Largest private donation in Canadian health-care history will bring together the strengths of SickKids, UHN, and U of T in personalized genomic medicine, tissue engineering, and advanced cardiac care to address heart failure across the lifespan.

Posted on November 20, 2014

With the goal to reduce hospitalization for heart failure by 50 percent over the next decade, the Hospital for Sick Children, the University Health Network and the University of Toronto have announced the creation of the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, funded by an unprecedented donation of $130 million from the Rogers family—the largest monetary gift ever made to a Canadian health-care initiative.

Loretta Rogers

“We’re thrilled to be able to bring the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research to life,” says Loretta Rogers, wife of the late Ted Rogers. “We know Ted would have been proud of this bold initiative that will improve heart health for all.”

“The generosity and magnitude of this gift, and the transformational effect it will have on heart research, truly reflects the pioneering and innovative spirit of Ted Rogers and his family,” says Dr. Michael Apkon, president and CEO of SickKids. “This powerful, collaborative partnership among SickKids, UHN and U of T will have a global impact. Together we hope to accelerate discovery and cardiac care at an unprecedented pace.”

Heart disease represents a considerable economic strain on the Canadian health-care system. The annual cost for managing moderate and severe heart failure patients in Canada is as much as $2.3 billion. “Today, one million Canadians are living with heart failure, and that number is projected to increase 25 per cent over the next 20 years,” notes Dr. Barry Rubin, chair and program medical director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and a professor of surgery at U of T. “This unprecedented gift will enable research teams in the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research to develop new therapies that will dramatically improve the lives of patients with heart disease.”

The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will bring together more than 30 expert clinicians and researchers from across the partner institutions, as well as up to 80 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and clinical fellows who represent the future of the field. This critical mass of expertise will improve treatments for heart patients—and develop entirely new therapies. The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will be a magnet to attract additional research talent from around the world, solidifying Toronto’s and Canada’s position as a global leader in cardiac care, notes Professor Meric Gertler, president of U of T.

“The Toronto region is home to one of the world’s largest biomedical science and health education clusters,” says Gertler. “This exceptionally powerful network of researchers and educators is translating exciting ideas, innovations and therapies in stem cell research and regenerative medicine into clinical settings where they will address the most challenging problems across the spectrum of heart disease. With its pioneering spirit and innovative approach, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will be a world-class collaboration and a most fitting tribute to its namesake.”

The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will have facilities in each of the three participating institutions. It will be the first in the world to bring together research, education and innovation in personalized genomic medicine, stem cell research, bioengineering, and cardiovascular treatment and management under one umbrella with a single focus: improving heart health across the entire lifespan, from children to adults.

Each institutional partner will take the lead in a particular area:

  • SickKids will harness the power of genomic science to decode the genetic foundations of cardiac disease, which will allow for heart disease to be better predicted before it occurs, and will support individualized therapies for children and adults, based on the unique genome of each patient.
  • UHN, through the application of powerful databases, new biomarkers for cardiac disease, regenerative and individualized medicine approaches and state-of-the-art-real-time home monitoring and telecommunications technologies, will focus on the translation of research discovery into the delivery of care for patients. Foundational to this approach is a customized cardiovascular data module for a new electronic patient record which is linked to a Biobank which will house a vast array of biologic samples that come from both adult and paediatric patients.
  • U of T will focus on combining stem cell technology with novel approaches in cellular and tissue engineering for the regeneration of heart muscle, coronary vessels and heart valves. This cutting-edge science, which is crucial to restoring damaged hearts, will be led out of U of T’s Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, one of the many fields in which the University is recognized as a world leader.

Professor Peter Zandstra, a lead U of T investigator for the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, says patients with valve disorders, for example, typically need several complex operations during their lifetime to implant larger valves to accommodate the growing heart. They also require drugs to keep their heart from rejecting valve replacements. “Research at the centre could one day lead to the regeneration of a valve with the patient’s own cells—eliminating a lifetime of chronic illness,” he says.

Cardiac fibrosis is a stiffening of the heart tissue that leads to a variety of cardiac diseases, including heart failure. Zandstra says advances in tissue engineering at U of T will accelerate the discovery of biomaterials that could be used to treat fibrosis, bringing new hope to patients.

Research at the University will also enlarge our understanding of how genetic, molecular signalling, and cellular networks function as the heart develops, opening up the possibility for more effective heart therapies.

The establishment of the new centre will enable U of T scientists to create technologies and tools for improved heart physiology monitoring, in clinical settings and for patients at home. These efforts will lead to more seamless, integrated care for heart patients.

The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will also establish a competitive innovation fund to drive discovery and development of next-generation therapies for heart failure, and an education fund to attract the best and brightest students and postgraduates to ensure a deep pool of talent in Canada for cardiac care and research.

Over the next decade, the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research will help enable more people—adults and children alike, in Canada and around the world—to live long, healthy and happy lives.

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