Trainee Awards

TRANSFORM HF’s Trainee Awards support University of Toronto graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are conducting research that focuses on new approaches and models of care to address heart failure and inequities in care.

To learn more about our Trainee Awards, visit our Opportunities page.

2022 Trainee Awards

Congratulations to the TRANSFORM HF 2022 Trainee Award Recipients!
Development of SafeSleep, a smart, accessible, and convenient textile-based technology for remote monitoring of sleep apnea and heart failure at home

Ahmed Elwali, postdoctoral fellow at KITE Research Institute
Supervised by: Drs. Azadeh Yadollahi and Daniel Franklin

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes breathing to repeatedly stop during sleep. The disorder affects 10% of adults, leading to reduced blood oxygen and a quadrupled risk of heart failure. When untreated, sleep apnea may double heart failure mortality rates.

Ahmed’s project responds to the need for further monitoring of sleep apnea in those living with heart failure. He aims to develop and validate a smart textile, SafeSleep, to diagnose sleep apnea, investigate its interrelationship with heart failure, and continuously monitor heart performance for long-term, at-home use. SafeSleep will integrate sensors into clothing to monitor various biometrics and body movements during both sleep and wakefulness. Ahmed and his supervisors will conduct a user experience study to identify metrics for measurement and inform the design of a suitable T-shirt.

By creating an accessible and scalable technology to simultaneously diagnose sleep apnea and monitor heart failure, Ahmed hopes to minimize hospitalizations, enable the delivery of preventative therapies, and allow people living with heart failure to effectively self-manage at home.

Deep learning framework for cardiopulmonary fitness prediction in heart failure patients using Apple Watch biometric data

William Gao, first-year PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics
Supervised by: Drs. Chris McIntosh and Yas Moayedi

Remote monitoring can help clinicians better understand heart failure patients’ health conditions outside of the hospital. However, it is rarely implemented in clinics due to the lack of accessibility of devices and patient discomfort with the devices. William’s research will focus on understanding how novel technologies like the Apple Watch can be used to provide more available, easy-to-use monitoring of cardiac fitness.

Past research in wearable devices has suggested that daily step count derived from wearable devices is a more objective metric of heart failure status than the NYHA classes. The immense amount of biometric data from the Apple Watch may provide even more accurate metrics for determining the cardiac fitness of heart failure patients than previous results. William’s research will utilize deep learning models to create meaningful understandings from this data. This includes predicting cardiorespiratory fitness in heart failure patients.

Through integrating novel technologies and machine learning, William’s project aims to revolutionize remote monitoring of heart failure.

Equitable wearable opto-electronics to monitor heart failure

Megh Rathod, graduate trainee in Biomedical Engineering
Supervised by: Drs. Daniel Franklin and Heather Ross

Light-based technology provides an exciting tool for non-invasive monitoring, with applications for heart failure diagnostics and monitoring. Unfortunately, existing technology fails to account for variations in skin melanin levels, resulting in inaccurate readings and inequities in care. Megh’s project aims to develop a non-invasive way to precisely measure cardiovascular metrics – regardless of skin colour.

By leveraging the rapid advancements in embedded electronics, Megh aims to develop a wearable device that utilizes multiwavelength spectroscopy to account for melanin when obtaining measurements. Megh and his supervisors will validate their devices across skin tones and illness levels by partnering with patients and clinicians.

The ultimate goal of Megh’s research is to advance the development of equity-focused medical devices for diverse populations in Canada, and beyond.

2021 Trainee Awards

Remote monitoring of patients with left ventricular assist devices: A safety and feasibility study

Dr. Darshan Brahmbhatt, Clinical Fellow, Heart Failure & Cardiac Transplantation
Supervised by: Drs Phyllis Billia and Emily Seto

HF is an important cause of morbidity and mortality, with many patients requiring hospitalization to stabilize them. Remote monitoring (RM) — a technique which can assess HF patients outside of hospital — collects and automatically transmits patients’ information to their clinical team. Through intervention at the earliest sign of deterioration, RM can reduce instances of hospitalization.

RM techniques have been well-studied in general HF patients; however, little research has been conducted on patients with left ventricular assist devices (LVAD). These patients, who are at high risk of deterioration, require frequent hospital visits to monitor condition stability. Darshan’s study will review the impact of RM in this understudied population.

Investigating the interrelationship of sleep and heart failure in people experiencing homelessness

Dr. Nasim Montazeri, Postdoctoral Fellow at KITE Research Institute
Supervised by: Drs Azadeh Yadollahi and Heather Ross

Though half of people with HF have sleep apnea, it is highly underdiagnosed in HF patients. There are no specific guidelines for sleep studies in HF, and referrals are based on symptoms which are not common in HF patients. The reference sleep test is costly and inconvenient, especially in underrepresented populations, such as shelter residents who are at higher risk of heart disease.

Through portable sleep screening among shelter residents, Nasim’s project will investigate the association between sleep apnea and heart disease and identify sleep-related indices for each sex that differ between people with and without heart problems.

Design and evaluation of a digital mental health stepped care model for a heart failure remote monitoring program

Amika Shah, PhD Candidate at the Institute for Health Policy, Management and Evaluation
Supervised by: Drs. Emily Seto and Rob Nolan

Approximately 22% of the population living with HF experiences depression; however, it remains unclear how to deliver mental health care within cardiology settings to address the needs of these patients. Stepped care models which combine routine screening with connections to appropriate mental health supports are promising, but an entirely digital model that is connected to HF care does not yet exist. Amika’s research involves working with patients, caregivers, and clinicians to co-design a digital mental health stepped care model for a HF remote monitoring program called Medly. To our knowledge, this is the first entirely digital stepped care model that integrates care for both physical and mental health.

A digital microfluidic platform for point-of-care testing of cardiac biomarkers

Anthony Yong, Graduate Student in the Department of Chemistry
Supervised by: Drs. Aaron Wheeler and Heather

Diagnosis of HF can require large volumes of blood tested at centralized laboratories. In many clinics and hospitals in remote areas, limited access to such laboratories can delay diagnosis. One potential solution is digital microfluidic (DMF) technology — credit card-sized devices that miniaturize laboratory procedures. Using just a pinprick of blood, DMF could perform onsite analysis and rapidly deliver diagnostic information to healthcare providers.

Anthony will be developing a DMF-based platform that will provide off-site clinicians with an overview of a patient’s cardiovascular health. The final phase of this research will include field-testing the device with patients in Northern Ontario.