As a physician, I feel like it’s my responsibility to push the border of knowledge and to take the research further.
Dr. John Sapp
Inspired by the beating heart
In Halifax, the pulse of cardiology is at the QEII Health Sciences Centre where Dr. John Sapp and his team are leading innovative research.
Dr. Sapp is a heart rhythm specialist, also known as a cardiac electrophysiologist. He has devoted years of learning to ventricular tachycardia (VT), a rapid deadly heartbeat that often causes sudden death. With an aging population and a province with the highest rates of chronic disease in the country, Dr. Sapp and his team understand the landscape and are committed to improving access to care for Nova Scotians.
“We are constantly expanding the ways in which we’re able to perform complex ablations,” said Dr. Sapp. “As a physician, I feel like it’s my responsibility to push the border of knowledge and to take the research further.”
Ablation is a procedure used to treat abnormal heart rhythms by putting wires up into the heart to find and cauterize short circuits. “It’s shocking sometimes what we don’t know,” said Dr. Sapp. “At times, patients need help and I recognize that we actually don’t know what to do. For me, that is the biggest drive for research.”
Currently, Dr. Sapp has partnered with Dalhousie University to begin a research project that will lead to a better understanding of the electrical activity of the heart. Their goal is to be able to turn non-invasive heart measures into detailed maps that easily predict where short circuits may be.
“It’s fascinating, but a long effort,” said Dr. Sapp. “Understanding the electrical signals of the heart will help us discover more efficient methods and make ablations easier for cardiologists.”
Dr. Sapp isn’t a stranger to developing new methods of treatment. He worked with colleagues to develop a new kind of ablation catheter which is able to make ablation lesions deeper inside the heart to interrupt difficult short circuits. Some of the earliest research on this was performed at Dalhousie University. This has now allowed treatment of some patients who could not be treated any other way.
Dr. Sapp is especially proud of the QEII for running VANISH, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)-funded research trial that will provide more information about VT and treatment. VANISH, lead by Dr. Sapp, is a $2 million clinical trial that will determine whether catheter ablation or aggressive antiarrhymthmic drug therapy is best for recurrent VT.
“Major research trials are often run out of bigger centres,” said Dr. Sapp. “It’s very exciting for the QEII to run a multicentre study and to see patients playing a major role in the program.”