Cardiology Chief at Home in N.O.

December 31, 2003

Heather Heilman
Phone: (504) 865-5714

Patrice Delafontaine is Swiss by nationality, African by birth and American by career choice. So far, at least, Tulane and New Orleans seem like home for all the facets of his identity.

inside1115_cardio_2He is the new chief of the section of cardiology and Robert Morgandanes Professor of Medicine.

Delafontaine comes to Tulane from the Kansas University Medical Center, bringing with him a four-year, $1.5 million research grant from the National Institutes of Health and eight scientists who are studying insulin-like growth factors and their effect on atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure.

Growth factors are proteins that influence the development and growth of cells in the body.
"Atherosclerosis is the No. 1 killer of people in the Western world, and congestive heart failure is increasing in incidence," he said. "There are a number of reasons for this, including the aging of the population. We've found that growth factors are involved in the development of these diseases and we're looking at ways to manipulate them through drugs or other types of therapies."

His work encompasses basic bench science, animal studies and preliminary clinical studies showing that what is true about changes in growth factors in animal models is also true of humans. One of the things that attracted him to Tulane is the presence of Darwin Prockop and the Center for Gene Therapy.

"There's a link between growth factors and stem cells," he said. "We want to look at ways stem cells could be used to treat cardiac disease." His ambition for the cardiology section is broad. "We need to grow all three arms of the program--the educational, clinical and research areas," he said.

And the four hospitals that surround the medical school represent the opportunity to not only expand the section's clinical practice but also its research. Other resources that represent the potential for research growth are the epidemiology program at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the Tulane-Xavier National Center of Excellence in Women's Health and the proximity to the Louisiana State University medical school and attendant opportunities for collaboration. He was pleased to learn that one of the consultants on his National Institutes of Health grant has recently been recruited by Louisiana State University.

"There's a lot of potential to grow our NIH funding and increase clinical research." But one of the first things he's tackled in his first month on the job is the development of educational programs in different subspecialties, beginning with a new fellowship in interventional cardiology. A fellow will be chosen this month.

In order for all this new growth to occur, the faculty will have to grow--and the clinical practice will have to grow to support them, perhaps the biggest challenge Delafontaine faces. Still, he's confident he can recruit at least six new faculty members in the next few years and is already recruiting a new specialist in congestive heart failure. Before serving as the director of the division of cardiovascular disease at Kansas, he was on the faculty at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where he'd received his medical degree. The move to Kansas was prompted by the decision that he'd rather spend the rest of his career in the United States.

"This is the best environment in the world for science," he said. He spent most of his career on this side of the Atlantic, completing a fellowship in cardiology at Harvard and serving on the faculty at Emory for a decade. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Swiss parents, who moved him to South Africa when he was 5. He did not set foot in Europe until he arrived in Geneva to attend university. The culture of New Orleans appeals to him a great deal.

"I like New Orleans a lot," he said. "It's a great place for someone like me, with European roots. And I was raised very close to the sea in South Africa, so I'm happy to be close to the sea again."

Heather Heilman can be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000