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How can you mend a broken heart?

Symposium at Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research brings together leading cardiac experts

Hugh Watkins from Oxford University addresses the symposium

Hugh Watkins from Oxford University addresses the symposium

If you think a genetic test can reveal the likelihood you’ll face heart failure in your future, you’re likely wrong. That was one of the messages delivered at the first scientific symposium hosted by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research (TRCHR). Entitled Advances in Heart Failure: Science & Solutions, the two-day conference showcased research leaders from around the word and close to home.

Hugh Watkins, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford, delivered one of the keynote addresses. He discussed the value of genetic testing in predicting heart failure. He told the audience of more than 270 physicians, researchers and students that while genetic testing can be very beneficial in identifying the risk of heart failure for rare, hereditary heart conditions, it provided little benefit to the more common causes of heart failure.

“In most cases, the more typical risk factors – such as gender, age, cholesterol – are much better predictors than anything genetic tests can reveal,” said Watkins.

The challenge, he explained, is that there is too much information generated from genetic testing. And, especially as people age, environmental factors become a bigger contributor to heart failure, making it hard to distinguish between possible genetic causes versus environmental or lifestyle factors.

TRCHR is focused on finding new solutions to heart failure, which has reached an epidemic status in Canada. More than 50,000 new patients are diagnosed with the condition each year, and one million Canadians currently live with heart failure.

“The cost this has in terms of life and the economy are huge,” said Mansoor Husain, Executive Director of TRCHR and professor in the department of laboratory medicine and pathobiology. He is optimistic that the Centre, which is a partnership between The Hospital for Sick Children, the University Health Network, and the University of Toronto, can bring together a unique array of skills and expertise to find a solution.

It was that combination of skills and expertise that motivated Adrian Hernandez, a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University, to accept an invitation to speak at the symposium. He delivered a keynote address that focused on strategies for reducing the hospitalization of patients due to heart failure.

“By 2030, more than one in 33 people will have heart failure in the United States, and that’s estimated to cost $70-billion to treat,” said Hernandez, who noted that while the trend lines were slightly better for Canada, the cost of inaction remained high. He challenged his colleagues to try new approaches and harness the power of technology and broad system-level data to identify solutions. 

The symposium was the first major public event hosted by the TRCHR, which was launched in November 2014 thanks to an unprecedented donation of $130 million from the Rogers family in memory of business leader and U of T graduate, Ted Rogers. It coincided with the launch of a new public education website, which is intended to make the latest breakthroughs in heart research accessible to patients and their families.

“Informing the public is an important part of our mission,” said Husain. Hernandez agreed on the importance of engaging patients in understanding their conditions and treatment options – especially in an era when people can conduct their own independent research.

“Physicians tend to skim over the information. It’s patients who do the deeper dive. We can do more to help them do that,” said Hernandez.

Other speakers included cardiologist Mikhail Kosiborod of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, and Toronto-based researchers Seema Mital, and U of TAnthony GramoliniDouglas Lee, Michael Laflamme, Filio Billia, Dinesh Thavendiranathan, and Milica Radisic.

More information on the symposium can be found on its website.