Heart Month statement from Dr. Brian H. Rowe

February 2016

February is Heart Month in Canada. Heart health is an important issue for all Canadians, with nine in ten Canadians (24 million people) having at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke. While the diseases affecting the heart vary widely based on age and sex, many have serious consequences for patients, families, the health care system and society in general. The Heart Month campaign began in 1958, and has been a key educational and fundraising event for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSF) ever since.

As the primary CIHR Institute involved in promoting and funding cardiovascular research, the Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health (ICRH) has had a highly valued, long-standing and strong partnership with the HSFC to support heart disease and stroke research.

Several months ago, CIHR partnered with HSF and provided $1.5 million toward a five-year study called the Canadian Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium (CanROC), an initiative focused on improving survival rates for cardiac arrest and trauma that occur outside of a hospital setting. Currently, fewer than 10 per cent of people survive a cardiac arrest when it happens out in the community. This collaborative network will research ways to make ordinary Canadians more aware and more willing to perform CPR and investigate new resuscitation drugs, tools and techniques.

HSF and the Canadian Lung Association are also working with ICRH, among others, to fund the Emerging Research Leaders Initiative, a grant program that helps post-doctoral fellows working in the areas of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and respiratory health transition to the early professional career stage. Already, these bright young researchers are making important contributions in their fields.

Providing support for young investigators is vitally important, as these scientists are often engaged in some of the most innovative cardiovascular research being undertaken today. I'm inspired by the work of people like Mohammad Izadifar, a PhD student in biomedical engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, who recently won widespread recognition for using stem cells to create a patch that repairs heart tissue damaged after a heart attack. His work, funded in part by CIHR, holds great promise.

Another way that ICRH funds life-saving research is through its support of networks like the Canadian Stroke Prevention Intervention Network, which works to attract, train, support and retain the best minds in clinical stroke research. Dr. Richard Whitlock is one such researcher. He is leading a study focused on the left atrial appendage, a small, windsock-shaped pouch near the top of the left side of the heart that helps to pump blood to the rest of the body. In patients with irregular heart rhythms, blood can become trapped in the appendage and start to clot. These clots can be released into the blood stream and travel widely, and in some cases to the brain, causing a stroke. Some researchers believe such events are the cause of up to15 per cent of the strokes suffered in Canada every year. Dr. Whitlock's research is investigating the effectiveness of a safe, simple, cost-effective procedure to remove this vestigial appendage during surgery, potentially saving many lives.

Heart Month is also a time to reflect on the health inequities that exist in Canada, particularly among our Indigenous peoples who, research shows, are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to develop heart disease than the general Canadian population. CIHR is committed to continuing to invest in Indigenous peoples' health - a top priority for the agency. I'd like to congratulate Dr. Jeff Reading on his recent appointment as the inaugural British Columbia First Nations Health Authority Research Chair in Heart Health and Wellness, an important step forward in delivering personalized medicine in Canada.

On behalf of CIHR, I would like to encourage you to participate in this important month-long initiative. I invite you take a moment to visit the HSF website, where you can learn how to get more involved in Heart Month. In addition, on this site, you'll find HSFC's online self-assessment tool to learn about your risks for heart attack and stroke and what you can do about them.

Finally, to the hundreds of researchers and health professionals who continue to work tirelessly to reduce the impact of heart disease and stroke on Canadians, your work is more relevant than ever, so thank you for your dedication.

Dr. Brian H. Rowe

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