Good news for heart research

By Ruth Davenport

A spoonful of sugar may make the medicine go down, but some extra cash will get better medicine.

Last week, University of Calgary researchers received the two most prestigious scholarships from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

"This will really help my research," said Dr. Donald Welsh, who received the McDonald Scholarship Award. "It’ll allow me to bring in personnel that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, or I can think about some new equipment."

The McDonald award is named in honour of the late Ewing McDonald, Executive Director of the HSFC from 1968 to 1987. Since its inception in 1990, the scholarship has never been awarded to a U of C researcher.

"HSFC wanted to honour Mac McDonald in a special way when he left," explained Lyle Walton, Director of Public Information and Communications for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, NWT, and Nunavut. "They decided that providing scholarship funding for the top-rated research scholar in the country would be an appropriate way to do it."

Welsh recently came to the U of C Department of Physiology and Biophysics on the strength of a grant from the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. His award-winning research proposal involved the study of agents that cause the sustained constriction of blood vessels following a stroke or heart attack. The proposal was peer-reviewed at the national level and evaluated on the criteria of importance to heart disease and stroke research.

"The Heritage Foundation has really put the University of Calgary and Alberta in a very advantageous position," said Welsh in reflecting on his research. "It’s fostered a very high level of scientific investigation."

Welsh shared the spotlight with Dr. Michael Hill, also of the U of C, who received the Barnett Scholarship for recognition of his work in stroke research and education.

"It’s wonderful," said Hill of his award. "It was a surprise, but it’s just great. Peer-reviewed recognition is always nice."

Hill, who works at Foothills Hospital with the U of C Faculty of Medicine, received the Barnett award after a similar peer review process of his research in stroke management using anti-clotting agents.

Combined, the two scholarships represent $600,000 over the next five years. U of C researcher Dr. Richard Frayne received the Barnett award in 2000.

"It’s remarkable that both the heart and the stroke scholarship this year and the stroke scholarship last year came to the U of C," said Hill. "It reflects what many of us feel, that we’re doing exciting research and we’re in a position to lead. [These awards] provide recognition that we’re starting to do that."

Walton agreed.

"These awards point to the world class work that’s going on at the U of C," he said. "It’s an indication that the stroke program, which got off the ground five years ago, is growing in leaps and bounds. The quality of the work is as high and higher than anywhere in Canada."

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