BRACEBRIDGE - A Bracebridge native is leading groundbreaking research into heart disease treatment at the University of Guelph.
Local scientist makes breakthrough in heart disease research.
And he credits the education he received in local schools with grooming him for success.
Dr. John Dawson is one of a group of University of Guelph researchers to have found the location and effect of abnormal heart proteins that can cause cardiac failure, a discovery that points to potential new ways to treat the most costly health problem in the world.
The molecular and cellular biology professor said the good teachers and the learning opportunities he had in Bracebridge were fundamental in his intellectual growth as a youngster.
In Grade 6 he was part of a special education program at Monck Public School that provided stimulating learning opportunities for intellectually gifted children.
“Then in high school I had the opportunity to go to the national science fair,” he said. “I really had a very supportive group of teachers who inspired excelling.”
Dawson’s study has been published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed international journal published by the Public Library of Science.
“In order to cure heart disease, you have to understand its fundamental properties,” said Dawson, the study’s author.” So we looked at variants of naturally occurring proteins that are found in people with heart disease.”
Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in Canada, killing tens of thousands each year. Treating cardiovascular disease costs more than $20 billion a year in physician and hospital costs, lost wages and reduced productivity, according to a university press release.
The study examined gene abnormalities for the actin protein and its role in heart failure.
As the most abundant protein in the body, actin helps in vital processes including muscle movement.
Abnormal actin genes are linked to heart diseases such as the excessive thickening of the heart muscle, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, and the weakening and enlargement of the heart, which limits the effective pumping of blood.
Scientists had already linked these diseases to gene abnormalities.
“But this is the first time that many of these variants have been studied at the molecular level,” Dawson said.
Understanding the molecular deficiencies of actin variants is a starting point for figuring out the underlying mechanisms of heart diseases, he said.
The researchers inserted human genes into insect cells to make heart muscle proteins for study. Dawson’s lab is one of the few in the world able to do this work.
They then mapped where on the abnormalities occurred and their effects. Three were in spots that resulted in problems with heart contractions; three others were in locations that affected stability and efficiency.
The research was supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Dawson hopes their work will help in developing more targeted treatments.
“Heart disease has many different forms and variants. If we can design specific therapies that address the precise mechanisms of the things going on — treat the root cause rather than the whole system — then we can improve the quality of life for people.”
Dawson belongs to a growing cardiovascular research group at the University of Guelph, one of few such groups worldwide studying cardiovascular disease from single molecules to animal models.
“It makes Guelph a unique place to do this research,” he said.
-With files from the University of Guelph