Dec. 7, 2020

Libin initiative receives national recognition

Health program CV&Me awarded Hypertension Canada Certificate of Excellence
CV&Me members pose for a photo at the inaugural Libin International Trainee Symposium. Dawn Smith

The Libin Cardiovascular Institute’s Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative, CV&Me, has been recognized nationally.

Hypertension Canada awarded the program with a Certificate of Excellence at its annual meeting on Nov. 16, stating that “CV&Me has been a tremendous advocate at the local, provincial, national and international levels for the incorporation of sex and gender-based considerations in hypertension and cardiovascular care, research and education.”

  • Pictured above: CV&Me members pose for a photo at the inaugural Libin International Trainee Symposium. Team lead Sofia Ahmed is bottom row, centre. Photo by Dawn Smith

“This award belongs to all the researchers, clinicians, trainees and women with lived experiences who have joined forces to create an amazing program,” says Dr. Sofia Ahmed, MD, the initiative's lead and spokesperson and member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. “It is truly an honour for our work to be recognized by Hypertension Canada.”

Since 2019, CV&Me members have been raising awareness about the importance of both biological sex and gender considerations in cardiovascular research.

Historically, sex (biological attributes) and gender (which includes socially constructed roles and behaviours) have been under-considered in cardiovascular research and care. The group’s goal is to change that.

“Considering sex and gender-related factors in research is the first step towards precision health,” says Ahmed.  “We have to acknowledge that in some cases we know very little about why women and men, for example, may have different symptoms during a heart attack. But it is so exciting to consider what we may uncover by including sex and gender factors into research.”

Female-specific factors such as hormonal contraception use, complications of pregnancy, menopause and post-menopausal hormone therapy all influence hypertension risk, and this is just one area of cardiovascular research.

CV&Me’s impact

Recognizing the importance of training the next generation of researchers in this area, CV&Me held a first-of-its kind symposium in February 2020. The Libin Cardiovascular Institute International Trainee Symposium: Research is Better with Sex and Gender! attracted 78 students from across North America and the Netherlands, providing scholarships along with mentorship and practical advice on incorporating sex and gender considerations into the trainees’ own cardiovascular research.

As a result of this group’s work and the support of leadership, the Libin Cardiovascular Institute was the first organization in Canada to include a requirement for students to get training in this area to be considered for all scholarships.

CV&Me’s desire to raise awareness about the unique issues women face when it comes to their cardiovascular health motivated members to organize a number of community events over the past year. Events have included several lectures from experts in the field and a screening of A Typical Heart, a documentary showing the deadly disparity between female and male heart disease.

In all, CV&Me has touched more than 700 members of the Calgary community through these educational events.

Members of the group have also presented at both the national and international level, reaching groups such as the American Heart Association Hypertension Congress, the Canadian Diabetes Association and the American Society of Nephrology. Ahmed was also invited by Research Canada to speak in Ottawa May 2019 at the parliamentary reception on Women’s Health: The Case for a Sex and Gender-Based Analysis.

Ahmed, a kidney specialist and active researcher, is excited about the future of CV&Me.

“With interest at the national and international levels in the area of sex and gender in research, we can’t help but optimize care for all Canadians, and who doesn’t want that?” she says.

Sofia Ahmed is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the CSM. She is the lead of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute CV&Me Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative and the sex and gender lead for Can-SOLVE CKD, a national research network into chronic kidney disease. She is also a member of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health.