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Rollins Family Creates Wilton Looney Chair to Advance Cardiovascular Research

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The Rollins family recently celebrated the appointment of Viola Vaccarino as the Wilton Looney Chair of Cardiovascular Research. Pictured are Amy Rollins Kreisler (left), Pam Rollins, Gary Rollins, Vaccarino, Looney, RSPH Dean James Curran, and Randall Rollins. 

As Viola Vaccarino well knows, getting closer to the truth about cardiovascular disease takes funding for research. Earlier this year, Vaccarino was appointed as the Wilton Looney Chair of Cardiovascular Research to advance her work. Her new chair is funded by a $2 million gift from the Rollins family to honor Looney for his efforts to advance the study of cardiovascular disease. 

Looney serves as the honorary chair of Genuine Parts Company and as a board director of Rollins Inc. He was a guiding force in the establishment of the Carlyle Fraser Heart Center in 1976 at what is now Emory University Hospital Midtown. Fraser founded the Genuine Parts Company, and Looney succeeded him as CEO. 

The gift for the Looney chair is the most recent expression of the Rollins family’s investment in the school that bears their name. In 2007, the family pledged the lead gift for the new Claudia Nance Rollins Building, which more than doubled the physical size of the school.

"This recognition by the Rollins family will allow me to continue and expand my research and teaching activities in cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention," says Vaccarino, who is also chair of the Department of Epidemiology. "Their generous endowment motivates me and my students to continue striving toward advancing knowledge for better cardiovascular health."

In a recent study led by Vaccarino, researchers aimed to clarify the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and coronary heart disease among middle-aged male twins who served in the Vietnam War. 

The NIH-funded study of 562 twin brothers (281 pairs) looked at whether those with PTSD had a higher occurrence of heart disease. Researchers indeed found that veterans with PTSD were more than twice as likely as those without the disorder to develop heart disease. The incidence of heart disease among veterans with PTSD was 23% and without PTSD was 9%, even after accounting for smoking, drinking, and obesity as risk factors. 

The study helped solidify the correlation between PTSD and heart disease, Vaccarino says, because researchers also used cardiac imaging techniques to assess heart disease even in the absence of clinical history. Past studies have relied on self-reporting.

"There were suggestions that this link may be true, but it was not clear," she says. "In addition to using objective measures of heart disease, the use of twins allows us to come closer to the truth because we were able to control for the influences of genetic and early environmental factors."

Leonard Zaffarano and his twin brother Frank were among those who took part in the study. "We both suffer from hypertension and a lack of ability to sleep," says Leonard. "We volunteered [for the study] because we want [researchers] to find cures for other soldiers suffering from the same thing."—Kay Torrance

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