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Med student making strides in cardiovascular research

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Over one million Canadians have been diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and it remains one of the leading causes of death in this country.


Like most of us, Windsor Park resident Emma Hauch has had close family members living with CVD. As a young scientist, Hauch is looking for ways to improve the lives of those afflicted with CVD.


Hauch, 26, is a graduate student in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba. I met with her in the molecular cell biology lab at the St. Boniface Research Centre, where she conducts cardiovascular research under the supervision of her advisor, Dr. Ian Dixon.


In particular, Hauch’s research focuses on the cells that comprise the extracellular matrix, or as she explains "the sticky proteins that holds cells together." It is this interest that drives her current project on aortic stenosis, a heart condition in which the aortic valves are narrowed. Although more prevalent in older adults, aortic stenosis also affects young adults and is particularly problematic for infants and young children.


"Currently, the majority of valve replacements are artificial and mechanical, so they don’t grow when the child grows," Hauch explains.


"This leads to even more surgeries as the child gets bigger and the heart outgrows the (fixed size) of the replacement valve."


Together with Dr. Dixon, Hauch is examining alternative therapies for heart-valve replacements, including ones that use the patient’s own cells to generate a ‘living’ valve which would grow along with the individual.


"The science is based on tissue engineering, but the proposed benefit to the young patient is clear, as ideally only one surgery would be necessary to correct the defective valve."


I asked Hauch how she first became interested in the field of health sciences.


"I was always a science geek," she laughed.


"While other kids played with toys, I played with petri dishes and loved to swab things."


This led to her very first science fair project, in which she examined the effectiveness of various antibacterial products. Asked what she remembers most about those early science projects, Hauch was quick to inform me that "the toilet seat is not as dirty as you think!"


These days, when she’s not working in the lab or on her studies, Hauch is a self-described fitness buff who enjoys playing soccer and beach volleyball.


She is a coachwith the Manitoba Soccer Association and co-chairs the Winnipeg Interprofessional Student-Run Health Clinic, or WISH.


Affiliated with the University of Manitoba, WISH provides "socially responsible, non-judgmental primary care" to children across Winnipeg.


I’d like to wish Emma Hauch and all the graduate students working at St. Boniface Research Centre all the best with their future studies!


Heather Tiede is a community correspondent for Windsor Park. You can contact her at htiede@gmail.com

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