Funding discovery and innovation in heart disease and stroke

The GIA program promotes novel research
Two female researchers working in lab

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. Thalia Field: Can rivaroxaban treat cerebral venous thrombosis?

Cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) is a rare type of stroke caused by a blood clot in a draining vein of the brain. It most commonly affects younger women — 75% of patients are female and 80% are under the age of 50 — and is one of the top three causes of stroke associated with pregnancy. Symptoms include headaches, vision loss, weakness, seizures and coma. CVT leaves over half of patients with long term cognitive issues, 15% dead or disabled and 25% unable to return to work. 

Due to its rarity, CVT has seldom been studied and little is known about its treatment. Blood thinners are often used, but it is unclear which the best is or what the duration of treatment should be.

Dr Thalia Field

Those who have experienced CVT may feel isolated and may not have much information available to them.

Dr. Thalia Field Assistant professor, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia

Dr. Thalia Field aims to shed more light on CVT, particularly treatment options and long-term health effects in patients. In her study, she will evaluate the best type of blood thinner for treatment. Patients will be given either rivaroxaban, a newer blood thinner not requiring regular blood tests, or the standard type of blood thinner requiring blood tests to measure drug levels. They will be followed for a year and undergo brain scans to see if their blood clots have dissolved, which will help determine how long patients should be treated for.

Dr. Field is also interested in learning about the long term effects of CVT on quality of life, such as changes in thinking and concentration. The study is unique in that it will be patient informed; patients will be asked what they think is important to investigate and be involved before, during and after the study. Her team will engage patients in remote locations by internet.

Dr. Field’s project will substantially improve understanding of CVT and its long term health effects and enhance treatment. As well, this will lay down the foundation for a national network to study other rare causes of stroke down the road. 

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: