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Making the connection between your heart and your brain Brain Canada and Heart & Stroke announce recipients of $6 million research competition

CBRF News, News September 12, 2022
Dr. Peter Liu, University of Ottawa Heart Institute (left), and Dr. Douglas Lee, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, UHN

Today, Brain Canada and Heart & Stroke announce that Canadian researchers Dr. Peter Liu and Dr. Douglas Lee are each a recipient of a Heart-Brain Connection IMPACT Award— a competition totalling $6 million. These researchers will lead two multi-disciplinary teams bringing together close to 100 members from institutions across the country.

“We are thrilled by the calibre of the two teams and the thoughtful, innovative research programs they have designed,” says Dr. Viviane Poupon, President, and CEO of Brain Canada. “By bringing together leading and diverse experts from across the country, including people with lived experience and Indigenous peoples, they will drive discovery that goes beyond what would be possible for a single researcher or a single institution.”

The four-year projects will study urgent questions linking heart and brain health with the aim of making changes to patient care and improving outcomes for people in Canada. Currently, one person dies in Canada every five minutes from heart disease, stroke or vascular cognitive impairment, outpacing other diseases. In fact, 20% more people die of heart-brain related conditions than from all cancers. The impact of these heart-brain connections on people’s lives and on the health care system is profound, especially given our health system is designed on a “single disease” model – with different conditions being treated by different specialists. These projects challenge that system through broad collaboration.

Teams will begin work on their projects in 2022 and there are plans to bring the two teams together to share updates on their work as early as 2023. “Putting research into action by sharing knowledge and results are critical components of this award,” says Doug Roth, CEO of Heart & Stroke. “We are confident these teams, these projects and this approach to research will accelerate a much-needed shift around how we explore heart disease and brain disorders.”

Heart-Brain Connection IMPACT Award recipients:

BHRIITE (Brain-Heart Research Integrative Innovation Team Endeavor), led by Dr. Liu, University of Ottawa Heart Institute

“Our program stems from speaking with patients who were falling through the gaps created when heart and brain diseases are treated and researched separately,” explains Dr. Liu, Principal Investigator of BHRIITE. “We aim to change the fundamental disconnect between brain and heart conditions and develop new tools to predict who is at risk and how severely with new diagnostic blood tests and new ways to take pictures of the heart and brain. Together with patient partners, we will also test new treatments that can be used to protect both the heart and the brain.”

This diverse team will integrate patients’ lived experience with expertise in molecular manipulation, in-depth cognitive and cardiac testing, pharmacology, systems biology, clinical trials, epidemiology, biostatistical modelling, machine learning and artificial intelligence. It will also include components such as an Indigenous-led curriculum to build a network of Indigenous health mentors and trainees to support Indigenous capacity to engage in research.

UNEARTH CVD (Using novel approaches for the early recognition of transient ischemic attack, heart failure and connections with vascular dementia), led by Dr. Lee, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, UHN, Toronto and Dr. Gustavo Saposnik, St. Michael’s Hospital, a site of Unity Health Toronto

“By assembling a team of leading Canadian experts in stroke neurology, cardiovascular disease, aging, general internal medicine, family medicine, sex and gender, health services research, basic science, biomedical engineering, biostatistics, bioethics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, we will find better ways to diagnose possible strokes early and prevent devastating effects such as paralysis” says Dr. Lee, Principal Investigator of UNEARTH CVD.

The team will also develop new methods to diagnose early declines in brain function, so that patients can receive preventive strategies and to study the intersection between heart failure and dementia which may radically change how doctors treat these conditions in the future. The project will also include engagement with Indigenous researchers and inclusion of Indigenous peoples with lived experience.

Funding for the Heart-Brain Connection IMPACT Award has been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada) and Brain Canada Foundation, and Heart & Stroke.

To date, Health Canada has invested over $130 million through the CBRF which has been matched by Brain Canada and its donors and partners.