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McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences Newsmagazine — Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 2012

Jaya and Vasu Chanchlani at the opening of the Chanchlani Research Centre From left: John Kelton, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences; Jaya Chanchlani, Vasu Chanchlani and their daughter Tina Chanchlani; and Sonia Anand, professor and director of the Chanchlani Research Centre From left: Sonia Anand, professor and director of the Chanchlani Research Centre; Vasu Chanchlani, Jaya Chanchlani and their daughter Tina Chanchlani; Patrick Deane, president of McMaster University; and John Kelton, dean and vice-president, Faculty of Health Sciences

Tracking health by ethnicity:Chanchlani Research Centre Opens

The Chanchlani Research Centre in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery, is designed to investigate health differences by ethnicity, including genetic factors.

The new centre is dedicated to understanding the genetic and environmental causes of common diseases among diverse cultural groups, women and the socially disadvantaged while providing innovative training to the next generation of health researchers.

"As health challenges are increasingly understood in a global context, focus on ethnic and local issues promises to bring benefit not only to those specific communities, but to humanity at large," said University President Patrick Deane, at the grand opening in March.

The centre's director is McMaster professor and research scientist Sonia Anand, a Canadian leader in the research of genetic and environmental causes of vascular disease.

Recently, Anand led a study, published in the medical journal Public Library of Science ONE, which found South Asians are more likely to be adding dangerous fat to their internal organs, like the liver, which can lead to diabetes and coronary artery disease.

Anand is also leading the START (SouTh Asian birth cohort) study, which is studying two birth cohorts of South Asians in Southern Ontario and another in urban and rural India, to find out why central obesity and diabetes are so prevalent among the South Asian population.

She received international attention with an earlier study, which showed a diet high in fruits and vegetables appears to lessen the genetic risk of heart disease. This led to the SAHARA (South Asian Heart Risk Assessment) study, which intends to find out if knowing about this gene motivates individuals at risk of a heart attack to change their habits and Diet Intervention and GEnetic STudy (DIGEST).

The Chanchlani Research Centre is funded with a $1 million donation from Vasu Chanchlani, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and founding member of the Canada India Foundation, and his wife, Jaya, a family physician in Brampton for more than 20 years.

Chanchlani has said the goal of the centre is to "leverage the resources, passion and influence of people of South Asian origin by engaging them in a serious social cause that is afflicting people of South Asian origin around the world."

The couple has also given an additional $250,000 to fund an award for an international scholar in the field.

The Chanchlani centre works closely with other McMaster scientists working to improve South Asian health, such as Salim Yusuf, director of the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and professor of medicine.

The PHRI is involved with several studies involving South Asians, such as the INTERSTROKE study examining how stroke is managed, its risk factors and outcomes as well as the PURE study looking at the health influences of societal changes and urbanization. The institute has also worked on building research capacity within South Asia and with the government to reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke.