MUSC Researchers Awarded $1.46M to Continue Study of Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

Contact: Heather Woolwine
Aug. 3, 2016

CHARLESTON, SC – Medical University of South Carolina researchers received a $1.46 million grant renewal to study how thoracic aortic aneurysms develop over time and how surgeons might be able to predict and stop development before the aorta ruptures, thereby saving the lives of patients with this disease. Initially funded by the National Institutes of Health in 2010, the study renewal will continue the work of principal investigator John Ikonomidis, M.D., Ph.D., Horace G. Smithy professor and MUSC Cardiothoracic Surgery chief.

Thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) is the bulging of the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the tissues and organs, weakening the vessel and enhancing the risk for rupture and subsequent death.

Current treatment options consist of surgical reconstruction or a minimally invasive intravascular procedure where an artificial tube is inserted through a large vessel in the leg, advanced into the aorta, and opened to eliminate the damaged portion of the aorta from the inside out. However, both options have significant limitations that do not address the underlying pathways that drive this devastating disease. According to Ikonomidis, better knowledge of the cellular events that lead to aneurysm formation may reveal novel treatment options for this condition, including region- specific gene therapy and targeted pharmacologic treatments.

“In the initial study, we showed how molecules within the wall of the aorta can destroy the aortic wall, causing the aneurysm,” he said. “Because there is no cure for this disease, the aim of the renewal of this NIH-funded study is to investigate these findings and focus on translating the discoveries into potential therapeutics.”

According to a 2012 Journal of Cardiac Surgery study co-authored by Ikonomidis, data have shown that the incidence of aneurysm development doubled between 1982 and 2002. When considering the aging Baby Boomer generation and medical advances increasing longevity, it is likely the incidence of TAA will continue to increase through the year 2050.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and 700 residents in six colleges (Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy), and has nearly 14,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $2.4 billion, with an annual economic impact of more than $3.8 billion and annual research funding in excess of $250 million. MUSC operates a 700-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), Hollings Cancer Center (a National Cancer Institute-designated center), Level I Trauma Center, Institute of Psychiatry, and the state’s only transplant center. In 2017, for the third consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the number one hospital in South Carolina. For more information on academic programs or clinical services, visit For more information on hospital patient services, visit