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Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum, recipient of the 2023 Dr. John M. Bowman Memorial Winnipeg Rh Award

Meet Lorrie Kirshenbaum, the 2023 Dr. John M. Bowman Memorial Winnipeg Rh Award winner

May 24, 2024 — 

Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum is a professor of physiology and pathophysiology at the Max Rady College of Medicine. His leadership at both the University of Manitoba and St. Boniface Hospital focuses on providing specialized treatments for women living with heart disease using cutting-edge technology.

Kirshenbaum is the recipient of the 2023 Dr. John M. Bowman Memorial Winnipeg Rh Institute Foundation Award in recognition of the important impacts of his work to improve treatments for those living with heart disease and heart failure. Kirshenbaum is the Canada Research Chair in molecular cardiology. He was invested into the Order of Manitoba in 2023 and was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Kragujevac, Serbia, in March of 2024.

UM Today caught up with him recently to learn more about his research.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your research.

My research interests lie in understanding the mechanisms of heart failure. When people have a heart attack, the heart muscle becomes damaged, ultimately resulting in heart failure, and for that, there is no cure.

When I was growing up, my grandparents had heart disease. One grandparent had diabetes and the other one had a heart attack. As a kid I was always very inquisitive about how things worked – I would take them apart and put them back together – and I wondered why the heart couldn’t just be fixed after a heart attack.

We can replace the tires or the motor on a car, so why can’t we fix this pump that is so vital to life?

That fascination with understanding how things worked in general pulled me in this direction and instilled a love for science ever since. The idea of being able to pursue a curiosity in life and to chase down solutions to complex problems really drives me.

Why is this research important?

Heart disease is very prevalent. It’s the number one killer across North America next to cancer. One in three women have heart disease, so whether it’s our sisters, our aunts, our mothers or our friends, it reaches all of us.

We are developing a program at St. Boniface Hospital and UM focused on the specific needs of women with new drugs and therapies. The only real cure for heart failure, which is a devastating disease, is a heart transplant. Heart failure can be quite debilitating, not only for the affected individual but also for their caregivers and family, because it’s quite a life-altering disease.

Over the past 10 years, there has been movement in our field toward the understanding that heart disease in women is much different than it is in men. Most of the clinical trials, if not all, had previously been conducted in men. We are now learning that women develop different forms of heart disease.

Education is needed to identify the sometimes vague or undefinable ways heart disease develops in women. In my own research over the past 30 years on heart failure, I recognized this gap and as director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at St. Boniface Hospital, I’ve been able to address this need by building a research program that could be translated into better patient care.

What does the Rh Award mean to you?

I’m tremendously honoured to be recognized alongside so many giants in research excellence with this Bowman Award. It’s incredibly special because it’s the highest award UM bestows on its own faculty. It’s especially meaningful because the recognition is from my colleagues, for which I am deeply honoured.

I recognize the legacy of Dr. John M. Bowman and the significance of the Rh award. My sister was Rh negative with an Rh positive baby and Bowman’s WinRho serum resolved some issues during pregnancy.

It’s just a phenomenal honour to be recognized and I am gratified.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

My long-term goal is to progress our women’s heart health research to a point where we’re able to develop new drugs and therapies for better patient care. I’m hoping that by building this program, we will not only improve the quality of life for both women and men living with heart disease in Manitoba, but around the world.

We’ve established partnerships with the Mayo Clinic, the Barbra Streisand Heart Center in Los Angeles at Cedar Sinai Hospital and other centres across Europe, which gives the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and UM tremendous reach for extending our global presence and building our research capacity. Our new researchers are already training and mentoring medical and graduate students, so there’s a multiplier effect driving an incredible momentum for our work.

What about you would people find surprising?

I have a passion for different cuisine. I love to cook and have always been amazed how food brings people together. I have different culinary interests beyond just flipping burgers on the barbecue. I very much enjoy preparing exotic dinners. Perhaps it’s the scientist in me that loves the mixing of ingredients to create something special for my friends and family to experience, with some of my creations better than others.    

I think research is really an art, and science is the language because in research, like art, we start off with a blank canvas and our curiosity guides the creativity and experimental design. I think testing an idea and realizing that you discovered something new is really art.

Any advice for early-career researchers and students?

I would say that at the very beginning you have to have passion. If you have passion, whether it’s science, whether it’s hockey, whether it’s art, then you have the drive to realize your dream.

When you have a dream then you’ll chase it regardless of what people say, but you will also need mentors. I recommend seeking a mentor, whether that’s in your field, whether that’s a personal mentor, whether it’s a spiritual mentor, it doesn’t matter. Mentorship has played a major role in my professional life.

I came out of some exceptional labs where I received great training by some who were themselves trained by Nobel laureates. My own greatest satisfaction is seeing someone who I’ve trained go on to something great, and then train another generation of scientists. To me, that’s the greatest satisfaction, knowing I made a difference.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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