$2.1 million AIHS Chair awarded to Faculty researcher

AIHS Translational Health Chair hopes to save lives by changing the way cancer therapies affect the heart

Alison Dotinga and Ross Neitz - 07 April 2016

Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions (AIHS) has awarded the AIHS Translational Health Chair in Cardio-Oncology to University of Alberta alumnus Gopinath Sutendra, PhD. Sutendra, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry's Division of Cardiology, is receiving $2.1 million to study the molecular pathways of cancer therapies that lead to heart complications.

"It's a growing clinical problem as many cancer therapies can cause adverse complications to the heart," says Sutendra. "A subset of patients who are being treated by these therapies experience heart failure, despite responsive tumours. Because of this, patients have to be treated for their heart failure and in some cases also discontinue the cancer therapy."

"My research program is going to look into understanding why these cancer therapies have such a negative effect on the heart, and also try to discover some new and novel translational therapies to prevent this cardiotoxicity. We're going to try to find a way to target these pathways selectively to prevent the toxic effect of cancer therapies in the heart, but still maintain its benefit against cancer."

Sutendra's recruitment as an AIHS Translational Health Chair and assistant professor within the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry brings much needed expertise to Alberta and aligns with the province's strategy for cancer. He uses a collaborative, multidisciplinary and translational approach to cardiovascular and oncology research which includes working with a similar program at the University of Calgary.

"The expectation is that the research program will grow and that we generate promising results with therapeutic implications," adds Sutendra. "With these results we can apply for further funding from other agencies-it's of importance to both the cardiology and oncology field-and can bridge the two fields together in terms of therapeutic applications."

"Cancer touches the lives of thousands of Albertans ever year," says Dr. Pamela Valentine, CEO Interim of Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions. "The work being done by Dr. Sutendra is a made-in-Alberta solution to an unmet medical need. His work will lead to a better understanding of cancer drugs and therapies and ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans."

"Gopinath Sutendra's important work in cardio-oncology is paving the way for cancer therapies with fewer complications," adds Richard Fedorak, dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. "He is a bright example of the next wave of scientists at the University of Alberta working to protect the health of Canadians and others around the world."

Sutendra's path began with a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Saskatchewan in Biochemistry and then an MSc in Biochemistry at the University of Calgary, focusing on protein biochemistry. It was at that point in his education that he says he realized the need to expand the focus of his work.

"Although [the work in protein biochemistry] was interesting, I was missing the importance of the work I was doing-especially the clinical importance," Sutendra explains. "That moved me to try research in experimental medicine."

With a new goal in mind, Sutendra completed his PhD at the University of Alberta under the mentorship of Evangelos Michelakis, a clinician scientist known for his molecular work in the division of cardiology.

"At the time we were investigating pulmonary atrial hypertension along with heart failure and how they work together. Being in that environment, along with my previous background in protein biochemistry, provided me with the skills to do translational research in a bench to bedside manner."

After completing his PhD, Gopinath Sutendra moved to the United Kingdom to complete a post-doctoral fellowship at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Oxford, where he focused on cancer therapies and their implications on cardiac function. The AIHS Translational Health Chair recruited him back to Edmonton and the U of A's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

"My work at the Ludwig Institute really drove me to link the knowledge that I gained at the U of A in cardiovascular training and translational research with what I learned at Oxford in molecular biology and oncology. All of that was critical for starting my new lab."

Throughout his young but already impressive career, Sutendra has found great success in his research. At the end of the day though, he says his work is driven by the desire to make a difference in the lives of patients.

"Any time we can take a concept that we've discovered in the lab and expand on it to see how it will benefit patients, you get excited. It excites you because it's going make a difference, globally, in patients' lives. That's really the goal of what we do. And publications and grants are secondary to that. The end result is to do great work that will make a difference for patients."