High blood pressure and stroke are two of the three leading causes of death in Canada, something that Ahmed Hashad — a third-year cardiovascular and respiratory sciences PhD student and one of this year’s Vanier scholarship recipients — is making his mission to change.
With the help of the $150,000 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Vanier Canada Scholarship, Hashad and his colleagues are looking at how T-type calcium channels regulate blood vessel diameter and brain blood flow and whether changes in this activity is related to cardiovascular diseases.
An Egyptian-born 28-year-old, Hashad came to Canada two years ago to work in Don Welsh’s lab to study calcium channels in the brain’s blood vessels.
“I have always been fascinated with the field of vascular biology. How blood flows within the blood vessels and what are the mechanisms that control this process,” says Hashad. “If you think about the majority of the diseases, they originate from or result from defects in your blood vessels,” he says.
Brain blood flow is controlled by vessels that respond to changes in tissue metabolism, nerve activity and blood pressure. Diseases such as stroke and hypertension constrict blood vessels resulting in very little blood flow. To change vessel size, these stimuli must alter the level of calcium in smooth muscle cells.
Prior to Hashad’s research, scientists assumed there was only one type of functional calcium channel present in smooth muscle. Through electrical, molecular, and physiological methods, Hashad’s research was able to prove otherwise.
“Through our research, we were able to characterize new calcium channels in the brain blood vessels that seem to play a major role in the regulation of brain blood flow,” Ahmed says. “By targeting these new channels you can provide other therapeutic alternatives for treatment of diseases such as stroke and high blood pressure,” he says.
Hashad was humbled, surprised and grateful when he learned he’d won the Vanier award. “I didn’t think I was going to get it. But I believe in my work and knowing that people value it is so exciting,” he says.
"Vanier Scholarships are distinct awards that acknowledge students who not only excel academically but who lead in service activities. Ahmed exemplifies these attributes as he is consistently displaying excellence in cardiovascular research,” says Welsh.