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Science Without Borders

Cardiac surgeon and Canada Research Chair in Atherosclerosis Subodh Verma is bringing scholars and technicians from the King Saud University in Riyadh to his laboratory at St. Michael's Hospital starting this summer. They are mastering advanced cell culture, genomic and translational atherosclerosis techniques. This is part of an ambitious and dynamic new program of collaborative research - to take leading edge concepts and methods to Riyadh in the way that Saudi clinicians have brought advanced therapeutic techniques back from Toronto for many years. The project is part of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute's contribution to international health care education and research. Collaborators in this initiative are St. Michael's Hospital's internationally renowned respirologist Art Slutsky and epidemiologist Muhammad Mamdani - who will focus on epidemiological studies and clinical trials. The prevalence of diabetes in the Saudi population is 50%, making this a fertile field for initial exploration.

Many excellent surgeons have returned to Riyadh after training in Toronto. This important new development will create the infrastructure for basic and clinical science to thrive in Saudi Arabia rather than come as an import from the western world. This philosophy parallels that of the McLaughlin-Rotman program where Abdallah Daar and Peter Singer are cultivating biotechnology methods and expertise in the developing world. (The vaccines and cure for malaria should come from Africa where the disease is endemic, but the methods and infrastructure must first be set up there.) As Subodh reminds us: "There are no borders in science."

As the Canada Research Chair in atherosclerosis, Subodh oversees a group of 15 researchers currently funded by a CFI grant, two CIHR grants and four Heart & Stroke Foundation grants. Subodh also directs the Traineeship in Atherosclerosis that provides mentorship and resources to promote the transition of clinician-scientists and basic scientists into independent investigators.

Subodh is actively studying endothelial activation in sepsis, the role of the endothelium as a mediator of atherosclerosis and DNA repair mechanisms in heart failure. Enthusiasm for Subodh's findings has consummated in a strong collaborative partnership with the Nobel Laureate Dr. Lou Ignarro who will be coming to Toronto on October 13th, 2009 to speak on the topic of "Nitric Oxide as the Molecule of Life" as part of the annual Landmark Lecture series.

The scientific themes that Subodh and his colleagues are developing are also crossing conventional conceptual boundaries. They are studying the BRCA-1 gene, a genome-wide gatekeeper of DNA repair. Though widely recognized for its importance in breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer, the gene has an important role to play in inflammation and other biological processes. BRCA-1 mutation carriers have an increased incidence of non-cancer deaths and cells die a noneoplastic death in the presence of the BRCA -1 mutation. Inasmuch as BRCA -1 mutation carriers develop worse heart failure than non-carriers when treated with doxorubicin, a role for BRCA-1 in heart failure and atherosclerosis opens a new research window and forms the basis of a US Provisional Patent recently filed by Subodh and Mohammad Al-Omran, a Saudi vascular surgeon trained in Toronto. With Steven Narod, Canada Research Chair in breast cancer, Subodh is exploring the hypothesis that the gene provides a pharmacogenomic clue in heart failure and a potential cardiovascular therapeutic target.

Outside of his clinical and academic life, Subodh dotes on the simple pleasures of spending quality time with his children Raj and Meena who have recently caught the fishing bug.


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