San Antonio, TX - AHA's RLA 2016 - Attendees and panelists during the "What Will be the ‘Next Best Thing’ in Cardiovascular and Stroke Research over the Next 20 Years?" session at the American Heart Association's Research Leaders Academy at the Westin Riverwalk here today, Sunday July 24, 2016. Photo by © AHA/Todd Buchanan 2016 Contact Info:

Making science less mysterious and more understandable for the average consumer is the focus of a research meeting this week in San Antonio.

“Gathering cardiovascular scientists of all career stages at the Research Leaders Academy is an opportunity to share thoughts about best practices to develop new knowledge and translate it into novel therapies for heart disease and stroke, the world’s leading killers,” said Steven Houser, Ph.D., American Heart Association president and senior associate dean of research at Temple University in Philadelphia.

It’s the first year and the second day of the meeting for about 275 newcomers and experienced investigators who are exploring contemporary research issues. Topics range from the future of clinical trials in the era of precision medicine to how patients’ roles as “co-pilots” to their doctors will expand in the future.

For Emelia Benjamin, M.D., it boils down to one key question: How can we be more effective with patients?

“As a scientist, you can make a lot of discoveries. But if you can’t translate it to the public, so what?” asked Benjamin, attending cardiologist and assistant provost for faculty development at Boston University Medical Campus, and vice chair for faculty development and diversity in the Department of Medicine. “The more we can get out of our ivory towers and involve patients in our work, the better off patients will be.”

Evonne Kaplan-Liss, M.D., medical program director for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, will lead a session on teaching the public about tough topics. The center, which is housed at Stony Brook University in New York, shows scientists how to make their work understandable.

“There are many great discoveries each year in the field of heart disease and stroke, but all too often the public never learns about them because the results are uninterpretable to people who are not experts in that field,” said Norinna Allen, Ph.D., assistant professor of preventive medicine – epidemiology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Researchers need to hone their skills at communicating clearly and effectively so findings can be translated into action.”

Adrian Hernandez, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of health services and outcomes research at Duke University Medical Center, said the future is brighter than ever.

“In many areas, we are on that cusp of major breakthroughs,” Hernandez said. “With these advances, patients will be able to expect a better life, and we can help improve the health of the U.S. population.”

Ivor Benjamin, M.D., professor and director of the cardiovascular center at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin, noted that there have been dramatic gains for preventing heart disease and stroke in the last 25 years.

“The bedrock for these gains comes from research in discovery science and clinical investigations,” he said. “We’re helping prime the pipeline with the best and brightest scholars who are essential to unlocking the secrets and evidenced-based findings to guide tomorrow’s treatments and interventions.”

The invitation-only event, including AHA-funded investigators, faculty of topic experts and AHA volunteer leaders, continues through Tuesday.

“Very frequently when we as scientists communicate with the public we get very specific about the complexities of the data and models. Without intending to, we lapse into jargon and details,” Benjamin said. She pointed to Life’s Simple 7, which shows easy steps for getting healthy, as an example of what should be done.

“There are thousands of studies with millions of data points behind the recommendations,” she said. “But what the public needs to understand is the simple message that following seven healthy habits can literally save your life.”