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Stony Brook Medicine has created the Dalio Center for Cardiovascular Wellness and Preventive Research to conduct groundbreaking research and develop innovative treatment options for patients with and at risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. It is being led by internationally recognized expert Michael Poon, MD, Director of Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging at Stony Brook Medicine.

Under Dr. Poon’s leadership, the main focus of the Center is the noninvasive diagnosis and treatment of endothelial dysfunction, a condition in which the inner lining of the blood vessels does not function normally. This is a major cause of vascular disease. The Center is studying the use of an Enhanced External Counter-Pulsation Device (EECP) as a way to enhance the blood flow to the heart. The EECP is a cuff-like device on the legs that squeezes in sequence with the patient’s heartbeat. This helps to create more blood flow to the heart by developing collateral blood vessels and enhancing coronary blood flow and reserves. Over a three-year period, Dr. Poon will be studying the effect of EECP in preventing the onset and progression of cerebral, coronary and peripheral vascular diseases. 

What’s so exciting about the study is that the approach is non-invasive. This offers the potential for controlling or preventing cardiovascular disease without surgery or long-term use of medications. This may prove particularly important for high-risk patients who due to obesity, poor overall health or pre-existing conditions, are not candidates for conventional treatments. Through Dr. Poon’s research, patients will be assessed every three to six months over a three-year period to assess the effect of EECP on endothelial function. Their quality of life will be assessed and the cost-effectiveness of their care will be analyzed.

The Center has been funded through a generous gift from Ray Dalio, founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates and who has appeared on the annual Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In his words, “The research being conducted by Dr. Poon merits significant support, because the research is innovative and potential applications for patients are so enormous. This is one of the best investments possible to make because of the return it will provide, benefiting generations to come.”

Research at the center is also being supported by several recent philanthropic gifts that were matched by the Simons Foundation Challenge Grant. One major gift, from Stony Brook University alumni Eugene and Carol Cheng, established the Carol and Eugene Cheng Cardiovascular Imaging Research Endowment. Funds from the gift were used to purchase the EECP machine. Another major gift of $750,000, from Charles A. Gargano, former U.S. Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, is being used to establish the Ambassador Charles Gargano Chair and professorship in Advanced Cardiovascular Imaging at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

The research being conducted at the center could ultimately benefit not only patients with or at risk of developing coronary artery disease, say Dr. Poon, but also heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease patients, as the results are translated into new approaches to patient care. Thousands of patients will benefit from receiving EECP as an FDA approved treatment during the course of research exploring alternative uses for the therapy. Additional exploratory research will examine use of EECP in preventing muscle soreness and injury in elite athletes.