From the time of its creation in 1954 until 1966, the Montreal Heart Institute occupied the upper two floors of the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, which is affiliated with Université de Montréal. At the time, its main research aims were to understand rheumatic diseases, congenital heart disease, heart valve disease (particularly mitral stenosis), blood coagulation, and artificial heart-lung bypass.
Along with care, teaching and the prevention of cardiovascular disease, clinical and basic research has always been a major orientation of the Montreal Heart Institute's overall mission. Even in the beginning, one third of MHI doctors carried out research.
After 1966, at the MHI's current site, cardiovascular research made great strides. The main research themes at the time included physiopathology, the medical and surgical treatment of acute and chronic coronary artery disease, preventive cardiology, cardiac rhythm disorders or electrophysiology, and heart failure.
In 1969, financier and philanthropist Jean-Louis Lévesque donated $1 million to the Montreal Heart Institute. In 1973, he repeated this gesture to promote research with another donation of $2 million—a very large amount at the time that signalled major developments to come.
In 1974, the MHI participated in one of the very first major multicentre clinical trials on coronary artery disease. Entitled the Coronary Artery Surgery Study (CASS), this trial was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NHLBI) and was conducted in collaboration with 11 major American centres, including the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University, Boston University and the University of Seattle.
In 1975, at the request of Dr. Paul David, a joint hospital-university committee was created to name an MHI Director of Research Activities and to lay the groundwork for infrastructure to centralize the Institute's activities, teams and research.
Dr. Martial Bourassa was then appointed by the committee as the Institute's first Director of Research. Dr. Claude Goulet, who was recruited by Dr. Bourassa, became his senior assistant.
In January 1976, the committee decided that the new structure would be called “Research Services” and not a “Research Centre.” As a result, Research Services were associated with the Institution's other administrative services or departments, such as professional and hospital services, the nursing department, staff services and accounting.
The two existing floors of the south-west block (one of which was already being used for research activities) were renovated and then reinaugurated as the Jean-Louis Lévesque Pavilion.
The lower floor contained the administrative space and research laboratories that conducted studies on lipids, thrombosis and platelets, coronary circulation, cardiovascular physiology, exercise physiology, and more.
The upper floor housed the offices of clinician researchers and space dedicated to clinical research. The main teams of clinician researchers reported to the different departments and services of the hospital, such as hemodynamics, radiology, electrophysiology, the coronary care unit, cardiac surgery, pathology and non-invasive technologies. Many fellows, residents and technical assistants were recruited annually to participate in research. The MHI Foundation, which was created in 1977, also had its offices on this floor.
In the late 1970s, the Fonds de recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), which already had a grant program to provide financial support to researchers (particularly basic researchers), launched another grant program for research centres and institutes at Quebec university hospitals. The MHI's Research Services, whose operating budget was funded by the MHI Foundation, granting agencies and the industry, received financial assistance from the FRSQ—funding that transformed Research Services into the Research Centre we know today. The Research Centre was officially inaugurated in 1976.
In 1995, a new wing was added to the MHI to meet needs for new space at the Research Centre, which had expanded considerably in the years before. This expansion tripled the Centre's floor area while stimulating research activities and promoting the recruitment of researchers in new key fields, such as molecular biology, vascular biology, bio-epidemiology and biostatistics.
A veritable spearhead of high-level research in Quebec, Canada and the world, the MHI Research Centre represents exceptional added value given the unprecedented emphasis currently placed on clinical research. In 2001, this historic orientation led to the creation of the Montreal Health Innovations Coordinating Center (or the MHICC), which has been involved in the development and coordination of every aspect of the clinical trials it has taken part in since that time.
The Research Centre has continued to pursue this primary goal while gradually developing basic research in cardiovascular medicine and related fields. In keeping with the general evolution of the biomedical sciences, Research Centre staff have spent the past decade promoting strategic relationships in disciplines related to cardiovascular medicine through cutting-edge and cross-disciplinary scientific approaches. These fields include medical and molecular imaging, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, bioinformatics, and the study of biological processes that are highly involved in the cardiovascular system, such as inflammation. Together with a strong foundation in clinical research, this development has become the very basis of a two-way translational research model in which individual genes inform work on major clinical studies and patient information informs basic studies thanks to the MHI Biobank.
In 2008, the MHI inaugurated the Beaulieu-Saucier Pharmacogenomics Centre of Université de Montréal. Pharmacogenomics is the study of the relationship and influence of a patient's genetic profile on medication response. This field has led to personalized medicine, as doctors can prescribe medication based on a patient's particular genetics. This Centre was made possible thanks to two generous donors and a major grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Quebec.
With its many discoveries, the MHI Research Centre has put Montreal's reputation on the international scientific map. Every year, dozens of cardiology specialists come from around the world to continue their education in cardiology because they know that they will meet and learn from high-level professionals and researchers at an institution with a solid reputation as a leader. When they return home, they become ambassadors of the MHI's reputation and excellence around the world and even become proud partners in our breakthroughs in research and medical practice.