UR Heart Researcher Wins National Award for Lifesaving Work

May 25, 2000

A University of Rochester and Strong Health cardiologist has received the highest award in his field for his contributions to the care of patients with heart disease and for conducting cardiac research that has helped save thousands of lives.

Arthur J. Moss, M.D., professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology on May 20 at the group's annual scientific meeting in Washington, D.C.

Moss came to the University of Rochester to complete his residency in the early 1960s and later joined the faculty. In the decades that followed, he became one of the nation's leading authorities on disorders of the heart's electrical system - the nerves and impulses that signal the heart to beat in a regular rhythm. His research helped to pioneer the use of surgically-implanted pacemakers and defibrillators that restore a patient's normal heart beat when disease causes the heart's electrical system to fail.

When Moss and surgeon Robert Rivers, M.D. performed upstate New York's first pacemaker implant at Strong Memorial Hospital in 1963, the operation had been performed only three times previously. Moss's research in the years that followed would help to make pacemakers more effective and their use more widespread. In the early 1990s Moss led the first large-scale study that proved that implantable defibrillators - which deliver a mild electric shock to re-start the heart during cardiac arrest - were effective in saving the lives of patients who had suffered a heart attack and were prone to life-threatening episodes of a heart-rhythm disorder called ventricular tachycardia. After the findings appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, worldwide use of implantable defibrillators increased from a few thousand patients per year to more than 100,000 patients in 1999. The broad use of the devices is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

In recent years, Moss's research has focused on the use of implantable defibrillators in children and young adults who suffer from Long QT Syndrome, a genetic heart disorder in which moments of stress or excitement can trigger fainting spells and cardiac arrest.

Earlier this year, Moss reported the results of two studies he conducted of patients with the disorder. The first study showed that while commonly-prescribed beta-blocker drugs can greatly reduce the risk of fainting spells in these patients, they are woefully ineffective in preventing deaths. The second study, meanwhile, showed that the use of implantable defibrillators increase a patient's odds of survival to near 100 percent.

In light of the findings, Moss issued a national recommendation that 1,500 high-risk patients who are most likely to die from the disease - nearly all of them children, teenagers, and adults under age 30 - receive implantable defibrillators in addition to receiving beta-blocker medications.

While studying the best way to treat Long QT Syndrome, Moss has also conducted research to better understand its cause. He led the research team that in 1994 identified three genes that, when damaged, cause Long QT Syndrome. The discovery of the genes quickly led to the development of a blood test that can diagnose patients with Long QT Syndrome and, further, predict which patients are at increased risk for fatal episodes of the disorder.

"The contributions made by Dr. Moss over the past three decades have helped to save the lives of tens of thousands of people," said David Cannom, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles and President of the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology. "In addition, he has given us a better understanding of several disorders that will contribute to even greater medical advances in the years and decades ahead."

Dr. Moss is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Medical School. He served as an intern and assistant resident in Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and then completed his residency and a fellowship in Cardiology at Strong Memorial Hospital. He has been a faculty member at the University of Rochester since the completion of his fellowship training in 1964, and was promoted to professor of Medicine in 1991. Last year he received the Medical Center's Arthur Kornberg Research Award.

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Christopher DiFrancesco
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