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A hearty success

December 16, 2011

By Eleni Kanavas

On November 23, 2011, the Schulich Heart Program at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) held its sixth annual research day. Researchers, clinician-scientists, staff and students gathered in Harrison Hall for an event focused on state-of-the-art cardiovascular disease management.

Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at Sunnybrook, welcomed attendees. He was followed by Dr. Bradley Strauss, chief of the Schulich Heart Program and senior scientist in biological sciences at SRI. Both emphasized the importance of translating discoveries into the clinic and how this translation is shaping cardiac care.

"In the last 20 years, we have witnessed advances like stenting and minimally invasive catheter-based procedures, and we have gained a richer understanding of the role regional, gender and ethnic differences play in determining access to care," said Julius. "These and other advances are the product of research and the continuing focus of Schulich Heart Program researchers."

The day was divided into three sessions: cardiovascular imaging, outcomes assessment and analysis, and new surgical and interventional methods.

Dr. Jack Tu, a cardiologist and senior scientist in evaluative clinical sciences, delivered a keynote lecture on ethnicity and cardiovascular disease in Ontario. He also summarized research on global rates of heart disease and the risk factors associated with different ethnic groups.

Guest speakers were Dr. Chris Buller from St. Michael's Hospital, who spoke about coronary artery fibromuscular dysplasia; and Dr. Elliot McVeigh from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who discussed advances in magnetic resonance imaging-guided cardiovascular interventions.

Dr. Graham Wright, director of the Schulich Heart Research Program, summarized the work of SRI cardiac researchers. "The emphasis is on innovation and developing the future of health care in cardiac disease," he said. "This includes the evaluation of new technologies to ensure that they are being used appropriately in the health care system."

Wright and his team are using magnetic resonance imaging to characterize preclinical models of heart conditions for use in designing diagnostic and therapeutic studies. He also co-leads a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) team that is studying occlusive vascular disease.

Strauss presented results from a multisite Phase 1 clinical trial evaluating different dose levels of collagenase, an enzyme-based therapy he developed to treat patients with chronically blocked arteries. In the study, Strauss used a microcatheter to inject collagenase into blocked arteries to soften plaque buildup and allow for stenting—a procedure in which a small, expandable stainless steel tube is inserted into an artery to improve blood flow—the next day. Twenty male patients participated in the study, which was a collaboration between Sunnybrook and St. Michael's Hospital. Strauss reported a 75% success rate in crossing and stenting 15 of the 20 patients.

At the end of the day, Strauss spoke to the future of the Schulich Heart Research Program. "We want to enhance and encourage innovation and commercialization of devices in all areas in cardiology in a way that will be useful for patients," he said. "We need to continue to do that, and we're well on our way."