Feature

Top Docs 2012: Matters of the Heart

Meet the Top Doctors who keep an eye on the rhythms of the city.

August 2012

Lab Results

One local heart doc pushes medicine’s limits.

Dr. JoAnn Lindenfeld has long been interested in heart failure. She has spent a lengthy and successful career learning about cardiac care, including medicinal intervention, ventricular assist devices, and heart transplants. She helped develop University of Colorado Hospital’s heart transplant department in 1986. She has sat on multiple FDA panels that examine new drugs and novel cardiovascular devices. And she wrote the test (literally) for the advanced heart failure and transplant specialty board certification, one of the newest board certifications in the United States. The doctor still spends much of her days seeing patients in the clinic or in the hospital, but she has recently been carving out time in her sleep-deprived life to venture into medical research. Why? “It’s interesting,” Lindenfeld says. “It allows you to really question things and makes you ask why? and how? and begs you to think deeper about virtually every patient. I think that makes me a better doctor.”

Research, of course, takes many forms, especially at a teaching hospital like University of Colorado Hospital. Not only is Lindenfeld stepping into the lab on occasion, but she also collects patient data to contribute to national databases and other ongoing studies at other institutions. It’s tedious, time-consuming work, but Lindenfeld says there are rewards, even if they are long-term. “Doctors are always frustrated by patients we can’t make better,” she says. “The best days are days when you’re able to be useful and make people better. The most depressing days are when you’ve done everything right and someone doesn’t get better.” Lab time and data collection, she says, are things she can do every day to continue pushing medicine forward. Below, we detail just a small smattering of the current research projects with which Lindenfeld is involved.

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  • Drug Trials Lindenfeld and company are executing early trials of a new drug call Neureglin, which the doctor hopes will help heart failure patients’ hearts squeeze more strongly. Lindenfeld’s work is part of an ongoing national study in which the University of Colorado Hospital is one of 15 participating centers.
  • Cardiac Devices University’s heart docs are always researching new types of ventricular assist devices. They are currently studying the effectiveness of the new HeartWare device—which is already approved for bridge to transplant—for long-term use in patients who are not candidates for risky heart transplants.
  • Hospital Stays A new study to determine which heart failure patients respond best to diuretics has recently piqued Lindenfeld’s interest. By measuring sodium in patients’ urine after diuretics, she hopes to determine who will respond in the hospital and who will continue to respond when discharged, which could shorten hospital stays for patients.
  • Side Effects Funded by the American Heart Association, Lindenfeld is studying hypertension in heart transplant patients, who often develop hypertension due to the effects of immunosuppressive drugs. Lindenfeld is studying the causes of the hypertension as well as the potential effectiveness of a blood pressure drug called Aliskiren.
  • The Big C Lindenfeld is involved with a grant submission she hopes will be approved to evaluate cardiac function in women with breast cancer. There are many cancer drugs that can cause heart failure. When heart failure develops, cancer drugs must often be stopped, which means patients do not get the full benefit of the drugs.

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