Heart and Stroke Foundation invests more than $38 million this year in research across Canada

Jan 23, 2014, 08:00 ET from Heart and Stroke Foundation

Increased research impact will create more survivors

OTTAWA, Jan. 23, 2014 /CNW/ - The Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) invested more than $38 million into heart and stroke research taking place in medical institutions, universities and hospitals across Canada this year. Since its inception 1952, the Foundation has invested more than $1.39 billion into vital heart and stroke research, making it the largest contributor in Canada after the federal government.

"We measure the Foundation's overall effectiveness by our ability to make a distinctive health impact over a long period," says Bobbe Wood, president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "Research is the largest lever we have to create long-term health impact. It has enabled breakthroughs like the discovery of a hormone that revolutionized how we can control high blood pressure, the leading risk factor for stroke. We will continue to drive discoveries that will eliminate heart disease and stroke and enhance recovery for those living with these diseases."

In 2013/14 the Foundation awarded more than 170 new research grants and awards which, together with ongoing grants, support a cadre of more than 1,500 researchers and teams through national and provincial awards. See some examples of research grants below.

"Advances in our understanding and treatment of cardiovascular disease, arising from Heart and Stroke Foundation funded research, have led to a significant decline in deaths," says Dr. Peter Backx, chair of the HSF scientific review committee of scientists, which oversees peer review of research applications. "Yet heart disease and stroke are still a leading cause of death, the leading cause of hospitalizations and the biggest driver of prescription drug use in Canada. Investing in world-class research has never been more important."

This research will help the Foundation reach its goals to (1) reduce death from heart disease and stroke by 25 per cent, and to (2) significantly improve the health of Canadians by decreasing their risk factors from heart disease and stroke by 10 per cent, by the year 2020.

The Foundation's new strategic plan focuses research on priorities where the Foundation can have the most impact. Its strategic research initiatives will focus on the areas of preventing disease, saving lives and promoting recovery. Approximately 22 per cent of the new research grants focus on prevention, approximately 51 per cent on saving lives and approximately 27 per cent on promoting recovery.

Researchers at all stages of their careers are funded by the Foundation through a variety of programs including grants-in-aid (GIAs) to support operating costs, personnel awards, strategic research partnerships and HSF research chairs and professorships. The rigorous peer review process assures that only research meeting the highest standards of excellence is funded.

HSF strives to make the greatest impact by linking research findings to its work in health policy and practice and by delivering evidence-based information about heart disease and stroke to Canadians and their healthcare providers.

"Every seven minutes a Canadian life is lost due to heart disease or stroke; we need to move faster to prevent heart disease and stroke and to save and improve lives," says Wood. "The Foundation is committed to investing in research excellence to have the greatest tangible impact in improving the health of Canadian families every day."

Some of the exciting research Heart and Stroke Foundation donors made possible this year includes:

Making heart health child's play: Dr. Heather McKay has a unique opportunity to work with the City of Vancouver which will invest more than $5 million to redesign a downtown Vancouver neighbourhood to make it more "mobility friendly." Dr. McKay's team will study how street-level changes to the urban form such as benches, better lighting and more green space impact children's physical activity levels and heart health.

Slowing quivering hearts: Arrhythmias are excessively fast, slow or irregular heart rhythms. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia in Canada and can lead to serious complications including stroke, heart failure and sometimes even death. Dr. Stanley Nattel is studying changes in the regulation of genes controlling electrical activity in the heart - one important cause of abnormal heart function - to uncover the causes of arrhythmias. By understanding the basic mechanisms that lead to arrhythmias, his research team hopes to find new treatments to prevent and combat AF and heart disease. As world leaders in this area, their discoveries have already resulted in improved management.

Stopping cardiac arrest before it happens: Dr. Andrew Krahn is in charge of a national registry of patients who experience unexplained cardiac arrest. The aim is to better understand inherited electrical abnormalities, detect these conditions in family members and protect them from sudden death. Six hundred patients and family members have been studied in this national network, helping the researchers discover the best tools to prevent sudden death in these vulnerable families.

Buying precious time for stroke patients: Timely treatment is crucial following a stroke. With current treatments, doctors have about 3½ hours after a stroke to administer the clot-busting drug tPA, which is effective in reversing the devastating effects of stroke. Drs. Stephen Lownie and David Pelz are studying selective brain cooling as a way to reduce stroke damage even in patients who miss this window, with a goal of decreasing the burden of disability and mortality.

Customizing stroke rehab with robotics: Dr. Sean Dukelow is using robotics to help stroke survivors recover faster. Combining modern technology with traditional rote learning, he is studying when and how often robot rehabilitation should be used in order to maximize recovery in people following a stroke.

Research partnerships
Research partnerships are an important way the Foundation increases research potential. Partnerships allow us to create national networks of researchers and increase the amount of funding directed at priority problems. Every time the Foundation partners, we create the opportunity to multiply or leverage our investment in research.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery is the leading research partnership in the world dedicated solely to stroke recovery. Partnering with six of Canada's leading stroke research centres, it now boasts more than 150 researchers from across the country, focused on restoring lives through research.

Another high-impact collaboration is the new Canadian Alliance for Healthy Hearts and Minds, with a $14 million investment from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and an additional $2 million from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The alliance is investigating the root causes of chronic diseases, opening new doors of knowledge that will help in preventing these leading causes of death. A study of this scale looking at the societal influences on heart disease and stroke as well as cancer and other chronic diseases has never been done before in Canada.

2013/14 also marks the first time that GIAs - which continue to be funded according to scientific merit - are distributed on a national basis, no matter where in Canada the research takes place. GIAs are the Foundation's largest research program, providing up to three years of funding to be put towards laboratory supplies, technician salaries and equipment for cutting-edge, investigator-initiated research.

HSF-funded research has contributed to reducing death from heart disease by about 75 per cent over the last 60 years, largely due to research advances in surgical procedures, drug therapies and prevention efforts. Foundation research grants have led to breakthroughs such as:

  • A surgical procedure to correct "blue baby syndrome," a previously lethal congenital heart defect
  • The first heart transplant surgery in Canada
  • Identification of the risk factors accounting for 90 per cent of all strokes and heart attacks.

"Despite these advances, there remains much work to be done," says Wood. "Given the health challenges we will face into the future, there's an urgent need to prevent heart disease and stroke and to save more lives faster. Thanks to the support of our many donors and volunteers, we will continue to play a significant part in advancing and acting on research discoveries." The full list of HSF 2013/14 research award recipients can be found at http://www.hsf.ca/research/en/node/1.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's mission is to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery. A volunteer-based health charity, we strive to tangibly improve the health of every Canadian family, every day. Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen. heartandstroke.ca

SOURCE Heart and Stroke Foundation