Celebrating Health Research

Discover how and why health researchers are changing lives, and hear firsthand from the patients whose lives have been affected by health research. 

United by a common passion

Today’s high-impact team science will go a long way to solving the global health issues of tomorrow

Mr. Thilina Bandara
University of Saskatchewan

Today’s global health problems are wicked in nature - vast, interconnected and complex – involving the intersection between humans, animals and the environment. As a result, tomorrow’s public health leaders will require the skills to work across intellectual and institutional boundaries.

With the guidance of academic mentors from across campus, PhD Candidates Thilina Bandara (Community Health and Epidemiology) and Arinjay Banerjee (Veterinary Microbiology) are working to contribute to science of interdisciplinary training. Alumni of the Integrated Training Program in Infectious Disease, Food Safety and Public Policy, Bandara and Banerjee are continuing to develop interdisciplinary science workshops, collaborate with international colleagues to understand current public health crises, and to foster their own capacities to conduct high-impact team science to solve the global health issues of tomorrow.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Eating disorders do not discriminate by gender

Engaging and supporting men who are struggling with an eating disorder

Dr. Brad A. MacNeil
Kingston Health Sciences Center, Hotel Dieu Hospital

There is a need for innovative methods for engaging men with eating disorders in specialized assessment and treatment. In 2012, our lab founded the Male Assessment and Treatment Track, or MATT, which isthe only outpatient service in Canada to provide specialized assessment and treatment designated for men struggling with eating disorders.

Men have an opportunity to receive individual cognitive behaviour therapy-enhanced and information on support and recovery-based resources. The MATT project also represents a therapeutic platform for men to discuss issues related to stigma, isolation, and their unique experiences. Significantly more male referrals (250%) were received and more men engaged in assessment and treatment after the instatement of the MATT.

We continue to examine factors associated with men’s engagement in assessment and treatment for an eating disorder, their unique experiences of the illness, and their satisfaction with services received.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Forget about cats! Curiosity may be killing the cancer cell

A fascination with how cells adapt to changes in their environment led to a career as a health researcher

Dr. Jim Uniacke
University of Guelph

Since high school, I have been fascinated with how cells adapt to changes in their environment by making adjustments to the types of proteins that they make. I was passionate about researching aspects of human health in order to make a measurable impact on our society.

This is when I began investigating the influence of low oxygen (hypoxia) on the protein synthesis machinery of human cells.

Cancer cells living within tumours experience chronic hypoxia and this drives the spread of the disease and its resistance to therapy. Understanding how cancer cells adapt to hypoxia through changes in their protein synthesis machinery will allow us to uncover a new understanding of tumour progression and identify new therapeutic targets to prevent tumour progression.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Midwifery integration

Mothers and their newborns will benefit from having access to better, inter-professional collaboration among their care givers

Dr. Kellie Thiessen
University of Manitoba

Increasing, access to integrated midwifery services in today’s health care system requires midwives to be actively engaged in the research process, knowledge dissemination and clinical practice. Dr. Thiessen, a Clinician Scientist Trainee with the Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP), is leading an inter-professional team of experts to create data-driven strategies that will inform policies to improve perinatal outcomes and optimize the integration of midwifery services in primary health care reform initiatives. 

Currently, her team is investigating outcomes and costs in Manitoba associated with hospital and out of hospital births, by provider type. The overall goal of her research program is to identify barriers and design interventions that will inform strategies and policies to improve delivery of maternity-care health services that best utilize midwives. The anticipated results will be an overall improvement in both perinatal and system level outcomes in the Canadian context.

I would like to gratefully acknowledge my research team: Dr. Nathan Nickel, Dr. Julia Witt, Dr. Margaret Morris, Ms. Kristine Robinson, Ms. Margaret Haworth-Brockman, Dr. Ivy Lynn Bourgeault , Ms. Shelley Derksen, Ms. Trina Arnold and Mr. Alex Peden.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Harnessing the power of epigenetics to save little lives

This researcher wants to eliminate the need for pediatric surgery to repair congenital anomalies by modulating abnormal development before birth

Dr. Richard Keijzer
University of Manitoba

Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world a baby is born with a hole in their diaphragm and abnormal lung development – this is called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). As a pediatric surgeon, I operate on these babies and repair the diaphragmatic defect after birth. Unfortunately, CDH babies experience severe breathing difficulties due to their abnormal lung development, and every hour, one of these CDH babies dies due to the problems arising from their abnormal lung development.

In our laboratory, we study the abnormal lung development in CDH. We have discovered that certain small gene regulators - called microRNAs - play a significant role in the abnormal lung development associated with CDH. We are currently studying if we can use these microRNAs as a prenatal therapy. Our overall goal is to improve outcomes in CDH babies by modulating the abnormal lung development before babies with this devastating disease are even born.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


A natural problem-solver meets the challenges of common medications head-on

A delicate balancing act between the needs of patients who suffering and responsible pain management

Dr. John Wallace
University of Calgary

I have always enjoyed solving problems.   Since becoming a medical researcher, I have tried to solve problems caused by some of the most common medicines used in our society.  Drugs like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen can reduce the pain associated with arthritis; but, unfortunately, they can also cause bleeding in the stomach and small intestine that can be life-threatening. 

In recent years, we have all heard, on almost a daily basis, of the problems associated with opioid addiction.  Opioids are powerful painkillers that can alleviate the severe pain that people experience after certain injuries, surgery, or associated with cancer.  What we need are powerful pain-killers that are not addictive and that do not cause the gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding associated with aspirin-like drugs.  This is where my research is focused.  Using a naturally produced substance that prevents gastrointestinal injury, we have made a new and powerful, non-addictive painkiller.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


It all adds up to a challenging and rewarding career

Being a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is filled with challenges and opportunities

Dr. Rhonda Rosychuk
University of Alberta

A high-school teacher recognized my math talent and recommended a career in the insurance industry as an actuary. After taking courses during my undergraduate degree in pure mathematics, I realized that actuarial science was not for me and I started taking some statistics classes. I really connected with the material and loved the important health applications. After degrees in statistics and a work experience in a cancer agency, I became a biostatistician and health scholar working at the interface of health research and statistical methods development at the University of Alberta.

There have been many challenges and opportunities to being a woman in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in a clinical department. Great relationships with medical and statistical colleagues make my job rewarding. Much of my work has focused on large administrative datasets of emergency department (ED) visits. I try to use different sources and types of data to answer questions about the timing of ED visits.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Meet the CIHR Fertility Health Research Team

This multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians aims to identify and support the needs of men and women with fertility concerns

Dr. Phyllis Zelkowitz
McGill University, Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital

More than a 250,000 couples in Canada have difficulty conceiving a child.  In the past 30 years, there have been many advances in the medical treatment of infertility, using different methods of assisted reproductive technologies (ART). As the ability to treat infertility has improved, there has also been a greater awareness of the emotional consequences of infertility. On an individual level, there can feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, and depression; the stress associated with infertility and its treatment can also take a toll on the couple’s relationship and may affect patients’ willingness to continue with treatment.

While research has often focused on the impact of infertility and its treatment on women, the experience of infertile men has received far less research attention. Men may feel excluded from the fertility-treatment process, since even in cases of male factor infertility, the female partner must undergo the medical tests and procedures. The perceived need to be stoical in support of their partner may lead men to suppress their own feelings of distress.

Dr. Phyllis Zelkowitz leads a multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians that aims to identify and address the information and support needs of men and women with fertility concerns. The goal is to develop evidence-based and patient-centred mobile health applications that will provide up-to-date information and peer support for fertility patients and men with fertility concerns due to cancer. “Knowledge about reproductive health reduces the stigma associated with infertility and empowers people to take charge of their health,” Dr. Zelkowitz says. “We hope that our work contributes to the development, implementation, and uptake of fertility health interventions, which may benefit patients by improving their overall quality of life”.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Type 2 diabetes: A fascinating research puzzle

Devoted to solving the mystery surrounding diabetes prevention and the serious diseases it causes

Dr. Hertzel C. Gerstein
McMaster University

Type 2 diabetes it is a fascinating puzzle that has grown from a problem that affected less than 1 in 20 Canadian adults in 1980, to one that affects more than 1 in 10 adults in 2017. For reasons that are not well understood, Type 2 diabetes exerts a serious toll on quality of life, damages almost every organ, reduces life expectancy, and has a huge and growing economic impact on our society. That is why I have devoted my career to discovering how to prevent diabetes and the serious diseases that it causes; improve the lives of people with diabetes and their families; and put the disease into remission. This is being done by designing, getting funding for, and leading national and international studies of various therapies in tens of thousands of people worldwide, and by establishing productive working relationships with research organizations, industry, doctors, and research scientists.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Participating in research helped me grieve

One mother’s personal healing journey became the catalyst for improved bereavement services

Mrs. Valerie McDonald
Toronto

When my 9-year old daughter, Natalie, died of cancer, Sick Kids didn’t provide consistent bereavement services. However, I found some unexpected support when I joined a study of bereaved parents led by a team of Hematology/Oncology psychologists and social workers. On the six-month anniversary of Natalie’s death, I spent two hours talking with the investigator about my child, my feelings, my concerns about my other children, and about the ways I wished the hospital had supported my family.

The experience was very cathartic and proved to be a turning point in my transition to a “new normal” way of living. The resulting study, along with subsequent research by the same team, led to the formation of a Bereavement Care Task Force in 2009. Today, the hospital has a robust program of flexible services designed to support all bereaved families, a program in which I now volunteer.

Further reading

November 2, 2017


Face-to-face: Gaining insights into the genes that determine our facial features

Genetic architecture helps researchers understand the origin and genetic basis of the complex traits that create our uniqueness

Dr. G.H. Sperber
University of Alberta

“How are we made? We try to understand the origin and genetic basis of the complex traits that create us. The development and evolution of physical and even behavioural traits are genetic at their cores. The creation of the face that is so significant in our identification and mating success is based on the development of the underlying craniofacial skull. By studying the genetic mutations or gene variations that lead to dysmorphology, or altered normal development, we can gain insights into the genes that signal our facial development.

The new possibilities of genetic “engineering” that allows for the manipulation of gene expressions might lead to future preventive measures for known heredity diseases or syndromes.

We are living through the most exciting times of exploration and ethically fraught implications.”

My background in anatomy, embryology, palaeoanthropology and dentistry drove my curiosity into investigating the origins of our existence. The never-ending challenge of ever-expanding insights maintains my inquisitiveness.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


Making the powerful care in order to make the world a better place

Bioethics researchers working at the intersection of policy and practice have national and international impact

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Baylis with The Governor General of Canada, Rideau Hall.

Dr. Françoise Baylis
Dalhousie University

I chose bioethics research as a career because I wanted to make the world a better place. A little idealistic, but true, nonetheless. More specifically, I wanted to protect and promote the interests of women.

As I learned about feminist bioethics, my focus expanded to include all people who experience oppression. I graduated in 1989 with a PhD in Philosophy with a specialization in bioethics. Bioethics was not yet a burgeoning field. My thesis was on the ethics of ex utero research on spare IVF human embryos.

Since then, I have focused my ethics research on assisted human reproduction, research in pregnant women, embryo research, stem cell research, human nuclear genome transfer (so-called mitochondrial replacement), and genome editing. This work, at the intersection of policy and practice, has national and international reach. My overarching aim is and always has been “to make the powerful care”.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


A synergy between fundamental and applied science is central to the advancement of knowledge

Uncovering how millions and millions of molecules work together to build cells, tissues and whole organisms is quite simply, amazing!

Dr. Tony Harris
University of Toronto

How millions and millions of molecules work together to build cells, tissues and whole organisms is amazing. Understanding these mechanisms allows treatment of disease and advancement of bio- and nano-technology. My CIHR- and NSERC-funded team of undergraduates, graduate students and scientific staff pursues how molecules organize the surface cellular layer of the fruit fly embryo, a layer similar to our skin and the lining of our organs. The fruit fly is the most powerful experimental animal for manipulating molecules using genetics and for viewing molecular complexes with microscopy. We determine a molecule’s function by removing it and examining the response of other molecules, whole cells and tissues. Remarkably, the same molecules that organize fruit flies also organize us. This experimental animal allows an acceleration of discovery unattainable from human studies alone. Synergy between fundamental and applied science is central to the advancement of knowledge and its use in everyday life.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


It is an exciting time to be working in the life sciences

Baker’s yeast allows research in drug-gene interactions to rise to new heights

Dr. Corey Nislow
University of British Columbia

Theo Dobhzhansky said “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” This credo has guided my research with sea urchins, frogs, algae, flies, worms, mini pigs and people. Evolution is our connection. We arose from a common ancestor and have each solved the challenge of adapting to our environment. Our lab uses baker’s yeast to understand human drugs – because, despite being separated from yeast by a billion years of evolution, we share half of our genes with it. And while they do not have brains – yeast have helped to understand how depression medications work. In fact, they are experts at using drugs for communication in the same way that our nerves cells interact.

More recently, we have explored new environments. On the one hand, sending yeast to the International Space Station in order to understand microgravity and radiation, and on the other hand, reaching out to community pharmacies to use our knowledge of drug-gene interactions in order to tackle the challenge of personalizing drug treatment.

Both outer space and the pharmacy demands precision logistics to translate lab research into practice. But the combination of new technologies with big data make these transitions possible.

It is an exciting time to be working in the life sciences.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


A powerful single-cell sequencing technique reveals elusive answers to questions about genes

Exploring new frontiers in stem cell biology, DNA repair and human genomic diversity with “Strand-seq”

Dr. Peter M. Lansdorp
University of British Columbia

My research is focused on the role of genome instability in aging and cancer. Recently, we developed a powerful single cell sequencing technique, called Strand-seq, to explore new frontiers in stem cell biology, DNA repair and human genomic diversity. We are using Strand-seq to answer some basic questions:

Further reading

October 23, 2017


Listening to patients has been an enlightening journey

One health researcher shares their passion for improving clinical research methods that drives their efforts to help people

Dr. Sunita Vohra
University of Alberta

I became a physician because I wanted to help people; I became a scientist because I wanted to help improve how we deliver care.

My passion is to improve clinical research methods – what better ways are there to study if treatments are safe or effective? My research is most often based on questions asked by patients about issues that affect their health. Listening to patients has been an enlightening journey.

Most Canadians mix conventional, complementary, and traditional approaches to support their health; they need reliable information to inform their decisions. My research focuses on developing high-quality evidence about whether or not therapies are safe, effective, for whom, and why (or why not).

Healthcare must not only be evidence-based, it must be respectful of patients’ preferences, values, and goals. My research helps to close this gap so that we may provide care that is both evidence-based and patient-centred.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


How I am contributing to Canadian health research

A personal account of one researcher’s desire to make a difference in the lives of people living with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Ms. Shannon Thompson
University of Ottawa

I am a master’s student in the Neural Regeneration Lab at the University of Ottawa and here is how I am contributing to Canadian health research:

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) is a devastating disease affecting 1:3500 males, characterized by progressive muscle wasting, loss of mobility, and a reduced life expectancy. DMD is caused by mutations in the DMD gene resulting in loss of the full-length dystrophin protein found in skeletal muscle, as well as in the brain.

Dystrophin has a role establishing cell polarity in satellite cells, the stem cells of muscle, which divide asymmetrically to both replenish the satellite cell pool and produce committed progenitor cells which go on to repair muscle tissue. In the absence of dystrophin, cell polarity is not established, disrupting asymmetric cell division. One-third of DMD patients suffer from non-progressive cognitive impairments, particularly deficits in learning and memory.

My aim is to determine whether a loss of dystrophin in the brain also disrupts the asymmetric cell division of neural stem cells, and to determine if this is responsible for the intellectual impairments associated with DMD.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


The study of individual differences in pain perception

Affecting almost 25% of Canadians, pain is the number one human health problem in terms of prevalence and economic burden

Dr. Jeffrey S. Mogil
McGill University

Pain is the number one human health problem in terms of both prevalence and economic burden to society, affecting almost one-quarter of Canadians, and is the primary reason that people seek medical care. But it is extremely variable. In some instances and in some people, noxious stimuli are not reported as causing pain, whereas others can experience excruciating pain from a light touching of the skin.

Some people are highly sensitive to pain relief from placebos, while others are insensitive to even high doses of opiates. Most people recover completely from infections or traumatic accidents, but some unlucky ones develop chronic pain syndromes that can last for years.

We study these individual differences in pain perception, from the genetic underpinnings all the way to modulation by social factors like empathy. Our studies occur in both mice and people, and are finding major differences in pain processing mechanisms between males and females.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


A breath of fresh air!

Technological advancements create a unique opportunity to treat lung genetic diseases like Cystic Fibrosis

Dr. Jim Hu
Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto

Current molecular biology and genetics technologies give us unprecedented means to identify the genetic mutations that cause diseases, to develop diagnostic methods, and to understand disease mechanisms. Research advancements have also enhanced the development of gene-based therapies for genetic lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis (CF).

Gene therapy works by replacing a gene carrying a disease-causing mutation with a healthy, functioning copy of the gene and has several advantages over conventional drug treatments or surgery. Most importantly, it fixes the cause of a disease, not just the symptoms. Gene therapy is designed as a non-invasive treatment for infrequent use, thus reducing the drug and treatment burden on patients and improving their quality of life.

Ultimately, gene therapy treatments will also be more cost-effective, reducing the financial burden on our health care system. Moreover, some drugs are only effective for certain gene mutations. By using a gene therapy approach, a single treatment would be able to help all patients with different mutations in the same disease-associated gene.

My group has previously demonstrated that genes can be efficiently delivered to the lungs of mice, rabbits, and pigs. These technological advancements create a unique opportunity to treat lung genetic diseases like CF, by replacing disease-associated genes in the lung stem cells, which we are now directly targeting for long-term therapeutic gene expression. Discoveries made from our research will represent a major step forward in treating patients with genetic diseases of the lung, efficiently and cost-effectively.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


Inspired by the first transgenic mouse, this genetic engineer looks back on the early days of his career

From “Joe jobs” to developing cutting-edge bioprocesses for generating bone, cartilage and heart tissue from stem cells

Dr. Derrick Rancourt
University of Calgary

I was inspired by the first transgenic mouse and planned to become a genetic engineer. Like budding artists of Renaissance Florence who paid their dues by collecting eggs or banging on stone to make the paint, my first “joe job” was to prepare an enzyme extract from my own feces. Part of the Ames mutagenicity assay, “fecalase” simulated the conversion of pro-mutagens in the gut. This research experience provided me with an important career entrée. I was keen to pay my dues as a novice and boy did I pay. Whenever it was time to make a fresh batch, my former boss would snicker and hand me a box of oatmeal cookies to enhance enzyme activity. Jokes aside, my first academic mentor helped introduce me to research and to get my first genetic engineering position. It was through his kindness and my sacrifice that I am a genetic engineer today.

Further reading

October 23, 2017


Designing, formulating and developing the next generation of drug and vaccine delivery systems

A special focus on the site-specific targeting, controlled release, and drug resistance, are among the exciting new research avenues being pursued

Dr. Abdelwahab Omri
Laurentian University

My research program is centered on the design, formulation, development and characterization of drug and vaccine delivery systems; particularly those based on liposomes. A special focus on the site-specific targeting, controlled release, drug resistance, pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, metabolism and toxicity of free and liposome-encapsulated biological active agents.

Research interests:

  1. Liposomal delivery of antisense oligonucleotides. Effect on P-glycoprotein function in multidrug resistant cells in vitro and in vivo studies. Cationic liposome formulations are used to promote the penetration of antisense oligonucleotides into the cell membrane and protect them from enzymatic degradation (nucleases).
  2. Liposomal delivery of antimicrobial agents towards resistant bacterial pathogens: pulmonary and systemic infections. Construction of liposomes with high encapsulation efficiency, favourable antimicrobial release profile and enhanced bactericidal activity, to overcome the problem of bacterial resistance caused by low permeability of the bacterial cell envelope and by production of antimicrobial-inactivating enzymes.
  3. Liposomal formulations of drugs and vaccine for oral delivery. Liposomes are used to protect the encapsulated agents from the harsh gastrointestinal milieu (low pH, phospholipases, and bile salts) and to enhance their absorption to the systemic circulation and to increase the efficacy of these agents while minimizing their frequency of administration. Special liposomal formulation will be prepared, characterized and assayed for their efficacy in vitro and in animal models.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Patients with Alzheimer’s disease exhibit a decrease in Omega-3,-6,-9 unsaturated fatty acids

Exploring whether the consumption of certain foods could prevent the development of this neurodegenerative disease

Ms. Valerie Desjardins
University of Ottawa

As a member of the Bennett Laboratory, I study the abundance of lipids (fats) in genetically modified mice that mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by deteriorating cognitive functions due to amyloid (a waxy, translucent substance) plaques, the main component of which are amyloid beta peptides. I look for lipid increase or decrease in these mice and whether a change in diet (rich or poor in these lipids) will prevent the devastating advancements of neural function loss in the mouse model.

My contribution to this project is to quantify the lipids using in silico (computer simulation) techniques to compare healthy and symptomatic mice, as well as compare normal and enriched diets.

Have you ever noticed how some foods are fortified with omega 3 fats, like eggs or margarine? In fact, Alzheimer’s patients exhibit a decrease in omega-3,-6,-9 unsaturated fatty acids and we are researching if the consumption of these foods could prevent the development of this neurodegenerative disease.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


The evolution of antibiotic resistance in disease causing bacteria

Developing novel strategies for slowing, or even reversing, the evolution of resistance

Dr. Alex Wong
Carleton University

My lab studies the evolution of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria. I find this work particularly interesting because it applies the rich body of knowledge in molecular evolution to a serious public health challenge. We use a variety of approaches, including genetic screens, experimental evolution, and comparative genomics, to understand how resistance arises and persists, and to identify novel vulnerabilities in resistant cells.

Ultimately, we are interested in strategies for slowing, or even reversing, the evolution of resistance, whether through public health measures or through the development of new drugs.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Working to develop genetics-informed, nutrition-based strategies to protect mental health

How psychiatric genetic counseling can empower people to protect their own mental health and that of their family members

Dr. Jehannine Austin
University of British Columbia

I never planned to be a researcher but, I ended up working in mental health research because I wanted to find new ways to help families like my own.

I completed a PhD in psychiatric genetics and trained as a genetic counselor. This provided me with the skills that I need to take the complexity of what we know about how genetics contributes to psychiatric disorders and be able to translate it in ways that families living with these conditions can meaningfully use to help protect their own mental health.

My team is working to use what we know about the genetics of psychiatric disorders to help people who live with these conditions, as well as their families. To do this, we are conducting research in different areas. We are working to develop genetics-informed, nutrition-based strategies to protect mental health, and are generating new knowledge about how psychiatric genetic counseling can empower people to protect their mental health.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to nutrition and medication does not always fit

Studying diet and genetics to treat and prevent cardiometabolic and immune mediated disease

Dr. Leah Cahill
Dalhousie University

I am a new principal investigator who has recently started a research group to examine the influence of nutrition, genetics, and their interactions with each other on cardiometabolic and immune-mediated diseases. In order to do this, I use epidemiological and clinical patient-oriented research methods. The costs of cardiometabolic disease (e.g. heart disease and type 2 diabetes) and immune mediated conditions (e.g. Crohn’s disease and hematopoietic disorders) are staggering, both in terms of healthcare expenditures and quality of life.

Our work aims to identify optimal eating practices and the biological pathways, proteins, and microbiota that are important for the treatment and prevention of these diseases, researching at both the patient and population levels. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to nutrition and medication does not always apply, and sometimes a more personalized, patient-oriented approach is necessary.

My ultimate goal is for our research results to inform guidelines that reduce risks of cardiometabolic and immune mediated diseases.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Living well without dialysis

Tailor-made combinations of structures, processes and techniques address the unique needs of kidney patients

Dr. Sara Davison
University of Alberta

Dialysis is the default treatment for most patients living with end-stage kidney disease. However, frail patients, especially those with other health problems, may not benefit from dialysis. In fact, dialysis may worsen their survival rate and quality of life.  In September 2016, Dr. Sara Davison and her team, the Kidney Supportive Care Research Group (KSCRG), launched an innovative pilot, Conservative Kidney Management (CKM) Pathway, across Alberta to provide integrated care to patients unlikely to benefit from dialysis and who had chosen a conservative approach to care.

The pathway focuses on slowing the decline in kidney function while actively managing symptoms and preserving functional status and quality of life. It involves tailor-made combinations of structures, processes and techniques to address unique patient needs and system-community circumstances. The KSCRG is currently evaluating the Pathway, including an on-line interactive patient decision aid. The overall vision of the KSCRG is to reduce suffering and help patients enjoy life while living with advanced chronic kidney disease.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Preventing falls among seniors – finding balance in Saskatchewan

Simple and proven home exercise program helps seniors avoid potentially life-altering falls

Dr. Shanthi Johnson
University of Regina

Falls are not an inevitable part of aging, although they are common, complex, and costly. My collaborative research, conducted in partnership with the Regina Qu’Appelle and Sun Country Health Regions, focused on a simple and proven home exercise program helps seniors, including those in the rural setting, remain independent in their homes.  Senior home-care clients who were doing in-home exercises, taught be experts and regularly monitored through the home care network, showed significant improvement physical function associated with reducing falls. The home-support exercise program, developed by the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, involves ten simple progressive exercises, each carefully designed to increase functional capacity and prevent falls in seniors. The exercises can be done in the home, without special equipment, or large spaces. Falls, poor balance, and the fear of falling can be devastating to seniors and regular exercise is a first line of defense.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Advances in stroke treatment prove that there’s more than one way to bust a blood clot!

Dramatically improving stroke patients’ outcomes thanks to better diagnosis and treatment options research

Dr. Michael D. Hill
University of Calgary

Our group in Calgary is working to improve stroke care for victims of all types of stroke.   We have become clinician-researchers because the cycle of good quality care, clinical quality improvement and clinical research keeps improving patient outcomes.  This integration of clinical research and care drives us and the field forward.  We are conducting clinical trials in stroke diagnosis (with imaging) and stroke treatment. We completed the ESCAPE trial, which demonstrated that treating patients with endovascular thrombectomy, meaning an intra-arterial intervention (over and above best standard of medical care) resulted in dramatically better outcomes from major ischemic stroke. 

We are now working on novel thrombolytic stroke treatments in minor stroke (TEMPO-2 trial) and a new drug called NA-1 in conjunction with endovascular stroke treatment for major stroke (ESCAPE-NA1 trial).

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Birth medicine: 3D modeling of how babies are born

Using 3D printing to create soft robots that mimic the cervix during labour

Dr. James Andrew Smith
York University

I’m a biomedical robotics researcher at York University and started modeling how babies are born during my wife’s first pregnancy. The more we met with our midwives, the more questions I had about how we measure the health of a pregnancy and how we predict birth outcomes. To understand the process for myself, I teamed up with midwives from Ryerson University and a researcher in Gynecology and Obstetrics from McMaster University in order to create new models of the uterus and the cervix. Using measurements from post-hysterectomy uteruses and computer models we examine how cervixes get soft and then efface and dilate during labour to let the baby leave the uterus. We use the latest developments in 3D printing to create soft robots that mimic the cervix during labour. In the future we plan to use this process to create custom models for training obstetricians and midwives attending high-risk births.

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Harnessing the power of the body’s healing mechanism

Investigators discover a protein with healing properties that may help overcome diseases like multiple sclerosis

Dr. Shalina Ousman
University of Calgary

It is thrilling to be the first person on our planet to make a discovery that advances knowledge or contribute to a new therapy. My lab studies multiple sclerosis (MS) and peripheral nerve injury. The rationale for our work is that whenever our bodies sustain an injury such as a bruise, our bodies mount a healing mechanism. That likely happens in all diseases, so our questions are, what are these endogenous (meaning growing or occurring from within) protective mechanism, why are they unable to overcome the disease or injury and, can we harness their healing properties to overcome the disease?

Excitingly, one of our MS discoveries showing that a small heat shock protein called alphaB-crystallin is protective in a model of MS, has been shown to be possibly successful in Phase 1 and Phase 2a trials in MS patients.  

Further reading

October 16, 2017


Currently without a cure, Fragile X Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome are genetic disorders presenting with autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy

Canadian research advances in genetic research may be applicable to the development of therapies for other neurodevelopmental conditions

Dr. David R. Hampson
University of Toronto

Fragile X Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome are genetic disorders presenting with autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy, and currently have no cure. Dr. David R. Hampson and his team at the University of Toronto are utilizing viral vector-mediated gene therapy as a potential novel biological therapeutic treatment. Evaluation of the efficacy of these treatments on animal behaviour and neurobiology has shown amelioration of symptoms in a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome.

The team is seeking further improvements in vector design and drug delivery for potentially treating human Fragile X. They expect that knowledge gleaned from their work on Fragile X will be extended to the generation and testing of vectors for use in Dravet Syndrome. One major advantage of viral vector-mediated gene therapy is that a single administration of the biological therapeutic drug could translate into long-term improvement or correction. It is also anticipated that advances in this research may be applicable to the development of gene therapy for other neurodevelopmental conditions.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Combatting sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection that can trigger organ failure

Researchers are using the body’s natural clearance mechanism to accelerate the elimination of life threatening toxins

Dr. Jim Russell
Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital

Sepsis kills more people than heart attacks. Imagine a cold or the flu, but ten times worse. And then your organs start to fail, your heart, lungs, kidneys and eventually the brain. Even with antibiotics a third of sepsis patients die.

At the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, Dr. Jim Russell and his team are figuring out how sepsis causes organ failure and how to improve survival rates.

The team members were the first to discover that PCSK9 inhibitors, used to lower cholesterol in cardiovascular disease, are effective in sepsis. Now, they are developing a PCSK9 inhibitor to use alongside antibiotics in order to increase the chance of treatment success by using the body’s natural clearance mechanism to accelerate the excretion of the bacterial endotoxins that cause organ failure.

Dr. Russell was the recipient of the 2017 Aubrey J. Tingle Prize in recognition of his contribution to the fields of critical care, severe infection and clinical trial design in British Columbia and globally.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Improving strategies for health professionals

New prospective studies indicate improved outcomes for pregnancies in women with rheumatic diseases

Dr. Evelyne Vinet
McGill University

The overarching goal of my research is to improve reproductive outcomes in women with rheumatic diseases and their offspring. I created the world's largest cohort of children born to women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and with this unique resource demonstrated that SLE offspring had more than a 2-fold increase in the risk of autism spectrum disorders and congenital heart disease compared to children from the general population, pioneering a completely new horizon for future studies of maternal autoimmunity and risk of adverse health outcomes.

I am conducting a focus group study assessing the clinical and psychosocial needs, barriers, and facilitators to pregnancy counselling in women with rheumatoid arthritis and SLE in order to improve strategies for health professionals counselling pregnant women with rheumatic disease.

I am also building the Lupus prEGnAnCY (LEGACY) cohort, a large, multi-centre, international prospective cohort of SLE pregnancies, to evaluate adverse pregnancy outcomes, their predictors, and potential preventive therapies.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


A health research trifecta!

Three seminal discoveries, all with a unique focus on three areas of pain research

Dr. Terence J. Coderre
McGill University

Three pain research focuses; three seminal discoveries.

Firstly, I have identified the molecule responsible for maintaining memory traces in pain neurons. I showed protein kinase M-zeta (PKMζ) produces pain hypersensitivity by sustaining the potentiation of pain neurons, and inhibiting PKMζ reduces pain by erasing these neural memories traces. Secondly, I established that pain hypersensitivity depends on actions of a neurotransmitter at newly discovered receptors within the nucleus of pain neurons.

I revealed that persistent pain leads to increases in a type of nuclear metabotropic glutamate receptor 5, and that blocking these nuclear receptors more effectively reduces pain than inhibiting cell surface receptors.

Thirdly, I have determined that microvascular injury is essential for neuropathic pain and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). I revealed that injuries causing neuropathic pain and CRPS produce microvascular damage that reduces the oxygen supply to muscle and nerves, and the resulting pain can be alleviated by improving microvascular function.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


The quest to find better ways to assess and treat people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Leaders in population-based research, this team’s translational research is exploring the causes, outcomes and treatments of IBD

Dr. Charles Bernstein
University of Manitoba

The University of Manitoba Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Clinical and Research Centre, led by Dr. Charles Bernstein, focuses on translational research exploring the causes, outcomes and treatments of IBD and the commonalities with other chronic immune diseases.

With a special interest in stress, anxiety, and depression as they relate to quality of life and the course of the disease, the team includes a wide range of health professionals who are committed to improving the life of persons who live with chronic health conditions. We have been leaders in population-based research describing the high incidence rate of IBD in Canada and considering the impact of the disease on everyday life.

Manitoba offers unique opportunities to understand the use of health services across the province for patients who are diagnosed with IBD, including their use of medications. We recently established that problems with depression and anxiety often predate the diagnosis of IBD by years, suggesting that common biologic mechanisms may be involved in these conditions.

Our current research focuses on a wide range of topics including the diet of people with IBD, the impact of other health problems, and the information that people need to manage their own health. There has been great interest recently in the microbiome, the micro-organisms (such as bacteria) in our body, and especially in our gut, that may influence healthy and unhealthy functioning. We hope that a greater understanding of the functioning of the microbiome and the immune system will lead to more effective ways to assess and treat people with inflammatory bowel disease.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Physiotherapists are “unsung heroes”

Studying exercise to help patients maximize physical function

Dr. Dina Brooks
University of Toronto

Physiotherapists are “unsung heroes”. Our role is to bring patients to their highest level of physical function.

I am a proud to be a physiotherapist. My research focusses on the best way to maximize people’s abilities, using therapeutic exercise as the intervention of choice. I am specifically interested in individuals living with chronic lung disease and cardiovascular disease like emphysema, stroke and cardiac disease.

Our group examines the best way to exercise (aerobic, strength, or balance), the best mode of exercise (e.g. cycling, treadmill), intensity (intermittent or continuous) and frequency (1, 2 or 5 times a week) that will maximize function and increase the ability to take part in important and meaningful activities for individuals living with one disease or multiple diseases.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


The pathway to a health research career begins at home

Parental influence on their children’s career choice ensures a bright future for the next generation of health researchers

Ms. Ashley Ross
University of Waterloo

My mother inspired me to dedicate my career to health research. As a child, she instilled in me the importance of both maintaining one’s health and helping others, while my father was a strong advocate for obtaining a background in science and mathematics. This September, I will be starting my PhD at the Ontario Veterinary College within the University of Guelph. We will be using oncolytic viruses paired with photodynamic therapy to find a cure for cancers situated in deep tissue, such as brain and breast cancer. We are trying to improve the health outcomes of patients with difficult to access tumours by activating the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. The body’s immune system is already designed to kill cancer; the goal of my project is to enhance immunogenic cell death so that the tumour can no longer evade the immune system. We will be starting our research in mouse models, with the ultimate goal of finding a cure for human cancers which has minimal side effects.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


From patient to professor: Paying it forward

This former Toronto Sick Kids’ patient is dedicated to broadening his students’ perspectives on their role in reducing health disparities by better understanding the social determinants of health

Dr. Kevin Willison
Lakehead University

I began my formal journey into health care services research after completing a PhD at the Faculty of Public Health Sciences (University of Toronto). As a child, I spent long periods of time at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. It was there that I was introduced to the world of health care. Since then, my keen interest in both the health and social sciences continues, fueled by the experience I gained serving in research administration at Mt. Sinai Hospital (Toronto), teaching post-secondary students at such locations as the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences, and more recently, as an Adjunct Professor with Queen’s University and Lakehead University. Although there have been varied struggles, I have nonetheless gained something valuable — an interest to teach and address social determinants of health.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Improving end-of-life care in Canada

Dr. Isabelle Marcoux
University of Ottawa

If one thing is certain, it’s that sooner or later, we are all going to die. Yet, there is a persistent unease when talking about the end, which can result in a lack of preparation for this important stage of life. What are a person’s wishes in terms of end-of-life care? Do they have access to the care and services to which they are entitled? How will decisions be made and who will make them?

Dr. Isabelle Marcoux, in collaboration with other researchers and national organizations, is currently leading the first Canada-wide investigation into end-of-life medical practices. The study will identify the prevalence of certain medical practices before death (e.g., abstaining from and stopping treatment, relief of pain and other symptoms, palliative sedation and medical assistance in dying) and reveal the underlying decision-making process. A clearer picture of the clinical realities of end-of-life care in Canada will help us identify avenues to improve the care and services offered to end-of-life patients and their loved ones.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Nurse 2.0: TAVIE™ Traitement, Assistance Virtuelle Infirmière et Enseignement (Treatment, Virtual Nurse Assistance and Teaching)

The next generation of nurses are virtual thanks to the TAVIE™ computer platform

Ms. José Côté
University of Montreal

The roots of the nursing profession are in providing care and support for people who are sick, destitute and stigmatized.

In an age when technological advances make it possible to provide care in real time, we have developed a concept that enables virtual nursing interventions through a computer platform called TAVIE™, which stands for Traitement Assistance Virtuelle Infirmière et Enseignement in French (treatment, virtual nurse assistance and teaching). It consists of web-based interventions that are led by a virtual nurse and offer personalized educational support. The first application we developed was VIH-TAVIE, which helped people living with HIV manage their treatments.

About ten other applications have been designed to help a variety of patients who are living with chronic illnesses deal with their health challenges. TAVIE™ virtual nursing interventions help update care services and complement current health services and clinical monitoring.

Further reading

October 10, 2017


Promising practices, policies and principles that better support aging and care

Meeting the needs of Canada’s diverse populations by studying international models of care work and aging in community and long-term care settings

Dr. Tamara Daly
York University Centre for Aging Research and Education

Aging involves important opportunities and challenges for individuals, families, and our society as a whole. Dr. Tamara Daly’s research explores how to achieve health equity for diverse seniors and their care providers. As an Associate Professor, CIHR Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health, and Director of YU-CARE, Dr. Daly’s projects examine how the social and economic roles of women and men, and their tasks in everyday life, shape experiences of work and care. Leading national and international research teams, Dr. Daly investigates how relationships—and the conditions in which they take place—affect health and care outcomes. Connecting care organizations, community groups and policy partners, her research uncovers outcomes associated with models of care work and aging in community and long-term care settings. Her international studies reveal promising practices, policies and principles from around the world to better support aging and care in ways that meet the needs of Canada’s diverse populations.

Further reading

September 26, 2017


Time flies when you’re making a difference

Three decades of research generating knowledge that has translated into health benefits for Canadians

Dr. Eduardo L. Franco
McGill University

Trying to find if a virus can cause cancer and then producing the evidence base for preventing human papillomavirus (HPV)-associated cancers with vaccines, microbicides, or improved early detection via molecular approaches, has made the last 30 years of my life pass by very quickly. CIHR is partially to blame. It (and its predecessor, the Medical Research Council) has been an essential partner to our cancer epidemiology unit these past three decades. We feel privileged to have received the CIHR funding which enabled us to generate much of the knowledge that is now translated into health benefits for Canadians, such as HPV vaccination and better cervical cancer screening. Whether as a direct funder to our research or via scholarships to the more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that we have had since we began our research pursuits, CIHR has helped us to keep our eye on the prize while training the next generation of Canadian biomedical scientists.

Further reading

September 26, 2017


Uncovering the role of endothelin-1 in atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysms

Contributing to our understanding of the biology and effects of anti-hypertensive therapy

Dr. Ernesto L. Schiffrin
Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital and McGill University

As a physician-scientist investigating mechanisms and treatment of hypertension, the number one cause of burden of disease worldwide, I studied vessels biopsied from hypertensive, diabetic and chronic kidney disease patients’ subcutaneous tissue to understand their biology and the effects of anti-hypertensive therapy. Along with my team, we showed that endothelin-1 is involved in experimental hypertension and increases in arteries of severely hypertensive patients. Our mouse that was producing human endothelin-1 in endothelium had a vascular injury, and once it was crossed with apoE knockout mice, proved endothelin-1’s role in atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysms.

Now, we generated an inducible human endothelin-1 mouse that exhibits hypertension and kidney injury, leading to use of endothelin antagonists in resistant hypertension. After demonstrating participation of innate immunity and T regulatory lymphocytes in experimental hypertension, we showed the hypertensive role of gamma/delta T lymphocytes, and have as well-investigated microRNAs in the arteries and blood of hypertensive mice and humans, in order to find novel biomarkers and therapies.

Further reading

September 26, 2017


This psychiatric rehabilitation researcher is proud to be part of the solution

Developing better community supports for people who are living with serious mental illness such as schizophrenia

Dr. Abraham (Rami) Rudnick
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre

I was first introduced to psychiatric rehabilitation during my psychiatry residency, when I experienced first-hand the need to better support people in the community who were living with serious and other complex mental illness such as schizophrenia.

Psychiatric rehabilitation is a set of recovery-oriented, evidence-informed practices that allows people living with serious and other complex mental illness to acquire and maintain adaptive skills and supports so that they may enjoy success and a higher quality of life in their environment of choice.

Since my residency, I have led and collaborated on psychiatric rehabilitation research.

This includes:

Recently, I have been involved in research and development related to the use of smart technology (hardwired and mobile) for, by and with people who have mental illness, in order to facilitate their independent functioning and connectivity with formal and informal caregivers.

More psychiatric rehabilitation research is needed and I hope to continue to be part of that for a long time.

Further reading

September 26, 2017


Thinking outside of the box: Reimagining long-term residential care

Fresh eyes and a new perspective: Shifting the focus to what works and seeking out promising practices in long-term residential care that work

Dr. Pat Armstrong
York University

Frustrated by the bad press and the lack of attention directed toward ways of making life worth living in nursing homes, 25 researchers and 60 students set about reimaging long-term residential care.

Our interdisciplinary team includes an economist and an architect, a cultural theorist and a gerontologist, an epidemiologist, a philosopher, a political scientist, historians, social workers, sociologists, and health policy folks, as well as four physicians, two nurses and students from many other disciplines.

Some had worked in this field for a long time, while others brought with them fresh eyes. In teams of twelve we studied 27 homes in six different countries. In our constant, collective reflections on what we saw and what we heard from our observations and interviews, we learned how much we had been trained to look for what does not work rather than for promising practices. But now, we have produced a host of literature identifying ideas to reimagine care that are worth sharing.

Pat Armstrong, PI, “Reimagining Long-Term Residential Care: An International Study of Promising Practices”, funded by SSHRC and “Healthy Aging in Residential Places”, funded in Canada by CIHR.

Further reading

September 26, 2017


Talking about sexual health and well-being

Dr. Natalie Rosen
Dalhousie University

A mutually satisfying sexual relationship profoundly shapes life satisfaction, health, and well-being. Yet, over 50% of individuals report being dissatisfied with their sex life. Our aim at the Couples and Sexual Health Laboratory is to enhance understanding of how couples cope with sexual problems such as pain during sex and declines in sexual interest after having a baby. Through our nationally funded studies, we have identified several aspects of how couples interact with each other—such as their patterns of communication and motivations for having sex—that affect not only their sexual functioning, but also their psychological and relationship well-being. Together with collaborators at the University of Montreal, we developed the first empirically-based psychological treatment for couples in which the woman experiences pain during sex, and have plans to translate our findings from other sexual problems into similar interventions that can be shared widely to promote the sexual well-being of Canadians and beyond. 

September 26, 2017


Mapping and understanding the genome of breast cancer

Dr. Samah El Ghamrasni
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (Toronto)

The human genome consists of coding regions, or sequences coding for specific proteins as well as non-coding regions. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Trevor Pugh, I am studying the effect of alterations within non-coding regions of the genome that can affect gene expression. Breast cancer is considered the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in Canadian women. Several studies have yielded thousands of mutations in breast cancer; however, the functional relevance of mutations outside protein coding regions remains unknown. Therefore, there is a need to identify additional drivers of cancer development. I am currently mapping the non-coding regions of breast tumours and analyzing mutations within these regions that can affect the gene expression program. The identification of such mutations will allow a better understanding of the molecular mechanism behind the development and the progression of breast cancer leading to better therapeutic strategies for cancer patients.

September 26, 2017


A safe way to test if a child is allergic to antibiotics

Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan
Montreal Children’s Hospital, McGill University Health Centre

Up to 10% of children develop rashes while on antibiotics. The majority of these children are labelled as “allergic to penicillins” (or implicated drug) without further evaluation. The LAACTAM study (β-LActam and other Antibiotics allergy in Children: Tests, assessment and Management) was designed to assess the prevalence of antibiotic allergies among children referred to the allergy clinic at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Our work demonstrates that in this population history and currently standardized skin tests are less useful in predicting amoxicillin allergy. We exemplify that a supervised gradual administration of amoxicillin (oral challenge) is a useful and safe way to assess these children. Findings from this study have been published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2016 and this publication was named one of the top 10 most important articles in pediatrics by the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch.

September 26, 2017


Helping frontline health workers assess a patient’s vulnerabilities

Dr. Anne Andermann
McGill University

After completing medical training in family medicine and public health, I worked on research capacity strengthening at the World Health Organization in Geneva where I was a main contributing author of the World Health Report 2008 on increasing universal access to primary health care. Upon returning to Canada, I founded a research collaboration that aims to help frontline health workers address the underlying social causes of poor health through a combination of direct patient care, referral and advocacy for larger social change. Our research has identified concrete actions that frontline health workers can use to tackle social determinants in clinical practice. Our research has also shown that health workers who know how to ask about social challenges are more likely to report having helped their patients address these complex issues. The CLEAR toolkit is a clinical decision aid available free online in over a dozen languages.

September 26, 2017


Taking pleasure in mentoring the next generation of health research leaders

Dr. David Rosenblatt (principal investigator)
Ms. Camilah Maria Arbabian (undergraduate student)
Dr. David Watkins (research associate)
Ms. Lina Sobhi Abdrabo (graduate student)
McGill University

Exposure to brilliant professors at McGill University taught me how studying patients with rare genetic diseases can lead both to scientific discovery and to knowledge that can help in diagnosis and treatment. Over a career of more than forty years, my students and I have shown how vitamin B12 is handled by human cells and how blockages in the metabolic pathway cause genetic disease. As a result of this, Canada is recognized as a leader in this area of research; there are only two reference laboratories in the world for these illnesses-one in Zurich, Switzerland and one in Montreal. One of the pleasures of doing research in an academic setting is the exposure to the best and brightest students who have gone on to careers in science and medicine. To be able to provide mentorship and knowledge to the next generation of leaders rivals discovery in importance to Canada.

September 26, 2017


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