Meet the Director of Mount Sinai's Cardiovascular Research Center
"Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally. In order to tackle them in all aspects, we must unite improved diagnostic techniques with more refined therapies."
Roger J. Hajjar, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center, the Arthur & Janet C. Ross Professor of Medicine, Professor of Gene & Cell Medicine, Director of the Cardiology Fellowship Program, and Co-Director of the Transatlantic Cardiovascular Research Center, which combines Mount Sinai Cardiology Laboratories with those of the Universite de Paris – Madame Curie.
In the late 1990s, the possibility that discoveries in genetics and genomics could have a positive impact on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cardiovascular diseases seemed to be just a distant promise. Today, a little more than a decade later, the promise is beginning to take shape. Roger J. Hajjar, MD and his multidisciplinary team of investigators are beginning to translate scientific findings into real therapies for cardiovascular diseases. As Director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute and a cardiologist by training, Dr. Hajjar guides the growth of a cutting-edge translational research laboratory, which is positioning Mount Sinai as the leader in cardiovascular genomics.
An internationally recognized scientific leader in the field of cardiac gene therapy for heart failure, Dr. Hajjar is expanding studies of the basic mechanisms of cardiac diseases and identification of high-risk groups and genomic predictors so that they can be part of the daily clinical care of patients. Unique biorepositories combined with cardiovascular areas of excellence across Mount Sinai make possible crucial genetic studies.
First Gene Therapy for Heart Failure
Under Dr. Hajjar's leadership, the Cardiovascular Research Center has already developed the world's first potential gene therapy for heart failure. Known as AAV1.SERCA2a, this therapy actually revives heart tissue that has stopped working properly. It has led to new treatment possibilities for patients with advanced heart failure, whose options used to be severely limited. The significance of this research has been recognized with the initiation and successful completion Phase 1 and Phase 2 First-in-Man clinical trials of SERCA2a gene transfer in patients with advanced heart failure. Phase 3 validation begins in 2011.
The Cardiovascular Research Center's next research projects, already underway, focus on using novel gene therapy vectors to target diastolic heart failure, ventricular arrhythmias, pulmonary hypertension, and myocardial infarctions.
In addition to targeting signaling pathways to aid failing heart cells, ongoing work at the Cardiovascular Research Center involves studying how to block signaling pathways in cardiac hypertrophy as well as apoptosis. The laboratory team is also targeting a number of signaling pathways in the aging heart to improve dystolic function.
Prior to joining Mount Sinai in 2007, Dr. Hajjar served as Director of the Cardiovascular Laboratory of Integrative Physiology and Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hajjar has also been a staff cardiologist in the Heart Failure & Cardiac Transplantation Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. After earning a bachelors of science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, he completed his training in internal medicine, cardiology and research fellowships at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.