Five things learned at this year’s (virtual) heart congress

November 4, 2020

COVID-19 wasn’t about to shut down Canada’s largest gathering of cardiovascular specialists and allied health professionals. Last month, as public health officials introduced restrictions to prevent mass get-togethers in regions across the country, heart-focused members of the medical community were safely assembling online for networking opportunities, educational sessions, and to discover how to incorporate the latest science into their practice.

This year’s Canadian Cardiovascular Congress (CCC) was an entirely virtual affair, hosted by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) and Heart & Stroke.

Here are five things we learned from CCC 2020 Virtual.

Dr. Marc Ruel, University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Thousands of sternal-sparing coronary operations are performed worldwide using the techniques developed and perfected by Dr. Marc Ruel, who heads the Division of Cardiac Surgery at the UOHI.

Ottawa’s Dr. Marc Ruel is appointed president of the CCS

The CCS announced Dr. Marc Ruel of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) as its president for the next two years. Ruel succeeds Dr. Andrew Krahn. 

Dr. Ruel appeared on an episode of the UOHI’s BEaTS Research Radio to discuss the state of healthcare in Canada amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mohammad Al-Khalaf, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Dr. Mohammad Al-Khalaf, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

Closing the gaps to understand the relationship between viral infections and heart disease

Dr. Mohammad Al-Khalaf, a postdoctoral research fellow at the UOHI, co-chaired an educational workshop to explore the link between viral infections and cardiovascular disease.  

Of the key takeaways, Dr. Al-Khalaf said, “There exists many gaps when it comes to understanding and communicating what we know—and what we’re still unearthing—about the relationship between infectious diseases and cardiovascular health. There is much need for interdisciplinary collaboration within the medical community to bridge these gaps and effectively translate our discoveries to Canadians.”

Al-Khalaf told The Beat: “Communicating the complexities of science to the public in an impactful way is not a trivial pursuit. We all share a responsibility to work constructively and cooperatively with journalists and reporters who can help disseminate research clearly and concisely to the masses.”    

A host of BEaTS Research Radio, Dr. Mohammad Al-Khalaf recently interviewed incoming CCS Trainee Committee Chair Dr. Christopher Cheung and Director of the UOHI’s Brain and Heart Nexus Program, Dr. Jodi Edwards.

Dr. Mireille Ouimet, University of Ottawa Heart Institute.
Dr. Ouimet says the goal of research conducted in her laboratory is to stop, prevent and reverse the atherosclerotic process, preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Ottawa scientist is awarded a top prize for cardiometabolic research

Scientist and Director of the Cardiovascular Metabolism and Cell Biology Laboratory at the UOHI, Dr. Mireille Ouimet took home one of two Cardiometabolic Research Awards, raking in $25,000 in funding.

Projects were chosen for their potential to advance knowledge or improve the care of patients with cardiometabolic disease. The grant enables Dr. Ouimet’s group to launch an investigation into the role of lipophagy (the self-degradation of intracellular lipid droplets) in macrophage polarization (a process by which immune cells that detect and destroy harmful pathogens and collect “garbage cells” in the body are activated at a given time).

“The study of autophagy—the consumption of the body’s own tissue as a metabolic process in heart disease—is a burgeoning area of research, with tremendous potential for new discoveries,” Dr. Ouimet explained. “I feel so honoured to have been selected for this award amongst many highly deserving candidates and I’m grateful to receive these funds to support our proposed research.”

Decorative image: Marijuana and Your Heart, The Beat, October 2018.
The Beat’s feature piece, Marijuana and Your Heart (October 2018), continues to rank as one of our top performing articles.

No green light for cannabis two years post-legalization

During a joint plenary session centred around substance use and heart health, Dr. Bob Reid of the UOHI and Dr. Michael Givertz of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, contemplated whether the cardiovascular benefits of cannabis outweigh the risks.

Dr. Reid’s message to patients is still one of caution: “If you’re not currently a cannabis user, there is no reason to go out and become one,” he told The Beat. “If you are consuming cannabis and are concerned about your heart health, and if you want to reduce your risk of having an adverse cardiovascular event, avoid black-market sources and consider ingesting products with the lowest possible levels of THC.”

Dr. Reid advises against taking combustible forms of the drug, too. He said: “Don’t smoke it. There are additional cardiovascular risks that come with the carbon monoxide and products of combustion.”

A recent study of a cohort of 700 patients admitted to the UOHI revealed 14% had used cannabis in the past year and 6.3% were daily users. Of those surveyed, 90% report they are still purchasing the drug through black-market sources rather than Canada’s legal supply.

Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, resident cardiac surgeon at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Through her research and practice, Dr. Kimmaliardjuk plans to help better care and outcomes for women and minorities with cardiovascular diseases.

A spotlight on the next generation of cardiac care  

Dr. Marc Ruel interviewed Dr. Donna May Kimmaliardjuk, Canada’s first Inuk cardiac surgeon, about her experiences as an Indigenous clinician, part of the CCS series, “Spotlight on the Next Generation,” which profiles Black and Indigenous early-career leaders. Dr. Kimmaliardjuk is completing a fellowship in advanced cardiac surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

“Dr. K,” as she’s known to her former colleagues and patients at the UOHI (where she concluded six years of residency training), envisions herself becoming a coronary surgeon focusing on women and Indigenous populations.

“I feel I can relate and understand those populations, and hopefully [I can] improve research and care and care equity in those populations,” she said.

Watch Part 1 and Part 2 of Dr. Kimmaliardjuk’s interview.

To learn more about Donna May Kimmaliardjuk’s story, read our profile piece from November 2017.