Member Login

1.12.17 – Luncheon Notes

SPOKES Notes written by Roger Morgenstern

Dr. Stefan Jovinge provided an amazing look into the work he and others are doing right here in Grand Rapids to address heart disease with his presentation “Cure for Broken Hearts.”

A native of Stockholm, Sweden, since December 2013 Dr. Jovinge has been a critical care cardiologist at Spectrum Health and the Medical Director of research at the Frederik Meijer Heart and Vascular Institute; Professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), and director of the DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program (a joint effort between VARI and Spectrum Health). Dr. Jovinge also serves as a professor at Michigan State University and is a consulting professor at the Cardiovascular Institute at Stanford University.

He explained away his strong Swedish accent by joking he was “part of the Swedish invasion of Michigan with the Detroit Red Wings.”

He and his colleagues are using stem cell and other cellular research to see how they can create and grow heart tissue in the lab to help the sickest of heart patients. He said their challenges are many, but progress is being made. He said cell-based research has a shorter time horizon than drug solutions. He said work to create, test and get U.S. Federal Drug Administration approval can take as long as 15 years. He said there has only been one new heart drug on the market in the last 15 years.

The need for a medical solution is great, he said. “There has been quite a dramatic decrease in heart mortality,” he said, primarily in the area of less coronary heart disease due to improved health and wellness and medications. While U.S. coronary deaths are down 50 percent since 1980, heart failure has tripled during the same period. “Today the treatments are diagnostic only and the disease keeps progressing.”

It is still a major killer, with one in every nine deaths in the U.S. in 2009 listing heart failure as a contributing factor. He said 5.1 million people in the U.S. have heart failure, and it costs the American economy $32 billion a year.

He said there has been more rapid development of devices to improve heart function, but “heart transplant is the cure.” He thanked Rich and Helen DeVos for creating the DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program. Rich DeVos has been outspoken about his life-saving heart transplant he received in 1997.

Jovinge showed statistics regarding a general decrease in heart disease, except in Europe, where it has held steady. Historically, there have been a lack of donors, but this should be changing with a recent law across Europe requiring citizens to register if they do not want to be a donor.

“We need to create new heart tissue and new medicine that is individualized.” This includes tests and research of using a patient’s own skin cells. Jovinge said you can look at a person’s blood cells and see the same genetic defects found in their heart disease.

Heart cells are typically about 6 months older than a body’s other cells and research indicates they continue to regenerate until a person is about 20 years old.


Drug development using cell research only takes about a year, compared to drug development alone. Giving them a hand is a super computer in Grand Rapids to run queries on billions of cell profiles to help find solutions to heart disease. The cellular research will be coupled with use of existing medications to help patients.

The cellular work is in clinical tests right now and soon there will be human testing using hearts declined for transplant. Dr. Jovinge said only 25 percent of donated hearts are actually transplanted for one reason or another. Using these non-transplanted hearts, connected to machines to keep them beating, is very helpful for research.

While the current work is promising, Dr. Jovinge said some cell therapy over the years has proven not to work, including injecting bone marrow cells directly into the heart.

Jovinge said he’s pleased to be doing his work here in West Michigan. Now three years into his time in Grand Rapids, Dr. Jovinge said he’s glad he’s here. “We love it. I feel more at home here than in Sweden.”

News and Notes 

  • President Michael congratulated Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Symphony, on his new position as CEO of the Baltimore Symphony.
  • Reminder postcards were on tables for the March 22 Service Above Self dinner honoring Rick DeVos. Sponsorship opportunities are still available by calling the Rotary office.
  • The Service Above Selfie Contest is underway! Derek Aten reviewed the contest rules, with the winning non-profit receiving $5,000. Learn more at . Winners will be announced at the March 22 dinner.
  • Our membership drive continues, with 45 new members needed by the June 30 end of the Rotary year. Progress was reported on our RI Foundation $20,000 goal, with $4,652 raised.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Our Corporate Members

View All