Granddaughter of Steinberg’s grocery founder supports futuristic heart research

At 84, Sharon Steinberg lives an active and social life, but it wasn’t always this way. Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, she experienced breathing difficulties that made going anywhere a challenge.

“I was having trouble walking a quarter of a block without stopping to breathe,” says Sharon.

Cardiomyopathy weakens the heart, impeding its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. Not only does it dramatically affect quality of life, it can lead to life-threatening conditions such as heart failure. To help Sharon get back on her feet, her physicians implanted a defibrillator to keep her heartbeat steady.

“My doctors fixed me up with a defibrillator and now I have no trouble going for a walk,” says Sharon.

Cardiomyopathy has no cure. Wishing to advance research into her condition, Sharon enrolled in a new study called Heart in a Dish, which is searching for new treatments for cardiomyopathy. Led by cardiologist Dr. Nadia Giannetti of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and Dr. Terry Hébert of McGill University, the Heart in a Dish program is growing patients’ heart tissue in petri dishes to enable close study. Like something out of science fiction, the lab-grown heart tissue even beats.

Recently, Sharon had the opportunity to see her beating heart tissue in person.

“I looked through a microscope at the cells in a tiny little dish and it was vibrating. You can feel the same motion that you feel when you put your hand to your chest,” says Sharon.

A Montrealer through and through, Sharon is proud to support life-changing research in her city. Her grandmother, Ida Steinberg, founded the Steinberg grocery chain, which was a Montreal staple from 1917 to the 1990s. Growing up, Sharon lived in an apartment over a Steinberg’s store. She recalls helping the cashiers as a little girl.

“It was war time, and we collected ration stamps. They had to be attached to a piece of paper and sent to the government, and I loved sticking them on the sheets,” says Sharon. “It was my first ambition to be a cashier.”

When Ida passed away in 1942, her five sons took over the store. Several of Sharon’s uncles lived with heart conditions, adding further meaning to her participation in the Heart in a Dish program.

Growing heart tissue outside the body is the ultimate in personalized medicine. Instead of receiving a one-size-fits-all drug or treatment plan, each patient receives a tailored approach.

“By growing each individual’s heart muscle, we can see what the problem is and test ways to improve their health. We hope that in the near future, we'll be able to personalize the way we treat people with weak heart muscles to help them live longer, healthier lives,” says Dr. Giannetti.

Sharon was so moved by the Heart in a Dish project that she made a significant donation to the MUHC Foundation to support Dr. Giannetti and Dr. Hébert’s ground-breaking work.

“I really believe that when you live well, you have an obligation to share. I feel very strongly about that. It doesn't have to be a lot of money—all the small amounts add up to something bigger,” says Sharon.

With Sharon’s support, Dr. Giannetti and Dr. Hébert now have 25 hearts beating in dishes at the MUHC, and are advancing cardiology research to help others struggling with heart conditions.

The Heart in a Dish project is supported by the MUHC Foundation through its Dream Big. Fix Broken Hearts campaign. To learn more and to donate toward cardiology research and care at the MUHC, visit https://muhcfoundation.com/dream-big/cardiology/

Dr. Everglad Mugutso is improving care for patients with lung cancer