Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Nov. 27, 2015
Libin Institute trainee wins research award for heart failure patch
On Oct. 24 to 27, the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress (CCC), the country’s largest medical conference, was held in Toronto. Attracting about 3,000 attendees from across Canada and the world, the event hosts a variety of forums, workshops, demonstrations, and competitions.
Dr. Holly Mewhort, a Cumming School of Medicine PhD candidate from the Marlene and Don Campbell Family Cardiac Research Laboratory at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, was among six of Canada’s most accomplished trainees selected to present and the recipient of the CCC's Trainee Research Award - Basic Science competition.
Her win marks the third year in a row that a student, mentored by Dr. Paul Fedak, director of the Marlene and Don Campbell Family Cardiac Research Laboratory, has won the award, which is an unprecedented and novel feat from any lab in the country.
The award recognizes the scientific merit and excellence of presentation and research work done by a resident, research fellow, or graduate student in a training program.
“It is an honour to have our work recognized amongst the many outstanding studies presented,” says Mewhort. "It has been an engaging project to work on over the last few years and to see it all come together and move forward into clinical translation is very exciting.”
Tissue engineering approach prevents and reverses heart muscle death
Following a heart attack, little can be done to fix the dead heart muscle that results. This dead heart muscle puts patients at risk of developing heart failure, a serious and often fatal condition.
Mewhort, a cardiac surgery resident in postgraduate year six (PGY-6), along with her team from the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, are taking a tissue engineering approach to help prevent and even reverse heart muscle death after a heart attack. They have shown that surgically placing an FDA-approved extracellular matrix biomaterial or "patch" comprised of healthy biologic connective tissue onto the affected heart muscle improves cardiac performance and prevents heart failure following a heart attack.
“When someone has a heart attack, not only is the blood supply through the major artery blocked, the small downstream blood vessels are also often destroyed,” says Mewhort. “So, even if we can restore blood flow to the major coronary artery through bypass surgery, that restored blood flow can’t reach the dying muscle because the small downstream vessels are gone.
“By combining bypass surgery, to restore blood flow to the major arteries, with this biomaterial therapy, we can stimulate new small blood vessel formation within the damaged heart muscle to fully restore blood flow," says Mewhort, who also won the 2015 CCC Dr. Paul Cartier Cardiac Surgery Resident Award, presented by the Canadian Society of Cardiac Surgeons. "If we are successful, this could prevent many patients who suffer a heart attack from going on to develop heart failure.”
This type of biomaterial therapy has improved heart function in several different pre-clinical animal models. Clinical trials will commence within the next month at the Foothills Medical Centre in collaboration with the Libin Institute’s Stephenson Cardiac Imaging Centre. The trial is expected to last for one year.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Lab's three trainee awards a result of commitment to mentorship
Along with Mewhort, two other Marlene and Don Campbell Family Cardiac Research Laboratory trainees who have received this accolade from the CCC include David Guzzardi, PhD student (2014 recipient) and Dr. Janet Ngu (2013 recipient).
Guzzardi's research uses a new imaging technique called 4D flow MRI, along with a combination of molecular and engineering techniques, to develop more patient-specific surgical approaches to treat aortic aneurysms.
Ngu, now a postgraduate year three (PGY-3) cardiac surgery resident at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, presented on the effects of a protein named TIMP-2 (tissue inhibitors of metalloproteinase-2) on these cells in terms of scar formation.
Dr. Paul Fedak, member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta says, “In my mind, mentorship lies deep within the heart of the academic mission. These three awards reflect our ongoing commitment to mentorship and graduate student education, something that has become a mission statement for everyone within my research program.”
Cardiac research training program takes discoveries from lab to clinical trials
The Marlene and Don Campbell Family Cardiac Research Laboratory performs translational research, taking research discoveries from the lab and using them in clinical trials. It is committed to the innovation of new surgical therapies, from the basic science level through to clinical trial, for patients with advanced heart disease.
“We are very proud of the strong training program that Dr. Fedak has built within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta,” says Dr. Todd Anderson, director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. “Dr. Mewhort, David, and Dr. Ngu have been highly successful in this environment due to their own great work and very strong mentorship from Dr. Fedak and the others in the team. Congratulations to this wonderful group of researchers.”
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