By Norman DeBono, The London Free Press
It’s the $100,000 question — why do African-Canadians have double the risk of stroke that others do, and what can be done about it?
Dr. David Spence of London is working on an answer.
Spence has been awarded a $100,000 federal grant to study why those in Africa and of African descent are at greater risk of hypertension and heart disease.
“I am excited about this. It is a long time coming,” said Spence, professor of neurology and clinical pharmacology at Western University, who has been posing that question since 1980.
It all began when he saw patients from Buxton, near Chatham, a Canadian settlement at an end of the Underground Railroad, which aided slaves fleeing from the U.S. in the 1800s.
His research will focus on genetics and how those of African descent have low levels of an enzyme called renin, which helps regulate blood pressure.
They also have a mutation of kidney sodium receptors that have been found in 20% of residents in some African and United Kingdom communities, he added.
Dr. David Spence
“We realize black patients are affected by these conditions and that causes high blood pressure,” Spence said.
Peter Singer, chief executive of Grand Challenges, which awarded the grant, praised Spence’s work for its potential to save lives at home, as well as in Africa.
“It is really cutting-edge science, looking at communities that have different genes and hormones,” making them predisposed to hypertension.
“This is about saving lives in Africa as well as other areas of the world. High blood pressure is relevant in every corner of the world — untreated hypertension leads to strokes and heart attacks.”
Spence will send kits, donated by Diagnostic Biochem Canada Inc. of London, to African communities where blood will be collected and shipped to Robarts Research Institute in London where the data will be collected.
The money will be used to hire research assistants in Africa to aid the work, as well as pay for work done at Robarts, Spence added.
African-Canadians suffer twice the risk of stroke, and those from Africa more than double the risk of others in Canada, he said.
The research will take about 18 months before Spence will publish his findings.