University of Toronto Professor Frederick Roth Among Those Awarded $75M to Find Cures for Heart Disease

Oct 6, 2016
Jovana Drinjakovic

University of Toronto Professor Frederick Roth is part of a team that has been awarded the One Brave Idea Research Award. The five-year, $75 million award from the American Heart Association (AHA), Verily Life Sciences (formerly Google Life Sciences) and AstraZeneca will support collaborative research among clinicians, biologists and computational scientists towards better diagnosis and finding cures for coronary heart disease (CHD).

professor frederick (fritz) roth Roth is a professor of molecular genetics and computer science and a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research as well as a Senior Scientist at Sinai Health System’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.

Despite progress in medicine, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the world, including in Canada and the U.S. This is partly because we still lack the ability to detect heart disease before much of the damage to the patient has occurred. By marrying wearable technology that collects unprecedented amounts of personal data with DNA sequencing and advanced computational analysis, the researchers hope to get ahead of the disease.

The interdisciplinary team, selected from hundreds of applicants, will be led by Dr. Calum MacRae, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Harvard Medical School in Boston, to uncover “the causes of heart disease, including previously unrecognized signals marking the transition from wellness to the earliest, yet still largely invisible stages of disease,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the American Heart Association.

Roth, who holds a Canada Excellence Research Chair and also co-directs the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Program in Genetic Networks, leads a research team carrying out computational biology and large-scale genetic assays. His team will bring to the table innovative data analysis and the latest advances in next-generation sequencing applications to help drive progress towards personalized medicine for CHD.

“By combining computational and experimental strategies, we would like to help identify traits that are early predictors of CHD. These traits may in turn identify the genes that impact CHD outcomes alone or in combination. My lab is systematically testing the consequences of genetic differences, or variants, in human disease genes. By building “look-up tables” of harmful variants before a patient’s genome is sequenced, we can more immediately take appropriate therapeutic measures, even before we see the standard symptoms of disease,” said Roth.

“I am thrilled that Fritz Roth is part of this significant multidisciplinary effort. Roth’s cutting-edge research, both as a geneticist and a computational scientist, will help drive forward the search for the molecular roots of heart disease,” said Professor Brenda Andrews, Director of the Donnelly Centre.

In addition to Roth’s lab at U of T, other members of the team also include research groups from Harvard, Boston University, MIT, Stanford University and Northeastern University.

“Alone, each of our organizations has helped to transform our understanding of coronary artery disease. Yet, for all the success we have had, there has been no legacy of resources upon which to continue building,” said MacRae in a statement issued by the BWH. “Our project will create a global consortium to support programs from idea conception to clinical realization, and establish a lasting resource for future research endeavors in cardiovascular and other chronic disease.”

The AHA, Verily and AstraZeneca launched One Brave Idea in January 2016 as the largest one-time award to a single team to find a cure to end CHD and its consequences.