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Dr. Scott Widenmaier (PhD) was ranked first in a recent research competition by the Heart & Stroke Foundation, earning a prestigious scholarship. (Photo submitted)

Biomedical scientist receives national Heart & Stroke Foundation award, scholarship

A University of Saskatchewan (USask) biomedical scientist has been ranked first among Canada’s best young researchers, earning a prestigious scholarship from the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

Dr. Scott Widenmaier (PhD), an assistant professor in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology, was named as a recipient of a National New Investigator Award during the organization’s 2020/21 competition. He was also named as the 2020/21 McDonald Scholar.

“Being recognized in this way was really important to me because I have a great deal of respect for what the Heart & Stroke Foundation has accomplished and is accomplishing,” Widenmaier said.

The National New Investigator Award program recognizes and provides salary support for Canada’s best young researchers who are pursuing research at universities, hospitals and institutes across the country and abroad.

Among these researchers, Widenmaier was the highest-rated applicant, which earned him the distinction of the 2020/21 McDonald Scholar. The scholarship was established in honour of Ewing (Mac) McDonald, who was the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s executive director from 1968 to 1987.

As a relatively new researcher, two-and-a-half years into running his own lab at USask, Widenmaier was surprised when he learned he had been ranked first among all applicants from across Canada in the competition.

“I wasn’t expecting this result, as there are many clinicians and researchers with more experience who entered the competition,” he said.  

His project is entitled, “Investigating the molecular interface underlying immunometabolic homeostasis in obesity-linked cardiovascular disease.” Widenmaier is taking a closer look at cholesterol — a nutrient at the core of cardiovascular disease, but also fundamental for every cell in the body.

“Cholesterol needs to be tightly controlled because it has dangerous effects when not managed properly,” he explained. “At the same time, we need it in our cells, otherwise cells don’t work.”

“My project is focusing on one of the most fundamental questions regarding cholesterol and its metabolism,” Widenmaier said.

Cholesterol plays a role in maintaining the balance between the immune and the metabolic systems. Poor management of cholesterol by cells disrupts this balance and causes many types of health problems. Widenmaier is investigating the impact cholesterol has on immunometabolic systems and its connection with conditions such as obesity, wherein cholesterol in the blood tends to be elevated and impose the risk of heart disease.

Heart disease is the second-leading cause of death in the country, according to Statistics Canada.

Widenmaier is looking forward to continuing to work with academics and experts at the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

“In the College of Medicine, we always want our research to have some sort of value to the clinic, and to the health of the people of Saskatchewan and Canada,” Widenmaier said. “By working with the Heart & Stroke Foundation, I think it will make it much easier to see how my work will have an impact on people.”

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