Cardiovascular Research Institute awards studentships to two College of Health Sciences graduate students

Mitchell Wagner and Xiang Xiao receive Cote Biomedical Research Studentships to help combat cardiovascular disease, a condition that affects 3.5 million Canadians and takes a life every five minutes.

Shirley Wilfong-Pritchard - 06 February 2024

In an effort to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease, the University of Alberta’s Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) recently awarded biomedical research studentships to two College of Health Sciences graduate students. 

Thanks to the generous support of the Kenneth and Reta Cote and Joyce Cote Biomedical Research Endowment, each award is valued at $20,000 for one year. It is awarded based on scientific merit and relevance to building knowledge, innovation or advancement of clinical practice.

Learn about this year’s studentship recipients.

Mitchell Wagner, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, Department of Surgery

Heart and Stroke says more than 100,000 Canadians are diagnosed with heart failure each year. It’s one of the fastest-growing cardiovascular conditions in the world. 

Heart transplant is the best treatment for heart failure, but transplantation is not keeping pace with demand, explains Wagner. To get more hearts to more people, he is working under the supervision of Darren Freed as they explore how to preserve donor hearts longer using a machine. They aim to determine the optimal amount of blood to use in the perfusion solution — the substance used by the machine to provide nutrition and oxygen to the out-of-body heart before it reaches the recipient.

“I feel immense gratitude to receive such prestigious support through this funding,” says Wagner. “It indicates that the work I’m doing is truly meaningful and impactful, and that fills me with a great deal of motivation to continue striving for discovery and innovation.” 

Wagner graduated from the U of A with an Honors BSc majoring in immunology and infection in 2022, the same year he earned a biomedical research certificate. He is currently in his second year of an MSc in experimental surgery. He hopes to defend his thesis this August before beginning a PhD program. His long-term goal is to become a surgeon-scientist with his own biomedical research program.

Xiang Xiao, School of Public Health and Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, Department of Medicine

Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) is a marker used to check your blood sugar levels over the last three months. Studies have found that HbA1c levels can affect outcomes after heart procedures. However,  it’s unclear how strong this effect is and how HbA1c levels relate to bad outcomes in patients with diabetes and blockages in multiple heart vessels.

We think that a simple blood test can tell us if these patients are at a higher risk of having bad outcomes such as death,” says Xiao. “By understanding this, we hope to find better ways to help them stay healthy.”  

Under the supervision of Padma Kaul, Xiao is working on a project based on APPROACH (Alberta Provincial Project for Outcome Assessment in Coronary Heart Disease) which will be linked with multiple population data such as lab tests, drugs and hospitalizations.  

“Receiving the Cote studentship is highly meaningful to me,” says Xiao. “It acknowledges the significance of my research on the role of biomarkers in predicting health outcomes among diabetic patients with multivessel disease, an area that has previously received limited attention. I am deeply appreciative of the generous assistance provided by CVRI.”

Xiao graduated with an MSc from the U of A School of Public Health in 2022. She is working in a graduate research assistantship in the Department of Medicine while in her third year of a PhD program in epidemiology at the School of Public Health, which she expects to complete in 2025. She plans to pursue an academic career to research diabetes and cardiovascular issues.