Message from Dr. Brian H. Rowe: Improving heart health for all!

Dear colleagues,

Cardiovascular disease continues to have a significant burden on society, despite the many advances made to address the associated morbidity and mortality. With an estimated 17.9 million people dying worldwide each year, cardiovascular disease remains a leading cause of death globally. In Canada, more than one fifth of deaths in 2020 were due to heart disease, making it the second leading cause of death in the country. In addition, cardiovascular conditions are leading causes of hospitalization (e.g., heart attacks, heart failure and rhythm disturbances), emergency department visits (e.g., chest pain, heart attacks, disturbances) and visits to primary care providers (prevention of cardiovascular diseases).

February marks Heart Health Month, an opportunity to reflect on behaviours we can adopt to reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. While a healthy lifestyle can prevent certain heart conditions, some individuals are diagnosed with abnormalities in the heart’s structures even before they are born. Importantly, this month we are also focusing on women’s heart health and our partners at the Heart & Stroke (H&S).

Congenital heart disease (CHD) affects roughly 180,000 people living in Canada and is one of the world’s most lethal congenital anomalies. Despite refined intervention improving survival to adulthood from 20 to 90%, individuals with CHD have a significantly increased risk for early onset vascular cognitive impairment, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, the need for heart transplantation and disruption of the family unit. Fetal echocardiographic and other screening and detection of CHD has dramatically improved over the last few decades; however, there is still much we do not know about how these abnormalities develop and how they can be treated.

CIHR has invested in over 130 research grants with a focus on congenital heart disease since 2008. For example, CIHR-ICRH recently co-invested in the Canadian Heart Function Alliance, a national network focused on heart failure research, including a pediatric health and congenital heart team. This opportunity was made possible with support from other CIHR Institutes (Aging, Infection and Immunity, and Indigenous Peoples’ Health), Heart & Stroke, Mitacs, and the National Institutes of Health – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Discoveries made through this investment will help us to better understand the underlying causes and social determinants of health to improve the prevention, detection, management, patient outcomes, quality of life, and delivery of care for this common and complex condition, including those diagnosed with CHD.

In collaboration with H&S and Brain Canada, CIHR-ICRH participated in a roundtable to inform the development of a Congenital Heart Disease Strategy for Canada. The Strategy will identify gaps in knowledge and health care where measurable impacts can be made for people living with CHD. As Canada’s federal health research funding agency, CIHR can play an important role in supporting crucial CHD research in the future.

We are renewing our commitment to advance research into the cardiovascular health and wellness of women recognizing intersectionality and historically excluded groups through meaningfully applying an equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) lens. Finally, as part of our knowledge mobilization commitment, we are supporting the training and career development of scientists as well as contributing to national (Vascular 2023 in Montreal, QC; October 25-29, 2023) and international (The 3rd World Non-Communicable Diseases Congress [WNCD 2023] in Toronto, ON; June 25-30, 2023) scientific meetings.

Thank you to all our colleagues across the country – from bench to bedside and beyond – who are working tirelessly to find innovative solutions to complex health issues such as CHD, women’s heart health and all cardiovascular conditions. It is through the collective efforts of patients, caregivers, researchers and health care professionals that we continue to advance the science of cardiovascular health.

Stay well!


Dr. Brian H. Rowe
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health
Professor, Emergency Medicine and Public Health
College of Health Sciences, University of Alberta

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