Collaboration and technology at the heart of success

Dr. Shelley Zieroth combines patient care and research

For Dauphin-raised cardiologist Dr. Shelley Zieroth, treating heart failure patients and researching their condition go hand in hand. Indeed, the opportunity to combine research with care helps to set St. Boniface Hospital apart. The ability to treat cardiac patients while enrolling them in clinical studies at the same facility leads to better results for current patients, and important advances for future patients.

“The clinical and research worlds have collided,” says Dr. Zieroth, Head of the Medical Heart Failure Program with the WRHA Cardiac Sciences Program at St. Boniface Hospital. “We’re all going to benefit from it.”

At any point in time, Dr. Zieroth could be participating in a number of clinical trials – eight as of February 2015 – involving many dozens of heart failure patients. Clinical trials are controlled tests of new treatments for diseases. Drugs and other treatments only advance to the clinical trial stage when they are proven safe in the lab. The trials on real patients help researchers understand a treatment’s true potential and are a critical step in advancing patient care.

While such close collaboration between researchers and medical staff is a major development in healthcare since the days Dr. Zieroth was a medical student at the University of Manitoba, technology is another. One area driven by technology is remote monitoring of heart failure patients.

“In the heart failure and research world, there’s never a boring day.”

Remote Monitoring

“Patients now get these defibrillators, sort of like pacemakers that give us information over the Internet on how a heart failure patient is doing,” explains Dr. Zieroth. “Do they have too much fluid on board? Do they have an irregular rhythm? It’s really quite fascinating and long before most of Canada took on this technology, we started using it at St-Boniface Hospital to track our patients. Manitoba is a big province and there’s really only one heart failure centre and patients have to travel long distances to get here. We can reduce the need for follow-ups and analyze these new devices to see how patients are doing while they stay at home.”

Dr. Zieroth and her colleagues have published their findings about remote monitoring and are taking part in a related clinical trial. “We’re trying to learn more about the predictive values that these heart failure diagnostics are giving us,” she says.

Additionally, Dr. Zieroth continues to work with the data produced by a long-range study looking at the relationship between heart failure and kidney failure. It’s a Manitoba-made project that involves approximately 100 patients enrolled in the clinical trial.

Resveratrol research

Another high-profile area of research is focused on resveratrol, the compound found in the skin of dark grapes and some berries. In has been shown to have significant health benefits for diabetes, skin infections, and other conditions thanks to its anti-oxidant and inflammation-fighting properties. Dr. Zieroth and her colleagues have already made significant progress in showing that resveratrol can also halt the progression of cardiac hypertrophy (the dangerous thickening of the heart muscle). The goal of ongoing clinical trials is to prove that resveratrol can enhance the well-being of heart failure patients.

“Any way we can save lives or make patients feel better, we’re going to look for it,” says Dr. Zieroth. “In the heart failure and research world, there’s never a boring day.”

A deeper connection to patients

With the daily challenges of providing expert care and participating in leading-edge research, for Dr. Zieroth the joy in the work comes in building meaningful relationships.

“Within the heart failure clinic, we develop a lot of strong, long-term relationships with our patients and their families and caregivers. It’s unique in that heart failure is a chronic disease and we see patients through the ups and downs. We have our happy moments, we have our sad moments, we have tired moments, all these sort of things,” says Dr. Zieroth. “We go on a journey together.”

And it’s a journey supported by donors to St. Boniface Hospital Foundation.

“We have certainly benefited from donations that we used for different technologies or new equipment that have enhanced care for the heart failure patients at St. Boniface Hospital, so we’re very thankful that these individuals have found it in their hearts to be so generous,” says Dr. Zieroth.

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