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Erin Mulvihill, scientist, University of Ottawa Heart Institute; assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology, University of Ottawa

Research highlights/discoveries:

• Exploring the links between inflammation, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease

Erin Mulvihill at a glance:

• Received the Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Investigator Award (2019)

• Awarded the Diabetes Canada New Investigator Award (2018)

• Received the Mimi and Charles Hollenberg Research Competition/UHN/MSH (2017)

• Recognized as the Donald Low Leadership Sinai Venture Sinai Fellow (2016)

• Received her PhD, Western University, Ontario (2010)

How did you get interested in diabetes research?

I started with an undergraduate degree in science, and realized how exciting research could be. The lab I did my PhD work in was looking at how fat and cholesterol circulate in the body and accumulate in the arteries to cause heart disease. We knew people with diabetes were at increased risk but we didn’t understand why.

So then you decided to focus on diabetes?

I have friends and family members with diabetes and I saw how they struggled with controlling sugars, fats, and blood pressure to prevent the many complications that people with this disease can face with their heart, eyes, kidneys, and pancreas. That was a huge motivator for me to do more research that would figure out these things and give people with diabetes more control over their lives.

Where does the heart fit in?

During my PhD studies, I focused on cardiovascular [CV] risk factors and how blood sugars and fats accelerate this risk in people with diabetes. I then pursued a post-doctoral fellowship funded by Diabetes Canada at Mount Sinai Hospital [in Toronto] to determine how, at a molecular level, new therapies based on gut hormones can prevent CV complications in people with diabetes. These therapies are now becoming more widely available and can really help patients, which is very exciting.

You have your own lab now. Tell us about your latest research.

We’ve been established for just two years in Ottawa at the Heart Institute, and I have a team of nine. We think inflammation contributes to CV disease and are looking to understand what the trigger is, with the overall goal of reducing this inflammation. My hope is that we will learn how to control CV risk factors to prevent complications down the road.

What is the state of research in Canada?

Science is incremental and it takes a long time to build a body of evidence to first demonstrate what the problem is and to show that we can safely fix it. However, Canadian scientists provide lots of reasons to be optimistic.

In the past five years, we’ve seen successful therapies to prevent CV disease in type 2 diabetes, and we are world leaders in islet transplant and stem cell therapies for people with type 1 diabetes. People have a lot of reasons to be proud as diabetes research in Canada really is world class.

The last word

“In diabetes…the heart muscle just seems to have gotten sluggish. It doesn’t seem to have the kind of heart damage that generally causes heart failure, so why isn’t it doing its job properly? That’s a question that Erin Mulvihill is trying to answer.” — Dr. Jan Hux, past president and CEO, Diabetes Canada

Visit Research to read about the research projects and awards funded by Diabetes Canada.

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(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Spring 2020)

Author: Rosalind Stefanac

Category Tags: Research;

Region: National

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