Annual Report 2009-2010

Knowledge to Action: CIHR-Supported Health Research at Work for Canada and Canadians

Table of Contents ]

Research Highlights 2009–10

Canadians decode breast cancer genome
In a world first, Canadian scientists revealed how breast cancer mutates as it evolves from a primary tumour to a metastasized state. CIHR-funded researchers Drs. Samuel Aparicio and Marco Marra of the BC Cancer Agency led the study, whose findings were published in Nature. By sequencing the genomes of tumour tissues donated by a woman at the beginning of her cancer and when it recurred nine years later, they showed the primary tumour was a mosaic of cells containing different mutations that then evolved. The discovery opens new doors to fight cancer, including personalized treatments targeting the genetic makeup of a patient's primary and metastatic tumours.

A way to overcoming the medical isotope crisis
Researchers at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke and the University of Sherbrooke, in collaboration with Advanced Cyclotron Systems Inc. of Richmond, B.C., showed that Technetium-99m produced on a medical cyclotron is comparable to that derived from a nuclear reactor such as the aging Chalk River facility. The researchers, whose findings were reported in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine, concluded that networks of medium-energy cyclotrons could produce Technetium-99m to complement the supply of medical isotopes traditionally provided by nuclear reactors and sustain the expanding need for other medical isotopes. The team at the Molecular Imaging Center of Sherbrooke was led by Drs. Brigitte Guérin and Johan E. van Lier.

Can/Am team tracks how immune system battles herpes
A team of Canadian and American researchers discovered how the cold-sore-causing Type 1 herpes simplex virus is identified and attacked by the body's immune system. University of Montreal researchers, working with Washington University and Pennsylvania State University scientists, found that the nuclear membrane of a cell in mice infected with the virus can indicate its presence and stimulate the immune system to go after it. Dr. Michel Desjardins, a Canada Research Chair in Cellular Microbiology, was senior author of the CIHR-supported study, which was published in Nature Immunology.

Antiviral offers hope to cancer patients
A common antiviral drug called ribavirin may help in treating cancer, according to a clinical trial led by Dr. Katherine Borden of the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer. The study, published in the journal Blood, found that patients with acute myeloid leukemia showed striking improvements – with partial or complete remissions – after they took ribavirin. The drug appears to inhibit the eIF4E gene, which malfunctions in 30% of cancers such as breast, prostate, colon and stomach cancer.

New blood: breakthrough could aid long-time diabetics
Dr. David Hess of the University of Western Ontario found a way to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels – a breakthrough that could one day help long-time diabetics who have peripheral artery disease because of reduced blood flow in their limbs. Using human bone marrow, Dr. Hess isolated three types of stem cells that work together to form new blood vessels. He purified them to eliminate contaminating cells and injected them into mice to improve blood flow and regenerate damaged leg capillaries. The results of the research, which was funded in part by CIHR, were published in the journal Blood.

Researchers advance the study of eye movement and FASD
CIHR funding enabled a Queen's University team led by Dr. James Reynolds to conduct a multicentre study to test the use of eye movement behaviours as a measure of brain function in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). The researchers travelled to Ontario and Alberta communities to conduct the study, which combined the use of eye movement tasks and neuropsychological tests. Findings from the study, which also involved researchers at the University of Alberta, St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, were published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.

Blood stem cell breakthrough by Montreal researchers
A team from the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer at University of Montreal succeeded in scaling up large quantities of stem cells from a small number of blood stem cells obtained from bone marrow. The multidisciplinary team, directed by CIHR-funded researcher Dr. Guy Sauvageau, published its findings in Cell in April 2009. The technique has been hailed as important in advancing the development of novel treatments for patients waiting for bone marrow transplants.

Doctoral student shows that women have 'classic' heart attack symptoms
Contrary to previous studies, new research results show that classic heart attack symptoms are equally common in men and women. Dr. Martha Mackay, a CIHR clinical research fellow who recently completed a PhD at the University of British Columbia, studied 305 patients undergoing angioplasty – a procedure to widen blood vessels that briefly produces symptoms similar to a heart attack. She found no gender differences in rates of chest discomfort or other typical symptoms. The results were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

Stroke breakthrough: cells live even if blood flow stops
A research team led by Dr. Michael Tymianski, a neurosurgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, found a way to suppress an ion channel called TRPM7 to keep rats' brain cells alive when blood flow is interrupted. The findings, published in Nature Neuroscience, could help prevent the devastating effects caused by stroke – in which the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients and cells die. The study was supported by CIHR.

Drug combo spares wheezing infants from hospital stays
A CIHR-funded study led by University of Ottawa's Dr. Amy Plint found that a combined therapy of dexamethasone and epinephrine – previously used separately with no consistent benefit – significantly reduced hospital admissions for infants who arrived at emergency departments with a wheeze-inducing infection called bronchiolitis. Results from the study, which involved 800 babies in eight Canadian pediatric hospitals, were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dendritic cells play key role in fighting Listeria
University of British Columbia (UBC) microbiologists and immunologists identified a key defence mechanism that the immune system uses against Listeria, the bacteria that can cause the food-borne infection listeriosis. The UBC team, led by Dr. Wilfred Jefferies, focused on dendritic cells that collect pathogen materials and present them to other parts of the immune system. Published in the online journal PLoS ONE, the CIHR-funded study could help researchers develop new strategies for treating bacterial infections and create vaccines against Listeria.

It's safe to delay interventions after mild heart attacks
A CIHR-funded study, led by Dr. Shamir R. Mehta of McMaster University, found that delayed angioplasty for most victims of threatened or mild heart attacks is as effective as immediate angioplasty for preventing heart attack, stroke or death. However, early angioplasty was found to be superior in the one-third of patients with higher risk features. Findings from the Canadian-led global randomized trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, have important implications for cardiac care and resource allocation.

Immune system could be manipulated to fight fat
A CIHR-supported study discovered that T-lymphocytes have a critical role to play in killing fat cells and controlling insulin resistance in obesity associated with Type 2 diabetes and related syndromes. Based on research in mouse models and patient tissue, the discovery suggests the body's immune system can be manipulated to fight obesity and diabetes. The study, whose senior author was Dr. Hans-Michael Dosch of Toronto's SickKids Hospital, included researchers from the University of Toronto, Mount Sinai Hospital and Stanford University in California. Results were published in Nature Medicine.

Stress can cause the brain to misread signals
Neurons in the hypothalamus – the part of the brain that produces hormones that react to stress and control body temperature, hunger, moods and sex drive – can misinterpret chemical "off" signals for "on" in response to acute stress. CIHR-supported researchers at the University of Calgary found that a protein known as KCC2 manages the process through which brain cells receive different chemical signals. Working with rats, the researchers discovered that stress affects KCC2 activity so that "off" becomes "on." Understanding how to reset this switch may hold the key to managing stress-related disorders. The study, led by Dr. Jaideep Bains, was published in Nature Neuroscience.

Diabetes drug could turbo-charge cancer therapies
A Canada/US research team found that a diabetes drug appears to make vaccines and cancer treatments more effective. The study, funded in part by CIHR, found that metformin, used to treat Type 2 diabetes, boosted the number of cancer-fighting T-cells in mice and left their immune systems better able to battle tumours. McGill University's Dr. Russell Jones co-authored the study with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania. It was published in Nature.

Date modified: