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Women of the Heart

Aligning Research from Bench to Bedside By Eric Swedlund With a new director at the helm, the University of Arizona’s Sarver Heart Center is moving forward on an expanded research mission – aiming to increase clinical trials and translate molecular and genetic discoveries into innovative therapies. Dr. Nancy K. Sweitzer, who took the reins on March 1, is the first woman to lead the Sarver Heart Center, which was founded as the University Heart Center in 1986. Only about 15 percent of cardiologists nationwide are women – which makes the Sarver Heart Center stand out – with Sweitzer, co-director Carol Gregorio and renowned researchers like Dr. Jil Tardiff. “The concentration of female leadership here is incredible and very unusual in medicine. It makes for a very vibrant atmosphere and it was definitely attractive to me looking at this position,” Sweitzer said. “The fact that we have women here in prominent roles will certainly help us draw other exceptional women to Arizona. It creates a culture where women see role models and thus are attracted to stay in that environment and, over time, are groomed for leadership themselves.” The Sarver Heart Center membership includes more than 30 women physicians and scientists among its 170 members – women who are conducting clinical and basic science research focusing on heart disease, stroke, diabetes, nutrition and exercise. Sweitzer takes over for Dr. Gordon Ewy, who was recruited to join the fledgling College of Medicine in 1968

as one of the founding fathers in cardiology. He took over as director of the University Heart Center in 1991 and led an era of fundraising that gathered donations from the Sarver family and many others, leading to 13 endowed chairs. Perpetual sources of funding

The endowments create dedicated, perpetual sources of funding that allow for strategic, prestigious hires – like Tardiff, an expert in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, one of the most fre-

My first priority is to expand the clinical operation to see more patients, to bring more people in and deliver excellent care to those people. –

Dr. Nancy K. Sweitzer, Director Sarver Heart Center

quent causes of sudden cardiac death. Tardiff, a dual M.D. and Ph.D., was recruited away from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York to serve as the first Steven M. Gootter Endowed Chair for the Prevention and Treatment of Sudden Cardiac Death. “I’ve looked at a number of chief of cardiology jobs around the country and as chief of cardiology, like

the chairman of anything these days, you’re expected to do more with less. Doctors are working harder and often making less, and research is very hard now because the NIH (National Institutes of Health) budget is so poor,” Sweitzer said. “But the unique thing about the Sarver Heart Center was the philanthropic aspect and the tremendous involvement of the donor community in maintaining heart disease research – even in these lean times. The intensity and dedication of that group – and the support the faculty feel – made it a very attractive opportunity. That extra dimension that exists here is really rare and really special to Tucson.” Sweitzer, like Tardiff, is a dual M.D. and Ph.D. She said several particular strengths of the Sarver Center drew her in – including the UA’s storied history in heart transplants and the development of the artificial heart, the world-renowned muscle biology group, a growing bioinformatics effort, and collaborations not only with other medical colleges, but with maincampus researchers in engineering and optics. Enormous opportunities for collaboration

“I am a very collaborative person, a very multidisciplinary person,” she said. “I’ve increasingly become the bridging person. My own research has expanded in a way that involves collaboration with radiology. I’ve done collaborative work with the School of Nursing in Wisconsin, and I’m startcontinued on page 37 >>> Summer 2014 > > > BizTucson 35


Tucson region's business magazine, Summer 2014 issue.


Tucson region's business magazine, Summer 2014 issue.