February has been marked as International Heart Month – and not because of Valentine’s Day. It is a time to bring attention to cardiovascular health and what we as a society can do to reduce risk and take better care of ourselves.
The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research in Toronto announced very recently its first-ever $1 million innovation grants that are awarded to world-first projects that are positioned to alleviate the burden of heart failure on patients, loved-ones, and the healthcare system.
“Our centre is uniquely positioned to invest in emerging technology that delivers new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to heart failure,” says Dr. Mansoor Husain, executive director, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. “To support our mission of addressing heart failure across the lifespan, we funded a pair of visionary projects that require a generous level of support that most granting agencies aren’t able to provide.”
The two projects mark significant steps forward in advancing solutions for an endemic disease that in Canada affects at least one million people and costs the health-care system over $3 billion each year.
The first-funded project is led by Dr. Douglas Lee, Ted Rogers Chair in heart function outcomes, which will create a new machine learning model to predict prognoses of patients with heart failure to prevent unnecessary admissions to hospital.
“We have hit a wall in predicting readmissions using traditional clinical methods,” says Lee. “As it stands, without the right tools in place, low-risk patients may be unnecessarily admitted while high-risk patients could be inadvertently discharged home.”
To better predict outcomes and improve care, Lee’s team will develop a new algorithm based on an array of information that includes biomarkers, physiologic data, blood samples, and a patient’s own reported symptoms. This will be collected with evolving technology such as remote patient monitoring and machine learning. Together, the aim is to develop a complete, integrated model to predict heart failure readmissions.
The second-funded project will be led by Dr. James Ellis, a senior scientist at SickKids, that will use stem cells and bioengineered tissues to test new treatments for patients affected by mutations that cause heart disease.
Cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition that either thins and weakens or thickens and stiffens the heart muscle. It is the most common cause of heart failure and sudden cardiac death in children with no current effective treatment.
This project combines stem cells, bioengineered tissues, and genomics to study if drugs that target myosin – the protein that causes a heart to contract – are effective in children and adults with cardiomyopathy while simultaneously seeing if a patient’s genotype can predict a response to therapy.
Researchers will utilize new reprogramming and gene-editing technology to create models of disease in which drugs can be studied. To do so, they will take skin or blood cells from patients, reprogram them into stem cells, and convert them into heart cells. If they discover that a drug works best in patients with certain gene defects but not others, it will lay the groundwork for precision medicine in cardiomyopathy.