A Q&A with Dr. Phyllis Billia

A Q&A with Dr. Phyllis Billia

Dr. Phyllis Billia is a cardiologist, heart failure specialist, and Director of Research at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Co-Director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre biobank.

In honour of February being Heart Month, the UHN Impact Collective, in partnership with Toronto Life Insiders, will be hosting the Serving Knowledge Supper Club at Xango on February 19. While guests are enjoying chef Claudio Aprile’s scintillating Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes, they will hear from Dr. Phyllis Billia of University Health Network’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. We caught up with Dr. Billia—a leading researcher on regenerating heart cells within the heart itself—in advance of tonight’s event to ask her a few questions about her life and the amazing research coming out of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

Dr. Billia, what does a typical day look like for you at University Health Network’s, Peter Munk Cardiac Centre?

Since I wear so many hats, every day is different. The only constant is that my morning coffee is essential! On any given day, I could see patients in the morning and then have to run to the lab in the afternoon to work on my research before squeezing in a few meetings around the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre biobank, which houses patient blood and tissue samples to help us discover new treatments for cardiovascular diseases. It’s totally unpredictable and that’s why I love my job.

What makes you passionate about your research?

I started my career as a PhD researcher from a purely academic headspace, but that completely changed when I made the commitment to go to medical school. The motivation behind all of my research are my patients—those with end-stage heart failure. They are among the sickest and most complex patient populations. My goal is to improve not simply their quantity, but their quality of life. My research is focused on how we can use regenerated heart cells to help the heart repair itself following a heart attack…and therefore stop the onset of heart failure.

When you’re not solving the epidemic of heart failure, what keeps you busy outside the hospital?

Twice a year my husband, daughter, and I travel to Guyana to work with medical trainees at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. We specifically support the coronary care unit and heart function clinic. The progress we’ve witnessed over the last six years is the reason we keep going back.

What’s one piece of advice you give to aspiring cardiologists entering the field at this time?

This is an exciting time in the field of cardiology. The research is becoming more personalized, driven by unparalleled technological advancements, so every patient can receive the right treatment at the right time. Remember to keep an open mind and always encourage yourself to think outside the box.

On February 19, the UHN Impact Collective, in partnership with TL Insiders, will be hosting the Serving Knowledge Supper Club at Xango. What do you hope the attendees walk away with?

I hope everyone understands that heart disease is a problem that is not going away any time soon. The assumption is that we, as a society, are living longer and healthier. However, the reality is the number of patients with heart disease is greater than those with cancer and a diagnosis of heart failure is actually worse than most cancers. I want them to know that the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre is the premier destination to treat heart disease in Canada…where our expertise, access to resources, and commitment to push the boundaries is helping address this crippling problem for patients and their family.

Given that it’s Heart Month, we wanted to ask, what is the biggest misconception people have about heart disease?

The biggest misconception is that we have cured heart disease. That is not true. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It’s imperative we support research that delivers the most effective treatment for patients, including stronger indicators to identify those at risk of heart disease and customized strategies that will lead to the best patient outcomes.