John Ritter
Research program

The John Ritter Research Program seeks to uncover the genetic factors that cause some people to have a higher risk of developing thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections. Identifying the genes responsible for thoracic aortic disease will increase early diagnosis, improve management of the condition, and save lives by preventing aortic dissections. Currently, only 30% of the genes that can cause thoracic aortic disease are known.

In collaboration with The John Ritter Foundation for Aortic Health, Dr. Dianna Milewicz established The John Ritter Research Program in Aortic and Vascular Diseases at UTHealth in 2010. As of 2023, over 1500 families are enrolled in this groundbreaking genetic research study.

Dianna Milewicz, MD, PhD, Director of The John Ritter Research Program in Aortic and Vascular Diseases with the University of Texas Health Science Center, is an internationally recognized expert in the genetics of aortic and vascular diseases. Her research aims to identify the genetic factors that cause people to have thoracic aortic aneurysms and aortic dissections. 

If you have been diagnosed with a thoracic aortic aneurysm or dissection, or lost a family member with this condition, please contact the study coordinator by email at or by phone at 713-500-6715. The study coordinator will explain the research to you, review your family history, and help you enroll in the research study that you qualify for.

Dr. Milewicz, and my family who were a part of their research study, had no expectation that the gene or mutation would be identified in my lifetime. But a few years ago, it did happen. I got the call that Dr. Milewicz, and the research team that is funded by The John Ritter Foundation, found the genetic mutation in the LOX gene in our DNA. That phone call changed my life and the lives of my family. It changed our lives because now we know.

– Greg Weaver, John Ritter Foundation Board Member

If you’re a researcher and would like to learn about The John Ritter Foundation’s guidelines for promoting research studies, please email

What will be required from you to take part in this research?
Participating in The John Ritter Research Program is done remotely over the phone, with samples sent through the mail. The initial enrollment call will take approximately 30-60 minutes.

  1. A DNA sample. A saliva or “spit” sample is necessary from anyone who wants to take part in our study. Researchers are able to isolate DNA from your saliva sample. A saliva collection kit will be mailed to your home with instructions. Once complete, the saliva sample can be sent back to the laboratory in regular mail, using the prepaid envelope provided.
  2. Medical Records. Copies of your medical records, specifically those records describing your history of aortic aneurysm or dissection are very important for the research study. For example, imaging reports (echocardiogram, CT, and MRI reports) and hospital and surgical reports for any aortic, heart or vascular problem. You will be asked to sign an authorized release of medical information form that allows the research team to request these records directly from your physician or hospital.

The John Ritter Foundation supports and funds The John Ritter Research Program, but they operate independently. Please note that The John Ritter Foundation does not have access to medical information shared as part of the study, any study results, or information about your sample.