Feb. 11, 2021

'Future leader' in women’s cardiovascular health research selected as Top 30 Under 30 recipient

Cumming School of Medicine student Cindy Kalenga honoured for her efforts to make the world more just, fair, and sustainable
Cindy Kalenga in the lab

Cindy Kalenga, a Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) Leaders in Medicine student, has been chosen as recipient in 2021 Alberta Council for Global Co-operation Top 30 Under 30 competition. Now in its 10th year, the competition recognizes 30 young Albertans who are leaders in the local and global community.

Kalenga is a doctoral candidate under the mentorship of Dr. Sofia Ahmed, MD, a kidney specialist and researcher at the CSM. Kalenga’s research looks at how commonly used hormones, in the form of contraceptives and postmenopausal hormone therapy, impact the risk for heart disease in women and girls.

Cardiovascular disease No. 1 cause of premature death

It’s an important area of research, because traditionally women and gender-diverse people have not been included in cardiovascular research, despite cardiovascular disease being the number one cause of premature death for all Canadians — including women. 

Kalenga’s passion for building knowledge and skill amongst researchers so they can address the unique needs of women, men and gender-diverse people is well known at the University of Calgary and beyond.

She works to inspire other students to consider sex and gender in their research as the co-lead of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Gender and Health Sex and Gender Science Trainee Network at UCalgary.

Kalenga, who will complete her PhD and start medical school this year, is the only CSM student to be selected in the competition. She is honoured by the award and excited about the opportunities it creates.

“If we can better incorporate sex and gender into medicine and science, we can look forward to innovation in science and medicine that would lead to optimal health status and well-being for women, men and gender-diverse people,” she says. "As a Black woman in science and medicine, the concerns of minorities are of great interest to me."

“Who I am has a huge influence on my projects,” she adds. “I know what it feels like to not have a voice. I know what it’s like when my concerns don’t seem to be the concerns of the majority.”

Ahmed, a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute at the CSM, is proud of her student.

“[Kalenga] is an outstanding MD, PhD candidate who exemplifies the highest standards of hard work, collaboration and empowerment of girls and women,” says Ahmed. “She demonstrates the exceptional skills that ensure her place as a future leader in women’s cardiovascular health.”

Kalenga’s life experiences, which include being born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moving to South Africa during apartheid before emigrating with her family to Canada, have made her resilient and especially sensitive to the experience of racial and ethnic minorities.

Future leader in research

Kalenga has received numerous research awards, including the Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarships in Doctoral Research and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute PhD Graduate Scholarship with a focus in Women’s Cardiovascular Health research. She was also awarded the University of Calgary’s Women’s Resource Centre Distinguished Graduate Student award, which honours women who are trailblazers for issues that impact women.

She has also spoken at numerous national and international meetings, including the 2021 Canadian Women’s Heart Health Summit, the 2019 American Heart Association Hypertension Congress in New Orleans and the 2019 Organization for the Study of Sex Difference in Washington, D.C.

Kalenga will be recognized publicly for the Top 30 Under 30 award during International Development Week this month. Read her award bio here.

Sofia Ahmed is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the CSM and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute. She is the lead of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute CV & Me Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative and the sex and gender lead for Can-SOLVE CKD, a national research network into chronic kidney disease. She is also a member of the O'Brien Institute for Public Health.

Kalenga is a trainee within the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and a student in the Leaders in Medicine Program at the CSM.