TORONTO — The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation has donated an additional $100 million to the Toronto cardiac centre bearing the Barrick Gold founder's name — the largest single charitable contribution ever to a Canadian hospital.
The donation, announced Tuesday in Toronto, will bring the foundation's support of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and the University Health Network where it is housed to more than $175 million since 1993.
Most of the money will be used to develop a digital cardiovascular health platform — a digitized compilation of health information from patients, ranging from blood-test and imaging results to genetic sequencing.
The centre has partnered with the Vector Institute, a Toronto-based company that specializes in artificial intelligence, to develop the platform.
"The digital cardiovascular health platform will allow us to apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and treat life-threatening cardiac problems before they occur, and to develop novel therapies for patients with cardiovascular disease," explained Dr. Barry Rubin, medical director of the centre.
"You can't do that unless you have the data in a digitized format," said Rubin, adding that the pooled data will allow doctors to ask research questions using artificial- intelligence, or AI.
For example, if there are 100,000 patients with a narrowing of the aortic valve — the main valve in the heart — applying AI would allow doctors to tease out what genetic mutations commonly occur in these patients.
"So maybe in those 100,000 patients, you'll find 2,000 that all have the same unusual gene," he said.
"That gives you the opportunity to say: 'Hey, maybe that gene is related to the development of this aortic narrowing. And if you then figured out what that gene does, you might be able to treat patients with that gene before they ever got a narrowed aortic valve."
Rubin said patients with an abnormal heartbeat being electronically monitored outside the hospital could also benefit from an AI-based approach. For instance, the highly sophisticated computer could detect any "beat-to-beat" signs indicating the person could be in imminent danger of a fatal event.
"The idea is we remotely monitor patients, we keep them out of the hospital, and if we see something that's wrong, be able to predict it before it happens and treat them before they have a lethal arrhythmia or heart attack," he said.
The Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, or PMCC, treats more than 163,000 patients from across Canada and around the world each year. It also trains more cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and vascular surgeons than any other hospital in Canada.
Rubin said that besides providing funding for the digital health platform, the $100-million donation will also allow the centre to expand its clinical trials unit and dramatically increase the number of cardiovascular patients getting whole genome sequencing.
"Since it opened, the PMCC has changed the way cardiovascular patients are treated in the province of Ontario, across Canada and around the world," Peter Munk said in a statement.
"Now, using the most innovative digital technologies, the PMCC will establish a new standard of care for patients and, ultimately, lead to a significant reduction in cardiac and vascular fatalities."
Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press