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Dr. Brian Rodrigues, professor, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia

Research highlights/discoveries:

• Examining how the heart uses fats for energy in diabetes, and how these fats eventually lead to heart disease in people with diabetes

Dr. Brian Rodrigues at a glance:

• Awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal for contributions to diabetes research (2013)

• Received the Award for Excellence in Pharmaceutical Teaching from Bristol-Myers Squibb (2007)

• Granted the Killam Teaching Award, University of British Columbia (2004)

• Appointed assistant professor at the University of British Columbia (1993)

How did you get interested in diabetes research?

I came to Canada from Pakistan and went to the University of Alberta for my master’s degree, and then to the University of British Columbia for my PhD. My supervisor at the time in B.C. was looking at the connection between diabetes and heart disease, given the fact that heart disease is the number one cause of death for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. He graciously offered me a position in his lab, and that started my journey into researching diabetes and heart disease.

What are you currently focusing on in your research?

We already know, based on previous research, that people with diabetes have a higher risk of cholesterol accumulating in the blood vessels, which can block arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. With my team, we are looking at a substance called vascular endothelial growth factor B (VEGFB), which is made by cells in our bodies and can promote new blood vessel growth. We hope that this approach can protect the heart against the damaging effects of diabetes and are testing this in animal studies. In our model, we are treating animals so they produce more VEGFB, which is leading to an increase in blood vessels—it’s fascinating stuff. In the future, we hope to test whether this is beneficial for people living with diabetes.

If successful, how could this positively impact people with diabetes?

Experiments have shown us that people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes don’t make as much VEGFB in their bodies—so this treatment may grow more blood vessels to maintain or recover heart health.

We hope to eventually find ways to add VEGFB in people with diabetes, or find ways to make it work better to help prevent heart disease.

As a teacher and supervisor of university students for almost 30 years, why is working with them so important to you?

I have trained an impressive list of students (17 PhDs among them), most of whom have gone on to complete post-doctorate fellowships at leading universities. Six of my PhD students are now assistant or associate professors, and I’ve taught 48 undergraduate students who are now healthcare professionals all over the country. My success as a supervisor is directly related to my fostering of independent thinking, high standards of learning, and a ‘matter of fact’ approach to problems. With my students, I discuss ideas, protocols, and science but also life, family, and culture.

The last word

“Not only is Dr. Rodrigues’ research addressing heart disease, one of the deadliest complications related to diabetes, but he’s also mentoring a new generation of scientists equally dedicated to advancing the next big breakthrough in diabetes,” says Laura Syron, CEO and president of Diabetes Canada. “And for that we are incredibly proud to support his work.”

Did you know?

One of the most common forms of heart disease in diabetes is coronary heart disease, which develops when the arteries that supply blood to our hearts become narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits. The good news is, maintaining a healthy weight and following a healthy diet and lifestyle are two important ways that people with diabetes can reduce their risk of future heart issues. Help us fund research like that of Dr. Rodrigues, which has the power to change lives. Donate today. #LetsEndDiabetes

Author: Rosalind Stefanac

Category Tags: Research;

Region: National

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