The heart always matters, but especially on Valentine’s Day

UBCO researchers weigh in on heart mechanics, mating behaviour and the best romance novels

UBC Okanagan faculty put their hearts into research and teaching. To mark Valentine’s Day, they are highlighting their expertise on matters of the heart—from what makes it tick to how to keep the emotions pumping.

Advances in biomedical engineering and understanding of cardiovascular disease

Researchers from the School of Engineering and the Faculty of Health and Social Development are working on the development of mechanical heart valves and believe they are on the cusp of improving heart function.

A team of researchers at UBCO’s Heart Valve Performance Lab has developed a way to improve mechanical heart valves so they will match the real thing closely.

“Our goal is to create mechanical heart valves that perform consistently and seamlessly inside the human body,” explains Dr. Hadi Mohammadi, an associate professor at the School of Engineering. “The way blood travels through the body is unique to a person’s physiology, so a ‘one-size-fits-all’ valve has been a real challenge.”

Mohammadi adds that such advances in biomedical engineering can lead to innovative solutions for complex health issues such as heart disease.


An international research group at UBC, Harvard University and Cardiff Metropolitan University has discovered how the human heart has likely adapted to support endurance physical activities. For this, Dr. Rob Shave has taken an evolutionary step backwards by comparing the human heart’s structure and function with our closest ancestors, the great apes.

“We hope our research will inform those at highest risk of developing hypertensive heart disease,” says Shave, director of UBCO’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “And ensure that moderate-intensity endurance-type activities are widely encouraged in order to ultimately prevent premature deaths.”

According to Shave, cardiovascular disease is an ongoing global concern and that his research will further the understanding of how to improve the quality of lives of those affected.

Spiders need hearts too

It may be at odds with their creepy reputation, but spiders also have hearts.

“Spider hearts are actually in their abdomens,” says Dr. Matt Nelson, a lecturer in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and resident spider expert. “Unlike our hearts, spider hearts are just tubes with arteries on either end and valves to prevent backflow. Hemolymph, their blood equivalent, is pumped out into the body cavity when the heart contracts; when [the heart] relaxes, hemolymph flows back into the heart through tiny holes called ostia. Often spiders have a mark on top of their abdomen called a heart mark.  The heart is right under that mark.”

Nelson adds that it’s important to understand the differences between species in order to better understand the role they all play in maintaining ecosystems.

Researchers explore how romance in the wild impacts wildlife populations

Animal courtship rituals, where an animal ‘struts’ its stuff for a partner, vary widely. As part of their research, graduate students of Dr. Adam Ford, assistant professor in the Faculty of Science, has observed some of these different mating strategies.

“Male cougars will spend three to 10 days with their prospective mate playing, as well as sharing meals and time together,” says Siobhan Darlington, an ecology doctoral student co-supervised by Ford and Dr. Karen Hodges. She explains that cougars can mate year-round, unlike many wild animals.

Fellow doctoral student and deer specialist Chloe Wright agrees. “Mule deer usually mate only in the fall and the pregnant doe will spend the winter months gestating, or supporting the growth of her fetuses. During the breeding season, male deer use their antlers to establish a hierarchy by fighting other male deer. The winner usually gets his pick of the females.”

Both researchers add that these rituals are all important in understanding how wildlife populations are maintained, how predator-prey interactions unfold and, most importantly, how sustainable wildlife protection practices can help ensure that our environments stay healthy and resilient.

What is the best romance read?

“Literature and the arts help us better appreciate the human experience,” says Dr. Marie Loughlin, associate professor of English in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies.

“Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to delve into one of the most important human emotions and reread foundational examples of literature, like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.”

She adds that her heart lies with books about the love of literature such as 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, which recounts a lifelong love affair with books. She also recommends A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. “This captures the long history of our love of books and reading from antiquity to the present,” she suggests.

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

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