For reasons that remain unknown, South Asians have the highest rate of hospitalization for cardiovascular events in California. More than half who suffer heart attacks do so before they reach age 50. This phenomenon is especially significant here in the Bay Area, where more than 300,000 South Asians live and work.
A new program at Stanford is addressing this alarming trend. The Stanford South Asian Translational Health Initiative, known as SSATHI, offers integrative clinical care, aggressive risk reduction, treatment of existing disease and groundbreaking research into this under-studied epidemic.
"Cardiovascular disease is striking a very young population in this ethnic group," says Rajesh Dash, MD,phD, assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine, who is also medical and scientific director of SSATHI. "We are seeing patients in their 20s, 30s and 40s who have suffered heart attacks, and/or present with significant coronary disease." The disease that affects this population is also particularly virulent.
Care for the lifespan
The program is open to any person of South Asian descent who has concerns about his or her cardiovascular health. However, SSATHI is particularly interested in reaching the younger population (ages 20 to 55) who may not know they are at risk.
In many South Asian languages, the word "sathi" translates to "companion," and that, says Dash, is what Stanford's program aims to be – a companion to patients, helping them navigate their risk throughout their life, and preventing further disease through medical and lifestyle management. That entails closely following patients' cholesterol panels, blood pressure and insulin resistance progression, and offering nutrition, exercise and lifestyle management guidance, as well as genetic counseling.
"We want to be able to identify and treat the problem as early as possible, and then follow that treatment long-term to ensure that these individuals remain at the lowest risk possible," says Dash. "We must match the aggressiveness of this disease with an equally aggressive prevention and treatment plan."
Dearth of research
To augment its clinical care, SSATHI is launching a robust research effort to uncover the underlying causes of this population's increased risk. "There has been very little done to understand the genetic, biochemical and cultural aspects that make this disease so prevalent and malignant in this population," says Dash. In addition to the clinical care they receive at Stanford, SSATHI patients can participate in the clinic's local and global research effort by sharing their clinical and genetic information for analysis.
"Stanford is the ideal place to do this type of project," says Ahmad Sheikh, MD, surgical and translational innovation director for SSATHI. "It has a combination of genetics expertise, Big Data expertise, bio-informatics expertise, as well as medical expertise."
Not only can Stanford clinicians identify people with disease and treat them locally in the clinic, but they can also bring that patient data into a larger framework that will eventually yield therapies and guide prevention efforts.
How to refer to SSATHI
To refer a patient to SSATHI or for more information about the clinic, contact the patient care coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.