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Funding discovery and innovation in heart disease and stroke

The GIA program promotes novel research
Dr Teresa Liu-Ambrose

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a GIA funding recipient. 

The Grant-in-Aid (GIA) program provides operating funds to support important, pertinent, novel research in heart disease and stroke. The resulting knowledge contributes to the heart and brain health of people in Canada through prevention, treatment and recovery.

Meet three recipients of GIA funding.

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose: Can resistance training delay vascular cognitive impairment?

Vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is caused by damaged blood vessels, usually as a result of a small stroke or series of small strokes. This leads to cognitive decline, including dementia.

Many of VCI’s risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, are modifiable and VCI progression can be delayed through exercise and healthy choices.

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose believes that resistance training in particular can be effective. The bulk of exercise research has been on aerobic exercise. But promising results of a pilot study demonstrates the potential of resistance training for limiting brain tissue damage in adults with VCI.

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose

We aim to conduct research that will positively impact the brain health of those affected by VCI.

Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia

Dr. Liu-Ambrose will evaluate the effects of a strength training program on patients’ cognitive abilities, function of major arteries, cardiovascular risk factors, balance and walking ability, fall risk, as well as mood and quality of life.

Outcomes of her study could provide more options for exercise prescription in VCI rehabilitation, which is an effective, accessible and cost efficient therapy.

By slowing VCI progression, resistance training will protect the health of small arteries, prevent future strokes and help maintain patients’ cognitive abilities crucial to functional independence and enhanced quality of life.

Dr. Andrew Krahn: Can testing for genetic abnormalities be developed to prevent sudden death?

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart is unable to effectively pump and circulate blood. When the cause is not known, it’s referred to as unexplained cardiac arrest (UCA). Building on his previous research funded by Heart & Stroke donors, Dr. Andrew Krahn is investigating UCA cases linked to inherited cardiac abnormalities.

These abnormalities cause the heart to beat unusually fast and can lead to blackouts or sudden death. And while some patients who experience this have an abnormal electrocardiogram (EKG), others’ EKGs are normal. It is therefore critical to pinpoint the cause of the inherited abnormalities and the possible consequences for family members.

Andrew Krahn

Prevention, diagnosis and treatment are key elements in our research.

Dr. Andrew Krahn Professor, Division of Cardiology, University of British Columbia

Dr. Krahn is working towards developing an accurate test for detection and treatment of these defects. Utilizing a national clinical registry and innovative genetic testing, he is able to recruit and assess UCA patients and their families. This will allow Dr. Krahn to uncover the DNA sequences responsible for the abnormalities.

Dr. Krahn’s research will help physicians properly diagnose and treat people with these inherited defects. As well, by providing preventive treatments such as beta blocker pills or implantable defibrillators, it can help at-risk individuals and their family members who are unaware of their condition. An estimated 30,000 sudden deaths occur in Canada every year, and Dr. Krahn hopes that his research will change this statistic.

Dr. Jacqueline Saw: What are the genetics behind SCAD?

Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is the suspected cause of 25% to 40% of heart attacks in young women. It causes the inner layers of an artery to separate, resulting in impaired blood flow to the heart.

But SCAD remains poorly understood and underdiagnosed. It often strikes young women who have no standard risk factors, and can cause irregular heart rhythms, heart attacks, and even death.

Dr. Jacqueline Saw

Heart & Stroke funding to support the study of the genetics in SCAD patients will be tremendously helpful.

Dr. Jacqueline Saw Clinical Assistant Professor, Division of Cardiology, University of British Columbia

Many diseases that are linked to an increased risk of SCAD are inherited. Dr. Jacqueline Saw’s goal is to determine whether SCAD is a genetic condition and if so, what its genetic markers may be.

Her study, the largest of its kind, is aimed at identifying common genes linked to SCAD by analyzing DNA from people with SCAD who have had heart attacks. The outcomes will enable a better understanding of how SCAD develops; they may also guide genetic testing and preventive measures for relatives of SCAD patients.

By identifying the genes that increase SCAD risk, Dr. Saw’s study will pave the way to the development of therapies for its prevention and treatment, improving outcomes and quality of life for SCAD patients.

Read more about Dr. Saw's research.


Learn more about BC research funding and its recipients: