Benza named director of PH for Mount Sinai Health System

Heart failure expert is recent recipient of $4M in grants, one involving the ECMO catheter

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by Mary Chapman |

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Raymond Benza, MD, has been selected to be director of pulmonary hypertension (PH) for the Mount Sinai Health System,

In this newly created position, Benza will seek to advance and standardize care for PH patients and further develop research in the progressive disorder that is associated with high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.

Benza, who is prominent in the field of cardiovascular medicine and advanced heart failure and transplant, is a professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. Mount Sinai, New York City’s largest academic medical system, comprises eight hospitals.

“Pulmonary hypertension, once considered a rare condition, is now an epidemic, and it’s critical to address diagnosis among patients and make strides in therapies that will increase life expectancy for those with symptoms,” Benza said in a Mount Sinai press release.

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“In my new role, my goal is to identify more patients with this condition, which often goes undiagnosed, by bringing in detailed evaluation and treatment paradigms across the Health System and the New York metro area while helping to develop new treatment options,” he said.

Benza, formerly director of the division of cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University, is the recipient of grants totaling $4 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. He will use the funds for two studies, one involving a new portable extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) catheter for those with failure in the heart’s right ventricle and severe pulmonary arterial hypertension.

How the ECMO catheter works

With the new device, the catheter is inserted into the upper-body veins, providing circulatory and respiratory support. The standard ECMO tool, used to pump and oxygenate blood outside the body, requires patients awaiting a heart transplant to be in bed while hooked up to it. By contrast, the mobile device may be toted in a backpack, eliminating the need for patients to be bedridden while it’s being used.

Another potential benefit to ECMO portability is improved rehabilitation. Offloading lung stress can promote natural healing and give the lungs more time to respond to ongoing medical therapy. This may obviate the need for heart transplant and improve patient survival rates, according to Mount Sinai.

Benza is co-founder and chief medical officer of PHope, a start-up company seeking to develop the ECMO catheter for market.

The second PAH study will focus on better predicting outcomes in patients, which could lead to new, targeted first-line treatments. Benza and his team plan to develop and validate a decision-support tool for predicting survival in children and adults with PAH that would allow treatment choice to be based on individual risks and other factors to enhance survival odds and life quality.

Benza, who has administrative roles in the Pulmonary Vascular Research Institute and the International Society of Heart and Lung Transplantation, served for four years on President Barack Obama’s advisory committee on organ transplantation. He also was named Physician of the Year in 2012 by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. For his field research achievements, he recently was inducted into the Association of University of Academic Cardiologists.

‘Groundbreaking research’

“We are extremely fortunate to recruit Dr. Benza, a highly accomplished physician and scientist who is a world expert in pulmonary hypertension and heart failure,” said Deepak L. Bhatt, MD, director of the Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital. “His groundbreaking research in the field of pulmonary hypertension encompasses clinical trials, laboratory science, and medical device innovation.”

“We are enthusiastic about the clinical advances we will make through synergies with the Mount Sinai — National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute,” said Charles A. Powell, MD, chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine for the Mount Sinai Health System. “We will also achieve research advances in this field through collaborations with Mount Sinai’s advanced imaging, artificial intelligence, and lung biology research programs,” Powell said.

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