Centennial lecture series kicks off with a discussion of 'Heart Matters'

(Edmonton) Douglas Miller, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, is calling it one of the top pillars of the faculty's centennial celebration in 2013: the Centennial Lectures series that kicked off Feb. 11.

Quinn Phillips - 17 January 2013

"I think this is a very important and very creative series of lectures," said Marek Michalak, vice-dean research and one of the speakers for the first of the series in 2013 discussing 'Heart Matters.' "It brings basic scientists and clinicians together. It brings the spirit of us trying to translate our knowledge, particularly when it comes to basic science, because fundamental research is the basis of translational research."

Michalak and colleague Paolo Raggi, the director of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, spoke to over 200 people at the Allard Family Lecture Theatre. Raggi highlighted the progression of cardiac sciences over the past 100 years, including high-impact work at the University of Alberta.

He highlighted the use of aspirin and thrombolytics (clot busters) as treatment for myocardial infarctions, or heart attacks, dating back to the mid 70s and early 80s.

"In 2005 this institution led a very important trial called the WEST trial," said Raggi. "It tested the best approach to treating patients with acute myocardial infarction. The results brought about the Vital Health Response which is now in place Canada wide... it has been copied in many other countries as well."

Raggi then went on to highlight treatment using balloon-tipped catheters to open narrowings in the coronary arteries (angioplasty), and the delivery of stents. He stressed that Edmonton has among the lowest mortality rates in North America for heart attacks. "If you want to have a myocardial infarction, have it here, it's the best place," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He then highlighted the work in cardiac surgery, including such groundbreaking firsts in Canada as:

  • First open heart surgery;
  • First surgery involving a heart-lung bypass machine;
  • First valve replacement;
  • First heart transplant in western Canada;
  • First Berlin heart transplant in Canada's youngest patient.

"We do about 1,800 adult open-heart surgeries a year, about 700 congenital heart-disease operations, about 70 to 80 heart and heart-lung transplants a year...we often rank as first or second transplant centre in Canada and among the top places in the world".

"I'm very proud of all of us."

Michalak's talk focused on his basic science research, looking specifically at the endoplasmic reticulum. This organelle inside all cells controls a lot of the functions of other organelles, including energy metabolism and DNA transcriptional control.

"Heart obviously matters to all of us," said Michalak. "But I hope to convince you that the endoplasmic reticulum might matter even more."

The endoplasmic reticulum makes proteins, fits them with other proteins and ensures the process of folding goes correctly so that the proteins function properly and go to the right places. Within the endoplasmic reticulum are molecular chaperones and Michalak focuses on one in particular, called calreticulin. He compared it to a quality-control manager at a bicycle factory because it ensures that proteins find the correct fold and therefore function properly in the body.

Stress also affects the endoplasmic reticulum and that activates a coping response. The idea for the cell is to survive and restore homeostasis and Michalak stressed that the endoplasmic reticulum is the organelle that can do this.

Disease develops if the endoplasmic reticulum and the molecular chaperones change due to stress response. Michalak believes that further understanding the processes within this organelle will help treat heart disease down the road.

The Centennial Lectures series, meant for a non-scientific audience, will continue in April. The topic will be determined at a later date.