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Heart Health : Brain Health

Heart and brain diseases are significant health concerns in Canada.
The biological functions of the heart and brain are interconnected, such that developing an adverse effect in one system can impact the other. For example, individuals with mental health disorders have an increased risk of heart disease, while damage to the heart can impact maintenance of brain blood flow during upright posture which can impact cognitive function and the risk of falls. The heart pumps blood through blood vessels to every organ and tissue in your body, including the brain. If the blood vessels get damaged it can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, frequent headaches, and cognitive impairment/dementia.  

In Canada, 20% more people die from heart and brain conditions than from cancer, and yet our physiological understanding and therapeutic strategies are not designed to target and treat both conditions simultaneously. 

The Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations (CCVI) at the University of Guelph consists of facilities that focus on several areas of research including relationships between Cardiovascular Physiology and  Neuroscience. With the help of our field-leading scientists and infrastructure, investigations on the relationships between the heart and brain are being studied, in order to better understand shared mechanistic pathways to develop novel therapeutic treatments to clinically alleviate pathological changes in heart and brain interactions.  

Dr. Philip Millar, an Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, and his team aim to understand the role of central sympathetic outflow on the regulation of blood pressure and exercise tolerance. It is known that several cardiometabolic and mental health conditions are associated with increased sympathetic drive from the brain. Dr. Millar’s laboratory uses microneurography to record the nerve signals traveling from the brain that results in constriction of peripheral blood vessels. His lab is also interested in studying the role of exercise in modifying physiological and clinical maladaptations caused by Parkinson’s disease. 

Similarly, a newly appointed Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph, Dr. Michael Tymko, runs a research program that aims to explore the relationship between neural activity and cerebrovascular function. His lab uses ultrasound to measure blood flow through major arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and various experimental techniques to evoke changes in autonomic nerve activity. 

The completion of cutting-edge research is done in parallel with our mission to prepare and train students for scientific and clinical careers by fostering a deeper understanding of the connection between cardiovascular autonomic control and brain function.