Faculty of Science

Research Profile: Laura Dewar, Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology

January 12, 2012
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Laura has been a death investigator for 20 years for 20 years in BC's South Caribou region, and is also currently working on her PhD in the Molecular Cardiac Physiology Laboratory at SFU, in the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology.

Her current research examines the causes of sudden, unexpected death in the young (SUDY): the non-traumatic death of an apparently healthy young person under the age of 40. (When a newborn is involved, it's often referred to as sudden infant death syndrome/SIDS.)

A significant portion (perhaps 20% or higher) of these tragic deaths may be due to inherited cardiac disorders that do not show up at autopsy. Given that these disorders are inherited, if the cause of death is not identified, surviving family members may be at risk of another death. 

Most death investigation agencies in Canada do not routinely use genetic testing to help determine cause of death. In addition to uncovering the molecular mechanisms of sudden cardiac death underlying SUDY, Laura’s thesis work includes development of guidelines for coroners and medical examiners to assist agencies in the investigation of SUDY deaths, and help SUDY-affected families find answers.

Laura is also part of the “SUD in Western Canada” research network consisting of clinicians, researchers and death investigation agencies working together to determine the causes of SUDY. While Laura's graduate research is independent of the BC Coroners’ Office, it has implications which may greatly benefit the Office's practices and help grieving families. 

She was a Richard Rowe Research Competition Student Presentation Award Finalist for Pediatric and Congenital Cardiology at the Canadian Cardiovascular Society Conference on October 25th, 2011 for her presentation “Current practices regarding the clinical care and management of families affected by Sudden Unexpected Death in the Young in Canada.”

Laura has also just published a book chapter on sudden cardiac death: "Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy-Related Troponin Mutations and Sudden Cardiac Death". (Book is Cardiomyopathies - From Basic Research to Clinical Management.)

To learn more about inherited cardiac syndromes that cause sudden death in young people, please visit the Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndromes website.

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