Maine Medical Center is partnering with a New Hampshire hospital on a $3.9 million initiative that will give Maine patients access to clinical research trials for certain cardiac surgeries.

Roughly 200 Maine cardiac patients will get to participate in national research trials over the next seven years through a $3.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that Maine Med is sharing with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

“The evidence-based medicine of today is the research of yesterday,” said Dr. Robert Kramer, director of research and quality improvement of cardiothoracic surgery at Maine Med. “This grant allows us to tap into a network of clinical trials that are being performed across the country, and will improve the access our rural populations have to high-quality care.”

Dr. Robert Kramer Photo courtesy of Maine Medical Center

The grant will bring Maine Med and Dartmouth-Hitchcock into an NIH surgical research trials network, which includes more than 40 hospitals across the United States and 20 in Europe. Although urban patients are not excluded, about two-thirds of Maine Med’s cardiac patients are rural, and so the results will be used to help study differences in health outcomes between rural and urban patients, Kramer said.

“In the first trial of this grant, the hospitals will join a network of major academic centers across the country that are seeking to determine whether doctors need to take active steps or not to prevent blood clots in patients who develop a condition known as atrial fibrillation (AFib) after coronary artery bypass surgery,” Maine Med spokeswoman Caroline Cornish said in a statement. “AFib is a kind of irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.”

Common blood thinning medications used after heart surgery – designed to prevent strokes – can cause dangers from bleeding. The medications make it difficult for the body to heal after being cut, or susceptible to internal bleeding.

“Maybe the risks of bleeding are greater than the stroke risk,” Kramer said. “We will be learning whether we can justify the use of these anti-coagulants (blood thinners).”

One in every four deaths in the United States is attributed to heart disease each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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