Getting to the heart of the matter

Getting to the heart of the matter

Lia D'Abate goes from prime-time medicine to front-line heart research
May 22, 2007
It’s hard to imagine a preschooler watching ER on Thursday nights; it’s even harder to conceive of a young child being genuinely fascinated by this medical drama. But Lia D’Abate will tell you this television show captured her attention when she was only four and got her interested in medicine. “I can safely say that what first got me interested in science was television,” explains Lia. “And I have George Clooney to thank for that!”

Twelve years after Hollywood gave Lia her first glimpse into the medical world, she’s now making her own contribution to medicine. Although she has several years of high school and university to go before she can actually obtain her medical degree, this 16-year-old has already begun conducting cardiovascular research.

Lia was drawn to this area of research because she recognizes the importance of heart health. “Next to the brain,” says Lia, “the heart is the most important organ there is.”

It was with this in mind that Lia chose to research the chemistry of hypertension for her grade 9 science fair project. She worked with Dr. Ramin Zargham at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, who helped her design a study that would determine if a cell receptor (called alpha 8 integrin) causes a growth factor (known as Angiotensin II) to induce high blood pressure. To test her hypothesis, she turned off the gene responsible for activating alpha 8 integrin. She found that in the absence of this cell receptor, Angiotensin II was less likely to cause hypertension.

Lia’s research could lead to improved treatments for high blood pressure, a condition suffered by an estimated five million adults in Canada. Her work earned her several awards as well as a spot on Youth Science Foundation Canada’s Team Canada 2006—the team of young innovators that represented Canada in Indianapolis, Indiana, in May 2006. Peter Judson, Lia’s favourite science teacher, attributes her success to her “stick-to-it-iveness,” along with being motivated and “having the rare ability to see both the big picture and minutiae of a project or experiment.”

This year, Lia’s perseverance has led to a collaboration with Dr. Éric Rhéaume at the Montréal Heart Institute. For her grade 10 science fair project, she is investigating whether bone marrow stem cells are involved in the tissue repair process of the heart.

Clearly, this bright and enthusiastic teenager is determined to uncover the heart’s mysteries. That is why she plans on obtaining an MD and a PhD in cardiovascular research. With her perseverance and ambition, Lia will more than likely play a role in ensuring healthy hearts for generations to come.

Learn more

Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada's website.