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Health and Nutrition

Cutting-edge research facilities = ingenious ideas

Laval Hospital Research Centre (CRHL)
Treating obesity and heart/lung disease

Researchers at the Laval Hospital Research Centre (CRHL) are focused on a single goal: stopping the progression of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. “The CRHL is recognized as being one of the world’s finest centres for research on obesity and its cardiovascular and respiratory complications. We have an important nucleus of researchers in this area,” says the Centre’s director, Denis Richard, PhD.

  • Year created: 1955
  • Number of researchers: 112
  • Number of students and interns: 237
  • Annual research budget: nearly CA$1 million
  • Scholarships/grants/contracts: CA$27 million

Three research areas:
  • cardiology
  • pneumology
  • obesity/energy metabolism

The CRHL is the only research centre in Canada and one of the few in the world to undertake research in these three areas under the same roof

Positioned on the leading edge of basic and clinical research, the CRHL is a pioneer in treating heart and lung diseases as well as obesity and plays a key international role in these specialized areas.

In 1999, the CRHL added obesity to its existing areas of expertise (cardiology and pneumology). “In light of its research background, the Centre was the ideal place to set up an obesity research facility because cardiovascular and respiratory diseases often stem from obesity. All of these areas are closely intertwined,” says Dr. Richard, who specializes in obesity and metabolism research. He was also the driving force behind the implementation of the CRHL’s third research area, thus ensuring its unique status in Canada.

Invaluable cooperation

In addition to focusing on these three closely intertwined research areas, CRHL staff members benefit from regular contacts with the attending physicians at Laval Hospital and the resulting knowledge transfers. “Thanks to our close cooperation, the doctors help shape our research agenda by pointing out potential avenues to explore. That way, our research initiatives are continuously tailored to the medical procedures and treatments administered in the hospital setting,” explains Dr. Richard.

This combination of talent has been highly successful. For example, the research conducted by Dr. François Maltais, a pneumologist, has improved the quality of life of chronic obstructive lung disease patients by demonstrating the effectiveness of a lung rehabilitation program built around home-based aerobic exercise. This treatment improves the breathing capacity and effort tolerance of people afflicted with this incurable disease, which is currently the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada. Patients can now participate actively in their own treatment without having to leave their homes.

Among other achievements, the CRHL discovered an easy way to identify patients likely to develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease. The team headed by Dr. Jean-Pierre Després proved scientifically that a high blood level of triglycerides in people with large waist circumferences is dangerous. By taking a simple blood test and measuring waist circumference, doctors can identify high-risk individuals and prevent the spread of these fatal diseases. Since cardiovascular disease is still the leading killer in Canada, the importance of this discovery cannot be overstated.

CRHL researchers are also assessing the impact of lifestyle factors such as physical exercise and diet on the health of patients with a high risk of developing diabetes or heart problems.

Affiliated with Laval University, the CRHL oversees the training of students and highly specialized biomedical research personnel. “Most of our researchers are Laval professors,” notes Dr. Richard, who also teaches in the University’s anatomy and physiology department. Focusing on body weight regulation, his research is aimed at identifying brain systems that control food intake and energy expenditure.

Rapid growth

The CRHL is one of the fasting growing research centres in the Quebec City region. “Since 1999, we’ve made enormous strides. We’ve gone from 269 to over 500 employees and our research grants have more than tripled,” says Dr. Richard. And there’s more growth on the horizon because the CRHL’s boom is continuing: two new floors were added to the clinical research building in 2008 and work will be carried out in 2009-2010 to install basic research laboratory facilities. The construction of an additional floor will also facilitate the development of preclinical and clinical research platforms for obesity and cardiorespiratory risk factors.

Lisa-Marie Noël

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