Several Heart Institute staff members were the recipients of significant honours at this year’s congress. Foremost of these were Dr. Robert Roberts, Heart Institute President and CEO, and Dr. Lyall Higginson.
A Pioneering Researcher
Dr. Roberts received the Canadian Cardiovascular Society’s Research Achievement Award. A leading figure in cardiovascular medicine in both Canada and the United States, Dr. Roberts is one of the pioneers of molecular cardiology, bringing the power and tools of genomics to the study of heart disease.
He developed a blood test for heart attack, he has trained a generation of researchers in molecular cardiology and he has made important contributions to the genetic understanding of many forms of heart disease. With more than 800 scientific publications, Dr. Roberts has been designated a Most Highly Cited Researcher. He has held leadership roles with the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and he has been highly honoured by both the AHA and ACC.
At the Heart Institute, Dr. Roberts founded the Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Centre. This facility, the only such dedicated centre in Canada, made possible the discovery of the 9p21 genetic variant, the first identified and highest impact genetic risk factor for coronary heart disease. His work through the Ruddy Centre has led to participation in international research consortia, such as CARDIoGRAM, which have identified many further common variants associated with heart disease.
He is a native of Newfoundland, born there prior to its joining Canada, and subsequently spent nearly 40 years of his career in the U.S. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Roberts made it clear that having this honour bestowed on him by his Canadian colleagues is particularly meaningful, and he joked that, having received it, he can now truly call himself a Canadian.
A Leading Educator
The CCS Annual Achievement Award in recognition of outstanding career contributions went to Dr. Lyall Higginson. Dr. Higginson, a cardiologist who has spent the lion’s share of his career at the Heart Institute, is an outstanding clinician, but it is through his passion for sharing that skill and knowledge as an educator and mentor that he has made the greatest impact.
“I always wanted to look after patients,” he said. “But I also wanted to share that ability with residents. I hope that my legacy is the influence I have been able to have on students.” Dr. Higginson is a past president of CCS and, in 2006, received the Society’s Distinguished Teacher Award.
Dr. Peter Liu was chosen as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ICRH Distinguished Scientist. In his lecture “Fast Tracking Cardiovascular Advances: Matrix of Innovation and Customization for Global Impact,” the Heart Institute’s recently appointed Scientific Director spoke on ways to reduce the lag between discovery and application in cardiovascular research. His energizing message included cross-pollination with other areas of science, adoption of systems biology approaches and the value of harmonizing clinical guidelines for moving knowledge into practice more quickly (using the C-CHANGE effort he spearheaded).
Dr. Ruth McPherson received the Canadian Society of Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Scientific Award of Excellence and, in the accompanying lecture, provided an overview of “The Genetics and Genomics of Coronary Artery Disease.” In her role as a clinician-scientist, Dr. McPherson is Director of the Atherogenomics Laboratory and the Lipid Clinic and Director of Research for the Division of Cardiology. She is an international leader in the genetics of coronary artery disease and a major participant in the development of Canadian cholesterol guidelines.
Dr. Benjamin Chow was selected by the Canadian Nuclear Cardiology Society as its annual Robert Burns Memorial Lecturer. Dr. Chow is a leading figure in establishing cardiac CT in Canada. He is Co-Director of Cardiac Radiology at the Heart Institute, a prolific researcher and helped develop training guidelines for cardiac CT in Canada.