Dr. Jonathan Howlett, director of Heart Failure at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta and clinical professor of Medicine at the U of C
Credits: Darren Makowichuk/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency
Now entering its fourth of five years, the Alberta HEART team, made of 24 scientists and clinicians has made some important strides in learning about diastolic heart failure, which affects more than 32,000 Albertans.
Unlike systolic heart failure, which happens when the heart muscle becomes too weak to pump with enough force, diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart doesn't fill with enough blood because the muscle has become stiff. It can only be confirmed through diagnostic imaging.
"We've had many advances with systolic heart failure, but we were way behind of diastolic heart failure," said Dr. Jonathan Howlett, an investigator on the project and a clinical professor of medicine at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the University of Calgary of why the research is important.
So far the team has pinpointed another type of heart failure -- when the systolic form of the disease is treated, but then begins behaving like the diastolic type -- and created what's believed to be the world's first reliable animal model -- lab mice -- with diastolic heart dysfunction for study.
"It's not just finding therapy to treat the heart failure, it's finding therapies that will detect or prevent it," said Howlett.
As well, the team has examined hundreds of Albertans suffering from heart failure to develop an analysis of risk factors in order to build prevention strategies.
It has also isolated biomarkers -- genetic and biological substances that indicate diastolic heart failure -- which is the first step in creating a simple blood test to make a diagnosis easier.