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Heidi Moretti's vitamin D research project on experiment.com.

Patients with heart failure and a vitamin D deficiency are three times more likely to die than those who have adequate vitamin levels.

They are five times more likely to have sudden cardiac death.

Now, Heidi Moretti is researching how to improve patients’ quality of life and their odds of survival.

Moretti, a registered dietitian who works at Providence St. Patrick Hospital, is working with Dr. Bradley Berry to research what dose is necessary to improve the quality of life for heart failure patients by bringing up their vitamin D to sufficient levels.

The Vitamin D Council has taken interest in her work and has highlighted it on its website, and although the research seems small, it could have big implications, she said.

“It’s really not a stretch to think that we’re going to help people who have heart failure from different causes,” Moretti said. “Ideally, we would see improved health, lower costs.”

Patients in the study aren’t taken off their other medications, she said. However, with the addition of enough Vitamin D, their hearts have the chance of improved muscle strength and pumping capability – and they will just feel better in general.

“I’m trying to show it’s safe, it’s effective,” she said of adding vitamin D to treatment.

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Although St. Pat’s and the International Heart Institute chipped in, Moretti still needed $4,350 to complete and publish the 40-patient study.

So she put it to the public on experiment.com.

“This is a grassroots effort,” she said, adding that’s different from the usual drug industry- or academic institution-funded research.

Moretti said she’s excited about the opportunity to show people what she’s doing through sharing results and data on the site.

“It’s rewarding every day to see that the public sees value in what you’re doing,” she said.

In its roughly two years online, experiment.com has helped Moretti and nearly 100 other projects by raising a total of roughly $700,000, said Denny Luan, one of the site’s founders.

The site, which was originally named Microryza, allows researchers to do research instead of spend time applying for grant funding or seeking out other sources of money, he said, adding that most of the projects aren’t seeking a lot of money from the public.

“You can still do a lot of meaningful science for $5,000,” Luan said.

Currently, the site has about 2,000 researchers, ranging from tenured faculty at prestigious universities to high school students. Each project is screened to ensure that it’s realistic and above board, Luan said.

Once approved, the site provides researchers with tools to help engage people in their work and make the science exciting, he said, adding that researchers share lab notes, photos and data on the site to keep donors informed of their progress and work. “It’s inviting people into a process that they never would have had access to before.”

Moretti wasn’t disappointed by the site and was able to raise more than her $4,350 goal before the project’s March 1 deadline. In fact, she “stretched” her goal by $2,000.

“It feels fantastic,” she said. “One of our donors is from Istanbul. It’s the fact that this type of way of receiving money for research has opened a lot of doors in terms of even future studies, in terms of now that they know what you do they might support your next project.”

Depending on where the numbers lead, Moretti said the extra money could be used to enroll additional patients or to look at responses to different doses, among other options.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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