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Congratulations to Drs Michael Czybryt, Rakesh Arora, Todd Duhamel and Annette Schultz, who together received multi-year grants totaling over $2.2 million in the recent round of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).


 Dr. Michael Czubryt
Associate Professor of Physiology, University of Manitoba
Principal Investigator, Molecular Pathophysiology
Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

$891,639 over 5 years
The walls of the heart are strengthened by a supporting framework (“extracellular matrix”) made primarily of a protein called collagen. In response to stresses such as high blood pressure, cells in the heart called myofibroblasts make additional collagen to strengthen the damaged heart wall and help the heart to maintain its function. After heart attack, a collagen-rich scar is formed to prevent rupture of the heart. However, matrix production is a double-edged sword – too much causes the heart walls to stiffen, impairing heart contraction and relaxation. Excessive collagen accumulation (“fibrosis”) is a significant clinical challenge, affecting millions of patients worldwide. Drug treatments targeting fibrosis are lacking, due in part to the fact that we do not fully understand the fibrotic process. Designing drugs to target fibrosis requires a better understanding of how excess collagen is made. Dr. Czubryt’s work will confirm scleraxis is a critical player in the progression of fibrosis, and a potential target for therapeutic anti-fibrosis drug design.


Dr. Rakesh C. Arora
Associate Professor of Surgery,  Anesthesia & Physiology, University of Manitoba
Principal Investigator, Heart Failure Therapy
Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

Dr. Todd Duhamel
Associate Professor of Kinesiology & Recreational Management, University of Manitoba
Principal Investigator, Physical Activity and Chronic Disease Prevention
Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences

Grant: $619784 over 4 years
In the last 20 years, the increasing burden of heart disease within an aging population has resulted in cardiac surgery being offered to older and sicker patients. In addition, newer procedures such as catheter-based surgery are now being performed on patients in their 80 and 90s, many of whom would have been deemed too sick for an operation in the past. There is new information that has demonstrated that increasing physical activity before a patient undergoes a heart operation may improve outcomes after their surgery. The current standard of care does not, however, include a referral to an exercise therapy and educational sessions prior to cardiac surgery. We have completed two preliminary studies. Firstly, we have determined that approximately 50 percent of elderly patients undergoing heart surgery can be classified as frail. Frail patients typically recovered more slowly from their heart surgery. This frailty is mostly due to muscle weakness and inactivity and therefore may benefit from an exercise program before their operation. Secondly, we have recently completed a pilot study to demonstrate the safety and feasibility of a pre-operative pre-habilitation program for elective coronary artery bypass patients. We were able to show that this program was safe and resulted in improvements in exercise ability before their operation. This study was however performed in relatively young patients. We are now interested in performing a larger, multicentre trial in patients who may see the most benefit, namely the frail patient undergoing heart surgery. As we are faced with an increasingly complex elderly patient population, it is critically important for the health care team to identify strategies that provide appropriate, safe and effective care, so that this high risk aging cohort does not just survive but thrives after their heart operation.


Dr. Annette Schultz
Associate Professor of Nursing, University of Manitoba
Principal Investigator, Psychosocial Oncology and Cancer Nursing Research
St-Boniface Hospital Research Centre

Grant: $709,987 over 4 years
Dr. Annette Schultz, in collaboration with Karen Throndson RN, MN (Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cardiac Sciences Program, Health Sciences Centre), a team of eight researchers, and several First Nation and healthcare community collaborators have received funding to further their research on First Nation Peoples’ heart health.

“In Canada, First Nations Peoples have an increased risk of heart disease, are diagnosed younger with heart disease, and have worse post-heart attack health,” says Dr. Schultz. “This research will respect biomedical, Indigenous, and historical/decolonizing perspectives when generating evidence to help us understand heart disease inequities.”

Schultz and her team plan to integrate two-eyed seeing and decolonizing methodologies in this four-year study, which aims to reveal unique insights and understanding concerning Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) burden and inequities among Manitoban First Nation Peoples. The grant entitled “Diversifying our Ways of Understanding Heart Health among First Nations People in Manitoba: A Mixed Methods Study Governed by a Two-Eyed Seeing Approach” will be commonly known as: “Debwewin: The Sound of Our Hearts.” A two-eyed seeing approach guides researchers to draw on the strengths of both Indigenous and Western knowledge to benefit everyone.


About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s agency for health research. CIHR’s mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health-care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to nearly 13,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada.