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Heart disease prevention & treatment study gets funding boost

New information from the research may lead to the development of new drugs to prevent or treat heart disease.

April 13, 2016 — 

A study looking to improve the heart health of Manitobans has been recognized for excellence at the national level.

A research team led by Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management associate dean Dr. Todd Duhamel was recently awarded a three-year grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation worth over $270,000 to explore a potential cause for heart disease.

New information from this research may lead to the development of new drugs to prevent or treat heart disease in the future.

Researchers have learned one of the reasons people develop heart disease is because a protein called SERCA2a, which is responsible for moving calcium within the heart on a beat-to-beat basis, becomes damaged. Researchers have discovered that obesity and diabetes can influence a process called acetylation, where the addition of an acetyl flag turns some target proteins on or off; whereas, removing the acetyl flag has the opposite effect. An analogy for this process is a light switch. SERCA2a can hold three acetyl flags. However, it is still not known if the acetyl flags turn SERCA2a on or off.

The research team will determine if the addition of acetyl flags to SERCA2a proteins contributes to the development of heart disease.


Dr. Todd Duhamel

Duhamel’s research (conducted at St-Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre, where he is a principal investigator) has found that high-fat diets tend to accelerate the production of the flag, which in turn can lead to poor heart function and eventually cardiac failure.

Conversely, the team has also determined physical exercise can remove this flag and improve heart function.

“It’s through our kinesiology focused lens that we were able to identify this disease process,” says Duhamel. “We found this pathway because the flag in influenced by exercise.”

The study will explore the regulation of the acetyl flag in more detail and try to further understand the biochemical processes that are happening to both strengthen and weaken its occurrence.

As part of the study, Duhamel’s team will be analyzing heart tissue from St-Boniface Hospital cardiac patients. This tissue is typically discarded as a normal part of surgery.

“We’re going to take those samples to look for this flag to see if it changes with disease severity. So, in people with ischemic hearts, is the occurrence of this flag a lot higher? Is that what’s contributing to the severity of the heart disease? These are things we need to find out,” states Duhamel.

The ultimate goal is to determine if the flags are indeed significant contributors to heart disease. If that is the case, a drug could be developed to treat it.

“Many of the best medicines used today mimic some of the health benefits of exercise. Our strategy is to use exercise as a tool to identify disease pathways to target with new medicines. This will also tell us more about how physical activity promotes heart health on a level we’ve never known before,” Duhamel adds.



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