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Spring 2012 issue (pdf)

Jean-Bernard Durand, MD ’88

Jean-Bernard Durand, MD ’88At the end of the 20th century, with medical trials of cardiac pacemakers and beta blockers largely complete, Jean-Bernard Durand, MD ’88, decided the time was right to begin calling attention to a new area of heart research: the relationship between cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Today, Dr. Durand is Associate Professor, Medical Director of Cardiomyopathy Services, Director of Cardiovascular Genetics Research and Director of Cardiology Fellowship Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

“The biology of heart failure and cancer are very similar,” he said. “And we know that cancer treatments—both standard combination chemotherapy and new targeted therapies—cause cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Durand’s research is focused on finding the molecular genetic signature that allows the heart to repair itself.

“We take biopsies of hearts injured by chemotherapy to look for products of genes. Our goal is to develop a blood test that will determine if patients have an abundance of repair genes or proteins,” he said.

Dr. Durand has established the world’s largest database of DNA from patients with heart failure secondary to chemotherapy, and he plans to perform genotyping to identify heart failure susceptibility genes. He also has developed a tissue bank for further expression studies to identify critical pathways that are common to cancer biology and cardiovascular biology.

As a student, Dr. Durand said his Medical College of Wisconsin professors, notably Marvin Wagner, MD ’44, MS ’51; Roger Markwald, PhD; and Betty Sue Masters, PhD, prepared him for the challenges of balancing research, patients and students. “The most formative years of my life were spent at MCW. They taught me how to be a better clinician and a better person,” he said.

A member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center faculty since 2010, Dr. Durand considers his position as Fellowship Director among his most important roles.

“Some of our fellows do research, some do clinical work. But ultimately, we are training all of them to care for cancer survivors. There are 15 million survivors and not enough cardiologists. They need—or will eventually need—heart care,” he said.

Those statistics, among others, motivate him. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, about one in every 20 adults in the United States has survived cancer, including nearly one-fifth of all people over 65. “It is unfortunate that people survive cancer only to die of heart disease,” Dr. Durand said.

To advance awareness and research, he co-founded the organization CONQUER in 2001. Short for Cardiology Oncology InterNational Quest to EdUcate and ResEarch Heart FailuRe and Cancer, CONQUER unites leading doctors, scientists and researchers to establish recommendations on how to improve the care of cancer patients and survivors with cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Durand has helped launch CONQUER at major American institutions including Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and Sloan Kettering, as well as medical centers in other countries including Brazil and Italy. He says this is only the beginning.

“Now our work is garnering attention and funding from the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies,” he said. “In the future, I can see developing drugs safely and going through the FDA more quickly.”

Dr. Durand has been published extensively in leading journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Circulation and Nature, and he is a Fellow of national organizations including the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Chest Physicians.

He is an avid cycler and a second-degree black belt in taekwondo. Dr. Durand also enjoys skiing and likes to spend time with family.


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