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Dr. Stewart Whitman
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of Ottawa
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is committed to supporting young scientists who are establishing independent research careers. These are the individuals who will build on today's discoveries and carry on the fight against cardiovascular disease in the years ahead.
Opportunities such as the Great-West Life and London Life Research Award recognize exceptional talent. The recipient of this year's award is Dr. Stewart Whitman of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. An assistant professor with the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, he is studying the role of the immune system in atherosclerosis.
Dr. Whitman's expertise comes from a distinguished educational background. He holds a Masters in Science (Anatomy and Cell Biology) and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario, and a Fellowship in Cardiovascular Medicine from the University of Kentucky. Among his achievements are awards from the Gill Heart Institute, the American Heart Association and the Medical Research Council of Canada.
Dr. Whitman is combining two areas of research that he has always found fascinating-immunology and cardiovascular disease. It was a single lecture at Western that led Dr. Whitman to his career path. He recalls hearing Dr. Kem Rogers speak about the devastating impact of heart disease on Canadians. Dr. Whitman, who already showed great promise in immunology, went on to study the disease's histology in Dr. Roger's lab. He then investigated the disease from a biochemistry perspective with Dr. Murray Huff at Western, and completed post-doctorate studies on how the progress of heart disease can change when the immune system is suppressed.
"Detailed examination of the inflammatory-immune system's effect on atherosclerosis is greatly lacking," says Dr. Whitman. "The link has been suggested for decades, but few scientists are investigating it."
Atherosclerosis is the narrowing and hardening of arteries due to deposits of cholesterol and fatty acids along artery walls.
"It is my feeling that the immune system may not cause this disease, but certain arms of the system-those which cause inflammation-can dictate whether the condition will be accelerated in certain people," explains Dr. Whitman.
His current project is entitled "The Role of the Immune System in Atherosclerosis: Mechanism of Action of Interleukin 12 and 18". He is mapping detailed molecular pathways to demonstrate the connection. Specifically, he is studying the sources and target cells of the cytokines interleukin 12 and 18 and how they contribute to lesion development. Another branch of his research will help to explain one of the important ways that lesions begin-how white blood cell macrophages in the arterial wall can become engorged with lipids carried in the blood stream.
Dr. Whitman is pleased to be pursuing his work at the world-class University of Ottawa Heart Institute. "It's a facility where I can exchange ideas with a number of gifted scientists and learn a lot from being in their presence."
This five-year scholarship valued at over $300,000 enables promising new investigators like Dr. Whitman to set up their own laboratories and train other protégés. The award is made possible through the generous contributions of the Great-West Life Assurance Company and the London Life Insurance Company. The Heart and Stroke Foundation values such partnerships, which are vital to providing an adequate level of support for Canada's research community.