Matters of the Heart

The Library’s role in heart health and understanding

Four views of the heart from the 15th century

February is American Heart Month. Begun in 1964 by presidential proclamation, this annual event focuses the nation’s attention on the importance of heart health.

That focus is well-placed.

According to the CDC, heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women, with about one in four deaths in the United States attributed to its many forms.

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder NLM takes an active role in advancing knowledge about the preservation, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease and cardiovascular problems. Of course, we’re not doing heart surgery, but in ways great and small—whether through our research, our products, our collection, our funding, or our writing—we help people learn about the heart, how to treat it, and how to keep it healthy.

That knowledge, as with everything we do, is grounded in science and research, so let’s start there.

PubMed, our flagship database of peer-reviewed biomedical literature, delivers the latest findings on heart disease and its prevention.

Clinicaltrials.gov helps people interested in participating in research on heart diseases find a study. And that’s true regardless of how old you are. Over 15% of the nearly 2,900 active, recruiting clinical trials focused on heart disease are open to children.

NLM’s computational science contributed to CRISPR-cas, a revolutionary tool for editing DNA that researchers in Oregon used last year to fix a heart-damaging genetic defect in human embryos, and our medical illustrators have helped NIH’s Human BioMolecular Atlas Program (HuBMAP) create a 3-D visualization of cardiac tissue.

NLM takes an active role in advancing knowledge about the preservation, diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease and cardiovascular problems.

Elsewhere, our research funding supports others as they look to better understand and treat heart disease through data mining, machine learning, and bioinformatics. All across the country, NLM dollars help drive the science forward, funding Dr. Karina Davidson’s work at Columbia that will accelerate the design of personalized solutions to cardiovascular issues; supporting UCLA’s Corey Arnold, PhD, who is trying to help physicians manage heart disease by establishing an automated system to summarize patient records; and financing Dr. James Blum’s group at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington as they try to predict which patients are at risk for developing post-operative complications like atrial fibrillation. Together they—and other NLM grantees—are doing innovative work that is expected to make a difference in preventing, diagnosing, or treating heart disease.

NLM staff then leverage the findings of our grantees and other researchers to deliver the most current guidance to patients, families, and caregivers through MedlinePlusNIH MedlinePlus magazine, and HealthReach. Together, these consumer-oriented resources—available in English, Spanish, and sometimes in other languages—provide practical information to help lay people understand heart disease, learn about risks, diagnosis, and treatment, and find experts to guide them.

But our cardiac contributions don’t end there.

We also collect materials and share insights regarding how medicine’s understanding of the heart and the circulatory system, along with our treatment of heart disease, evolved over time.

Our History of Medicine Division‘s blog, Circulating Now, recently explored William Harvey’s ground-breaking anatomical discoveries published in his 1628 work Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus. Harvey, the personal physician to England’s King Charles I, presented experimental proof of blood’s circulation through the body, elucidating the complex and beautiful interplay between arteries, veins, lungs, and the heart.

And on a more contemporary note, NLM’s Profiles in Science collection shares the papers of notable physicians whose work has transformed the treatment of heart disease, including legendary heart surgeons Michael E. DeBakeyAdrian Kantrowitz, and Henry Swan.

These examples—which range from the 17th century to today—highlight just some of the ways NLM celebrates American Heart Month and encourages good hearth health throughout the year.

You can do your part, too. Take the #MoveWithHeart pledge and get moving. It all adds up to a healthy heart!

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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