Nova Scotia

Dalhousie lab hopes curbing scar tissue could prevent heart failure

Cardiac surgeon Dr. Jean-Francois Legare, Dalhousie University's director of cardiac research, is looking at ways to stop the buildup of scar tissue in the heart.

Dr. Jean-Francois Legare hopes to inhibit the factors that lead to buildup of scar tissue

Chloe Wong, a Master's student, prepares animal cells for a test in Dr. Jean-Francois Legare's transplantation lab at Dalhousie University. (Jerry West/CBC)

A cardiac researcher in Halifax is looking at ways to prevent scar tissue from building up in the heart, in hopes of reducing the risk of heart failure. 

Dalhousie University's director of cardiac research, Dr. Jean-Francois Legare, and his lab are looking at ways to inhibit the factors that cause the buildup of scar tissue.

"For us to be able to prevent the replacement of your heart muscle by scar, we would have a tremendous impact on heart failure in the world," Legare said. 

"That would be an incredible — maybe a fountain of youth — discovery."

Legare, who is a cardiac surgeon, told CBC Radio's Information Morning that scar tissue can come from trauma such as a heart attack or health issues such as high blood pressure.

"The reason someone with high blood pressure develops scarring is not entirely clear, but there is clearly some evidence that you would have some injury over time by just having high blood pressure," he said.

Scarring can lead to heart failure

Legare said that injury brings a response from the body to promote healing, and just like when people cut themselves, it's possible to get either relatively little scarring or a large amount.
 
"The problem with a scar on a heart muscle is it doesn't contract, it isn't a functional part of your heart muscle and [if] you replace enough of your heart muscle with scar tissue it doesn't work anymore and that's called heart failure," he said.

Heart failure is becoming an increasingly important factor in medical research because in recent years research has made other diseases more treatable, leading to longer life expectancies.

As people live longer there is more opportunity for scar tissue to build up on their hearts and that has made heart failure one of the leading causes of death, Legare said. 

Fundraising for tissue bank 

Legare's research will be one of the beneficiaries of the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation's Molly Appeal this year.

The annual campaign is trying to raise money for a tissue bank that would allow researchers to save samples from cardiac patients for years, or even decades, allowing the integration of the day-to-day clinical treatment of patients with ongoing research. 

The bank would allow researchers to check for common factors among cardiac patients and use that information in the search for treatments.

It's possible to examine living tissue for years or even decades after the samples are collected and frozen, the foundation says.

Proceeds from this year's campaign will go to researchers working at Dalhousie's medical school in Nova Scotia and New Brunwsick. 

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