases, such as muscular dystrophy, that cause severe heart failure,” said Salloum, a professor and associate chair of research in the Department of Internal Medicine at VCU School of Medicine.

The flexibility offered by the grant will allow Salloum, also a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, to pursue all of these areas of research under a single funding mechanism, thus providing more time for mentoring trainees in the lab. 

“Receiving this prestigious award is a testament to the tremendous foundation that Dr. Salloum has created with his research to date,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “With this funding, Dr. Salloum and his colleagues not only have the opportunity to advance our understanding of cardiotoxicity and improve patients’ lives, but also to help train the next generation of researchers who will continue to build on their work and improve the way we care for patients far into the future.” 

The Emerging Investigator Award is a program designed to promote scientific productivity and innovation by providing continuous support for researchers who are primary investigators on at least two NHLBI R01-equivalent awards and whose research record demonstrates progressive promise. Salloum has been conducting research on topics such as how hydrogen sulfide protects the heart and how a pregnancy hormone called relaxin could have protective effects on the heart.

Notably, the National Institutes of Health says the Emerging Investigator Award is designed to fund a program, rather than just a project, which will allow Salloum the freedom and flexibility to explore groundbreaking research and explore new directions. It will also open up new opportunities for collaboration, according to VCU Health Pauley Heart Center Director Greg Hundley, M.D., especially in conjunction with the center’s established clinical cardio-oncology program, and has the potential to move the field forward and make an impact on the cardiovascular health of cancer survivors. Salloum said he is looking forward to the impact this will have on his lab and on the Pauley Heart Center. 

“We congratulate Dr. Salloum for being recognized with NHLBI’s Emerging Investigator Award for his impactful research in the area of heart failure. This recognition is a tremendous honor for VCU and the School of Medicine,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation at VCU. “Overall, it is a testament to the outstanding and transformational research that Dr. Salloum has been conducting in cardiac injury, inflammation and heart failure. We look forward to the work that will come from this additional support for his important and creative research.”

Other recent recipients of R35 grants at VCU include Daniel Conway, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering, and Said Sebti, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at VCU School of Medicine. Conway and Sebti are also researchers at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

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