Cardiovascular diseases have a major impact on our society. The number of patients with a heart attack, stroke or cardiac failure continues to increase. They are often ill for long periods of time.The Cardiovascular Health program conducts scientific research into solutions for early identification and timely treatment of these disorders. The program has three main themes: the Brain, the Heart, and the Vascular system and Precursors of Cardiovascular Disease.
About the program
Slowing down the vascular aging process during the course of life and, in doing so, reducing the disease burden of cardiovascular disease. That is the objective of the Cardiovascular Health program. Research comprises all scientific disciplines of the Julius Center: Epidemiology, General Practice , Public Health, Health Technology Assessment & Medical Humanities, and Biostatistics & Research Support. The research is embedded in the UMC Utrecht strategic theme ‘Circulatory Health’.
We use methods from the full range of statistical and epidemiological research, varying from multicenter randomized research into the effects of preventive and therapeutic interventions to large and small cohorts, case control and cross-sectional studies. We work closely together with the Methodology program.
Our researchers have access to part of the pan-European EPIC investigation o(EPIC-NL, EPIC-InterACt, EPIC-CVD), the Leidsche Rijn Health Project with a population of over ten thousand, the UCC, SMART and Global Health studies. We work in close cooperation with other UMC Utrecht divisions, such as Imaging, Heart & Lungs (cardiology and experimental) cardiology), Surgical Specialties (Vascular Surgery), Neurosciences (neurology), Internal Medicine (Vascular Medicine, Nephrology, Geriatrics), Laboratories & Pharmacy and Woman & Baby.
The theme Brain focuses on the study of determinants and functional consequences of vascular and neurodegenerative changes in the brain that occur with aging and have a major impact on patients, healthcare and society. Key clinical subjects are stroke, depression, cognitive deterioration and dementia. The emphasis is on normal and accelerated aging of the brain and on macro- and microvascular changes.
The research group uses the epidemiological methods and techniques in which the Julius Center and UMC Utrecht are leading.
An example: using advanced innovative imaging techniques, we study neurobiological mechanisms that are at the root of vascular brain aging. We also develop methods to model lifelong pathways of development of risk factors for brain aging. Moreover, we want to develop diagnostic and prognostic predictive rules for brain disorders using state-of-the-art prediction modeling techniques. We study these aspects in all clinical settings; from the general population to tertiary care and in different patient and other populations. To this end, we make efficient use of the existing infrastructure and existing cohorts in the general population, in primary care and in the hospital.
The theme Heart focuses mainly on subclinical and clinical cardiovascular disorders that have major consequences for patients, healthcare and society. Clinical subjects are heart failure, atrial fibrillation, cardiac ischemia, and acute coronary syndrome. The emphasis is on normal and accelerated aging of the heart and on macro- and microvascular changes.
The research program focuses on improved early detection of new or exacerbation of existing disease cases and disease complications in clinical practice, the importance of co-morbidity in the development, identification, prognosis and treatment of heart diseases, and innovative ways to improve the prognosis, such as eHealth and big data analysis techniques. We also focus on a study of the causes, with the aim to clarify underlying mechanisms, with an emphasis on genetic predisposition. We are looking for new biomarkers with which to prevent new cases and exacerbation of existing diseases and develop new treatment options.
Vascular system and precursor disorders
Our research is aimed at further development of knowledge about modifiable and potentially modifiable causes, effects and treatment options of accelerated development of precursor disorders and of disorders of the vascular structure and function. Precursor disorders include obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, renal dysfunction and type 2 diabetes. Vascular disorders include plaques en vascular wall thickness in the jugular vein, thickened heart muscles, presence of calcium in the arteries. The causes we study include genetics, biomarkers, nutrition, factors in and around pregnancy and reproduction. We study the consequences of precursors and treatment methods together with researchers of other themes. Treatment options of precursor and vascular system disorders such as blood pressure treatment and lowering cholesterol levels are studied together with clinicians of UMC Utrecht and other institutes. We use existing and new cohorts and trials (SYMPATHY, CONVINCE and STEPWISE) and data from primary care patient records and electronic patient records of UMC Utrecht.
Research program: Prof. dr. F.H. Rutten
Theme Brain: Dr Mirjam I. Geerlings, epidemiologist
Theme Heart: Prof. Dr Frans H. Rutten, general practitioner
Theme Vascular System and Precursor Disorders: Prof. Dr Michiel L. Bots, physician-epidemiologist
Studies and cohorts
Studies and cohorts of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology program