UAlberta’s heart and stroke research excellence attracts $25M commitment

(Edmonton) In 1956, University of Alberta heart surgeon John Callaghan performed the first open-heart surgery in Canada. He also co-created the pacemaker. Now another historical milestone is cementing the U of A’s reputation as an international centre of excellence in heart and stroke medical research and patient care.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is making an unprecedented $25-million, multi-year commitment to funding medical research at the U of A, in support of advancing health through teaching, research and patient care.

“We are honoured that the University of Alberta has been recognized for our national leadership in heart and stroke research,” said U of A President Indira Samarasekera. “This generous commitment by the Heart and Stroke Foundation will allow us to build on the work we are doing, in partnership with Alberta Health Services, to translate research into practical prevention, care and treatment procedures for people.”

The foundation’s $300-million commitment is part of its newly formed Heart and Stroke Foundation Research Leadership Circle, which includes leading universities across the country. Their goal is to dramatically reduce the number of Canadians who die from heart disease and stroke by 25 per cent by 2020.

Over the next 10 years, the U of A’s highly skilled cardiovascular surgeons, cardiac care professionals, cardiologists, stroke specialists and educators, and researchers will work collaboratively across the health sciences disciplines to help the Heart and Stroke Foundation reach its goal to save lives through advancements in research. Heart disease and stroke account for almost 30 per cent of all deaths every year in Canada. Every seven minutes someone dies from heart disease and stroke—that’s nearly 69,000 people annually.

“The time has come to establish a new, more aggressive and co-ordinated approach to ending heart disease and stroke, so we’ve partnered with some of the highest-performing researchers in Canada to get the job done,” said Irfhan Rawji, past chair of the foundation.

Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researchers Justin Ezekowitz and Gary Lopaschuk, two U of A researchers who have received foundation funding, said the unprecedented financial commitment will allow them to make more advancements in heart research.

"Heart and stroke research is critical to improving the health of Albertans and Canadians,” said Ezekowitz. “With a sustainable and stable financial commitment of this magnitude, we will be able to further the research into preventing heart disease and treating those patients who already have suffered the burden of a heart attack, heart failure or heart rhythm problems. Canadians lead the way in the innovations required for the next generation of healthier people."

Lopaschuk added, “This is a transformative gift to medical research at the University of Alberta. With the expertise we have already attracted here, it’s clear that the University of Alberta is building one of the world’s leading heart research centres. It’s a fantastic birthday gift for the centennial year of the U of A’s medical school.”