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. 

Fighting the most common fatal genetic disease affecting Canadian children and young people

Dr. John Hanrahan
McGill University

I have always been interested in biology and decided to pursue a career in research while working as an undergraduate summer student. I greatly enjoyed my zoology PhD project at UBC and switched into health research during my postdoctoral training at Yale. Since then I have worked at McGill on basic and applied aspects of the genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF).  My goals are to: 1) understand how salt is transported by airway epithelial cells, 2) determine the roles of chloride and bicarbonate in lung host defense, and 3) develop new therapeutics which can help people with CF. Together with a collaborator I cofounded the spin-off company Traffick Therapeutics, Inc. and obtained venture capital investment. Our company then developed drug candidates which significantly improved the effectiveness of currently available CF drugs in pre-clinical studies.  Those molecules are now being developed further by a large pharmaceutical company and I hope they will lead to a clinically-approved combination drug. We have also established a biobank of lung cells from people with CF and other respiratory diseases lungs and are now studying their responses to air pollution. 

September 18, 2017


Bringing hope to patients with colorectal cancer

Dr. Nicole Beauchemin
McGill University

My interest in health research was stimulated by my mother's devotion to her profession as a nurse: she was always looking for answers to why diseases occur. My laboratory has been working on the development and progression of colorectal cancer (CRC) and the identification of novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets. I was responsible for characterization of one of the best biomarkers for CRC, namely CarcinoEmbryonic Antigen (CEA). Following this work , we identified an important family of related proteins, one of which (CEACAM1) is conserved throughout all species and assumes several important functions in the normal setting such as immune recognition and tolerance, insulin resistance and lipid metabolism and differentiation of epithelial cells. CEACAM1 expression decreases in most early cancers but often gets re-expressed very abundantly as the cancer progresses to the metastatic state. Using mouse models and human tissue samples, we have investigated how decreasing CEACAM1 expression as an immune checkpoint inhibitor via specific antibodies can participate in activation of the immune system. The mouse models we have generated have made possible the development of novel therapeutic tools. We have also identified cohorts of human patients likely to benefit from these therapies. We believe that CIHR funding of our research has made it possible to undertake clinical trials within the next 18 months.

September 18, 2017


Confronting a global killer

Dr. Madhukar Pai
McGill University

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the greatest threats to human health and the most important infectious killer: a third of the world’s population is infected, nearly 1.8 million die each year, and four million patients are still not diagnosed and treated appropriately. The Pai Global TB Research Group at McGill University & Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre is focused on improving TB diagnosis and care, from diagnostics evaluation to policy, and country-level implementation of tools and policies, for vulnerable populations ranging from the Inuit in Nunavut to slum dwellers in Mumbai. Our goal is to use translational epidemiology and implementation science, so that products, knowledge and policies can translate into saved lives and, ultimately, population level impact. We are proud to be part of the McGill International TB Centre, a world leader in the interdisciplinary study of TB. Follow us on Twitter: @tb_pai @paimadhu

September 18, 2017


Improving our knowledge of rheumatic diseases

Dr. Sasha Bernatsky
McGill University Health Centre Research Institute

The potential links between cancer and rheumatic diseases is indeed fascinating. Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and NIH, leading an international team of over 30 researchers, I confirmed an altered cancer profile in systemic lupus (SLE) versus the general population. I am now pursuing novel objectives to assess if specific autoantibodies correlate with lung cancer, not only in SLE, but in the general population.

A second research interest is the possible association between air pollution and autoimmune rheumatic diseases. Pollution can enter the body through airways, triggering inflammatory responses. My team has shown associations between road-traffic density and SLE onset in Montreal, found links between pollution levels and SLE activity, and suggested industrial emissions as triggers of autoimmunity. Key areas that remain unknown are what types of pollution exposure might be most important, for both risk of antibody development and rheumatic disease risk.

September 18, 2017


Fending off super-bugs

Dr. Ayush Kumar
University of Manitoba

My laboratory works on understanding the molecular mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in bacterial pathogens. Antibiotic resistance is arguably one of the biggest challenges to human health that we face today. This is because, unless this problem is addressed immediately, we could soon be faced with a situation similar to the pre-antibiotic era where even minor infections were lethal. We also study the processes that lead to cross-resistance between household antimicrobial products, such as antimicrobial soap, and antibiotics. Our work shows that the use of antimicrobial products can select for bacteria that are less susceptible to clinically-relevant antibiotics. Lastly, my laboratory also studies the prevalence of antibiotic resistance in drinking- water samples from First Nation communities in Manitoba. Overall, we hope that our work in these areas will lead to knowledge that not only helps in finding new antibiotics, but also in slowing down the process by which bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.

Further reading

September 18, 2017


Deciphering the secrets of saliva

Dr. Walter L. Siqueira
Western University

Dr. Siqueira’s research team focus on the biology and biochemistry of saliva – a critically important area of oral health research. The initial stage of bacterial colonization of teeth is the binding of salivary components, which form a “pellicle” to which bacteria subsequently adhere and can potentially generate diseases as dental caries and periodontal disease, the two most common chronic diseases in the Canadian population. Dr. Siqueira’s research employs cutting-edge proteomics approaches to address this very early stage in these diseases’ pathogenesis.  His program, unique in Canada and one of only a few in the world, also addresses other areas of salivary research, such as the development of non-invasive salivary diagnostic tests for oral and systemic diseases such as Zika infection. His studies are highly translational, involving both clinical research in human subjects and advanced mass spectrometry approaches for developing of synthetic protein/peptides to use in toothpaste/mouthwash to inhibit oral diseases.

Further reading

September 18, 2017


From the molecule to the market: developing cancer treatments

Dr. Donald Poirier
Centre de recherche de CHU de Québec (Québec City)

After completing my studies in organic chemistry, I wanted to apply my knowledge for the preparation of small molecules and I specialized in medicinal chemistry. I then started a research program at CHU de Québec-Université Laval, which focused on the development of therapeutic agents. From the accomplishments of which I am proud, I will mention 1) the training of highly qualified personnel, 2) the development of effective tools for the preparation in solution or on solid support of steroidal derivatives and 3) the design of selective anticancer agents and several inhibitors of steroid hormone biosynthesis. Among the bioactive molecules resulting from this research, two stand out for having gone through all the stages of drug development (design, chemical synthesis, in vitro, in vivo and preclinical biological evaluations). The first is a new family of aminosteroids for treating various cancers, some of them with poor prognosis, and the second on is the first irreversible non-estrogenic steroidal inhibitor of 17β-HSD1 enzyme for treating breast cancer and endometriosis. For these two molecules, we are looking for a partner for the realization of clinical trials, the last stage of the development before the approval and marketing of a drug.

September 18, 2017


Social participation: better fostering active aging

Dr. Mélanie Levasseur
Université de Sherbrooke

Social participation is critical to promoting health in older adults but is restricted for approximately half of older Canadians. Social participation involves social and leisure activities, e.g., doing physical exercises, visiting friends and volunteering – activities that meet fundamental needs for interaction and self-accomplishment. Although roughly targeted by community organizations, health professionals and municipalities, few effective social participation interventions really reach vulnerable populations and are implemented in Canada. Studies funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research demonstrated the feasibility and positive impacts of three promising and complementary interventions helping, respectively, community organizations, health professionals, and municipalities target health and social participation. These interventions are: Personalized citizen assistance for social participation (individual intervention with volunteers), Lifestyle Redesign® (group intervention with occupational therapists) and age-friendly communities (population intervention on policies, services and structures). Since disabilities can be prevented or delayed, this research program points to one of the most promising avenues to live longer and better.

September 18, 2017


Looking at the whole picture: personalizing therapies for patients with chronic disease

Dr. Neeloffer Mookherjee
University of Manitoba

Because every person’s immune system is wired differently, patients don’t always respond to standard therapies of care. Using one type of therapy to address the needs of everyone is challenging, but understanding how genes and proteins behave in the body will make it easier to tailor therapies to help a person’s health needs.  Instead of studying one gene at a time, Dr. Neeloffer Mookherjee and her lab look at whole cells or organisms to understand inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Chronic diseases have public health implications, and in many cases standard therapies can compromise a patient’s normal ability to fight infections. By examining a small group of molecules called cationic host defense peptides (HDPs), her team is exploring ways to control inflammation from chronic diseases without compromising a person’s ability to fight infections.  Exploring ways to tailor therapies for asthma and arthritis is paving the way for better patient-oriented care. 

Further reading

September 18, 2017


Helping young patients find their voices

Dr. Roberta L. Woodgate
College of Nursing, University of Manitoba

The voices of young people have been largely silenced in health research, based on the premise that they are vulnerable and in need of protection. Dr. Roberta L. Woodgate of the College of Nursing, University of Manitoba, embraces a human rights-based approach to amplify the voices of young people (children and youth) and their families affected by ill-health. This includes young people and their families across a wide range of health conditions: mental illnesses, complex care needs and conditions, and chronic illnesses such as hemophilia and cancer. She has developed unique data collection and knowledge translation strategies to ensure that the best available evidence flowing from research is in the hands of those who influence the health of young people, including parents, families, healthcare professionals, decision makers, and young people. Such a comprehensive approach to sharing her research works to inform healthcare delivery, promote uptake, generate public dialogue, and address health-related stigma. Her work enables better coordination and integration of health and other systems, ultimately improving health outcomes for children in Canada.

Further reading

September 18, 2017


A humble servant to the Indigenous communities she serves

Dr. Carrie Bourassa
Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Aboriginal Peoples’ Health
Health Sciences North Research Institute (Sudbury)

I am Ts’iotaat Kutx Ayanaha s’eek (Morning Star Bear). I am Bear Clan, proud Anishnahbae Metis from Treaty 4 Territory. I am humbled to be a servant to the community – that’s what I am. I am an Indigenous community-based health researcher and I take direction from communities. Relevant and impactful Indigenous health research requires engagement with Indigenous communities and accommodation of Indigenous knowledge, languages, methodologies and protocols. Morning Star Lodge, funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), based in Regina, Saskatchewan, is guided by Elders, ceremony, and directed by Indigenous communities. The lab employs a reciprocal learning and holistic education model that includes Indigenous research methodologies; ownership, control, access and possession; and community-based research; as well as understanding the concepts of reciprocity, respect, relevance, responsibility, holism, and the processes of community control, capacity building, collaboration, cultural responsiveness and community engagement. These labs are original and innovative, in that they employ a mentorship model and provide support and training to undergraduate and graduate students as well as the creation of a community lab. We are opening another CFI-funded lab in Sudbury this fall – the Cultural Safety Evaluation, Training and Research Lab – a sister lab to Morning Star Lodge.

Further reading

September 7, 2017


“Better Nights, Better Days” and “Teacher Help”: Harnessing the potential of e-Health

Developing evidence-based care interventions to improve the health and well-being of Canadian children

Dr. Penny Corkum
Dalhousie University

There are many barriers to the uptake and adherence of evidence-based interventions for children’s mental health problems. eHealth interventions have the potential to increase access to evidence-based care in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

Dr. Corkum and trainees in the Corkum LABS (Learning, Attention, Behaviour, and Sleep), along with many amazing co-investigators, collaborators, and partners have been developing, evaluating, and working to sustain two “families” of eHealth interventions. The first is an eHealth intervention called Better Nights, Better Days, which is for parents of children with insomnia.  This program is currently being evaluated through a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with more than 500 Canadian English and French speaking parents enrolled. Next, we will be tailoring this program for parents of children with neurodevelopmental disorders.  

The second eHealth program is called Teacher Help, which aims to provide classroom teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver effective programs for children with neurodevelopmental disorders. This program will be evaluated through a national RCT starting in October 2017.

Our next step is to develop an integrated intervention so that parents, teachers, and health care providers are providing coordinated and evidence-based care to improve the health and well-being of Canadian children.

September 7, 2017


What do a paramedic, community health nurse, police officer, shelter worker and immigrant physician have in common?

They are all passionate about solving community health problems and making a difference by empowering communities

Heather Rushton
MicroResearch Nova Scotia, IWK Health Centre (Halifax)

Imagine a paramedic, a community health nurse, a policeman, a shelter worker, and an immigrant physician are introduced for the first time and are challenged to find a community health problem that they are all passionate about solving.

This is MicroResearch NS – a novel project involving community members learning to tackle the health problems they experience every day.

The MicroResearch concept was developed in Africa, by Drs. Noni MacDonald and Bob Bortolussi of Dalhousie University. Now in Nova Scotia, MicroResearch teaches community members how to solve local health problems through measures that fit local culture, context and resources to bring about improved health in Nova Scotia communities. 

MicroResearch NS has examined issues ranging from addressing the immediate needs of suicidal youth following hospital discharge, to soft drink consumption in the Paqtnkek First Nations reserve, to what alcohol-addicted homeless men want to improve their lives.

The MicroResearch NS program can and is making a difference, empowering communities through their own research.

September 7, 2017


A diversity of perspectives, interventions and approaches converge to create solutions

Devoted to reducing the burden of chronic disease in Manitoba, the DEVOTION team is accelerating discovery research

Dr. Jon McGavock and Dr. Andrew Halayko
Developmental Origins of Diseases in Children Network, Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba

DEVOTION (The Developmental Origins of Chronic Diseases in Children) Network is a team of more than 60 researchers, community partners, and policy makers who share a common vision: to improve maternal and child health and reduce the burden of chronic diseases in Manitoba.

The DEVOTION network is organized into four distinct pillars of research (clinical research, policy, population health and basic science), and solutions are found within a diversity of perspectives, interventions and approaches.

At the core of the DEVOTION Network is the voice of our community partners, including an Indigenous advisory council, that guides decision making and our approach to working with indigenous communities across Manitoba.

Whether our research is focused on promoting breastfeeding for preventing type 2 diabetes, identifying unique markers of lung disease, or promoting early oral childhood health, the DEVOTION Network has created a pipeline for taking discoveries in early childhood research and directing findings in practice/policy to benefit Canadians sooner.

Further reading

September 7, 2017


Supporting nurses: Supporting safe health care

The largest group of healthcare professionals in Canada, nurses rise to the challenges facing healthcare systems on a daily basis

Jennifer Jackson
King’s College London (UK)

I am a Registered Nurse studying resilience and nursing work and completing my PhD at King’s College London, in the United Kingdom, which has been a very valuable experience.

We have lots of challenges in the Canadian healthcare system, and we can learn from other countries that are also facing similar issues. In my research, I am learning how nurses adapt their work safely to pressures within healthcare systems.

Nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals in Canada, and when we support nursing practice, we support safe healthcare. While we want to have the best possible working conditions for nurses and all staff, it is often a reality that we are short-staffed, or have limited budgets.

By understanding how to adapt work in less than ideal situations, we can support safe care for patients across Canada.

September 7, 2017


Celebrating 7 years of SyMBIOTA (Synergy in Microbiota) research

Studying the link between the formation of our complex ecosystem of gut microbes during infancy and our future health

Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj
University of Alberta

With gratitude to the women, their babies and families who participated in the CHILD birth cohort, to Malcolm Sears and his team who created it, and to funding from CIHR, AllerGen NCE and the CIHR Microbiome Initiative, Anita Kozyrskyj (University of Alberta) and James Scott (University of Toronto) are celebrating 7 years of SyMBIOTA (Synergy in Microbiota) research.

SyMBIOTA’s goal is to study medical and societal interventions that shape the formation of our complex ecosystem of gut microbes during infancy and our future health.

To this end, the SyMBIOTA team has contributed evidence on cesarean delivery and antibiotic treatment (honoured by the CMAJ Bruce Squires award; translated in the Microbirth documentary, textbooks and online course), and recently, on household pets (#1 microbiome BMC paper; reported in Nature, Reuters, TIME and may consumer magazines) and indoor cleaning products. All of these infant exposures have been linked to food allergy, asthma or obesity.

Further reading

September 7, 2017


Patient partners: Real people contributing to real research

Giving voice to the concerns of patients and caregivers around the decision making table

Annette McKinnon
Toronto

The first time I was involved in research I was helping Twitter friends on a project about eHealth Ethics. I was thrilled to find out that their project was “real” research. They named me as a co-author for my contributions.

Since then, I have been involved in research as a patient partner on research teams, a presenter at conferences, as a grant reviewer, and as a Patient and Community Engagement Research (PaCER) graduate whose team produced a research paper.

With an informed view of the way research is done I realize the amount of work and organization that is involved. It has also confirmed my belief in the value of the patient/caregiver voice.

Patients and the public own the health care system; when there are decisions to be made at any level, we should be at the table.

I hope this will become a standard in every research project and decision.

September 7, 2017


An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure

Informing the prevention of sport-related injuries in youth and young adults

Oluwatoyosi Owoeye
University of Calgary

I am postdoctoral fellow at the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre with the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary.  I have combined expertise in sport physiotherapy and sport injury epidemiology. The motivation for my research endeavours is in my strong belief that “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

My research focuses on the generation and implementation of knowledge that informs the prevention of sport-related injuries and its consequences in youth and young adults. My current research involves understanding the aetiology (the investigation or attribution of the cause or reason for something) of ankle sprain injuries and its consequences, such as post-traumatic osteoarthritis. In addition, I am researching how to develop injury countermeasures for youth playing basketball and soccer, including strategies for preventing common overuse injuries.

I am also involved in implementation research relating to how sport injury prevention evidence is best translated to practice for the greatest public health impact possible.

September 7, 2017


Finding ways to help Canadian moms cope with depression

Reducing the negative effects on families caused by mothers grappling with mental illness

Dr. Simone Vigod
Women’s College Hospital (Toronto)

Mental illness affects 1 in 5 pregnant and postpartum Canadian women, and can have long-standing negative effects on maternal, child and family well-being. My research aims to identify and understand health care outcomes and access disparities in this area, and to find solutions to address them.

My population health research found rising pregnancy rates among women with serious mental illness and is informing ways to ensure optimal maternal and child health outcomes in this group. My population health and clinical research identified barriers in access to care for perinatal depression and anxiety.

We are now testing a suite of online services to address these barriers. This includes online psychotherapy and an electronic patient decision tool to help women decide about antidepressant use in pregnancy. We have enrolled hundreds of women in these online research studies from across Canada in a short period of time – demonstrating the urgent need to broadly disseminate those that prove effective.

Further reading

September 7, 2017


Wanted: Aspiring detectives to pursue careers in health research

The saga of one super sleuth who is making a difference

Donna Martin
University of Manitoba

Growing up, I aspired to be a detective – investigating and searching for the truth. This aspiration transposed into my role as a nurse researcher. My passion for health equity and social justice informs my research and helps shine light on health issues facing marginalized populations. 

Currently, I am co-principal investigator in a 3-year community-driven project based on the 2011 human-made flooding of Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba. We are documenting youth and Elders’ health outcomes and making recommendations for future policies. Community members’ physical health has been impacted by mould, overcrowding, lack of recreation, destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods; their mental health has been impacted by separation from family and loss of community.

Community members, in the aftermath of forced relocation, have demonstrated immense strength and resiliency despite all odds. Our findings will inform future policies regarding water control, health and social services, and disaster management as well as facilitate community development.

September 7, 2017


Helping patients with evidence

A career dedicated to identifying the gaps in emergency care

Dr. Brian H. Rowe
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health
Clinician and Researcher at the University of Alberta

I come from a family committed to publically funded health care and research, so medical training was an appealing career for me. I first completed an undergraduate Biology degree at Queen’s University and Medical School at the University of Ottawa. I trained in Family and Emergency Medicine at the University of Ottawa so that I could both understand patterns of diseases and apply best evidence into practice. As an emergency physician, I encounter many patients with cardio-respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma, heart failure, COPD, pneumonia, angina, atrial fibrillation, etc.) and injuries (e.g., falls, car crashes, assaults, etc.). Managing these patients in an emergency situation provides the opportunity to identify gaps in care and these areas have occupied my research interest for my entire career. After obtaining graduate training in Clinical Epidemiology from McMaster University, I worked in Northern Ontario teaching, conducting evidence syntheses, a clinical trial involving patients with asthma and exploring ways to prevent injuries. Since my move to the University of Alberta in 1997 I have been given the unique opportunity to expand my program of research and continue to practice clinical medicine. Our Clinical, Health Services and Public Health research results have direct relevance to patients/families as well as clinicians and policy makers. The unique value of patient-oriented research is the way it can improve care, patient outcomes and efficiency within the health care system.

Further reading

August 24, 2017


Passion: The genesis of genius

Following a passion for viruses down the road to discovery

Dr. Jason Kindrachuk
University of Manitoba

As a student at the University of Saskatchewan, I was captivated by media and literary accounts of Ebola virus outbreaks, including “The Hot Zone.. I was able to follow my passion for emerging/re-emerging viruses at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, working within high-containment laboratories.

In 2014, when the devastating Ebola virus epidemic took hold of Western Africa, I felt compelled to offer assistance with outbreak response efforts and participated in diagnostic support efforts in Liberia. Now in Winnipeg, my research focuses on improving our understanding of how molecular events within cells relate to disease severity and poor clinical outcomes for viruses, including Ebola and influenza.

As many of these viruses disproportionally effect developing nations, my research also focuses on building collaborations with researchers and trainees from these nations to increase our preparedness for future viral outbreaks.

Ultimately, our research will provide a better understanding of disease pathogenesis, improve patient care and facilitate the discovery of new therapeutics or treatment strategies.

August 4, 2017


I have a dream

Helping Indigenous communities heal from intergenerational trauma and substance abuse

Dr. Teresa Naseba Marsh
Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Laurentian and Lakehead Universities

During my PhD, I embarked upon a project that would benefit Indigenous communities and help with healing from intergenerational trauma (IGT) and substance use (SUD).

My interest in the field of IGT and SUD came about as a result of my lived experiences in South Africa during colonization, oppression and the apartheid era.

I dreamt about the healing that could come, and realized that it is possible if we all join hands and continue to build healthy communities and familial connections.

The purpose of this study is to explore whether the blending of Aboriginal traditional healing practices and a mainstream treatment model, Seeking Safety, resulted in a reduction of IGT symptoms and SUD. A mixed-methods design was used to evaluate the impact of a 13-week Indigenous Healing and Seeking Safety implementation project with 17 participants completing the study and all demonstrating improvement in the all the symptoms of IGT and SUD.

My hope is to continue to do this work and to teach Indigenous clinicians how to use the new treatment model.

August 4, 2017


My journey as a health researcher: A time for reflection and celebration

Canadian researchers’ contribution to world health is something we can all be proud of!

Ms. Aimée Dubeau
The Hospital for Sick Children

I am excited at the opportunity to reflect on my health research journey for Canada 150.

My research journey started as a Waterloo co-op student when I was placed with Statistics Canada to work on the Residential Care Facilities Survey. From there, my next placement was with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada where I worked in disability research. This sparked my interest in clinical research and the people and stories behind the statistics. I worked for the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute conducting stroke recovery research, followed by a fun summer at Health Canada doing research on the environment and air pollution, as experienced by cyclists. When I graduated, I had a diverse range of research skills and started working as a research assistant with the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study, which I now coordinate.

My story is a great example of the variety of different kinds of research Canada contributes to.

August 4, 2017


The heart sees what is invisible to the eye

Engaging in mental health research to remove the cloak of invisibility and shed light on mental illnesses

Terry-Lee Marttinen
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

I have an invisible disability.

I first became involved in health research after a family member was diagnosed with early psychosis, at a specialized youth psychiatric research program. I participated in caregiver-focused studies and sat on the Early Psychosis Intervention Ontario Network policy task group at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) for several years.

Engaging in mental health research and policy development led me to study the social dimensions of schizophrenia, informed by emerging viral genetics. I integrated youth and family perspectives, social research, and human endogenous retrovirus (HERV-W) science to create a gene-environment model of inflammatory schizophrenia while conducting my Honours thesis work at Algoma University in 2012.

In 2014, interdisciplinary medical history research at Oxford Brookes University (OBU) linked malnutrition, associated with gendered racial discrimination, to co-interacting HERV-W and common viruses, implicated in genomic change and schizophrenia. I hope to return to OBU to conduct intersectoral psychiatric genetic PhD research.

August 4, 2017


Food for thought

Exploring how nutrition can promote healthy brain aging

Dr. Nafisa M. Jadavji
Carleton University

Vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is the second leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The clinical presentation of VCI varies and there are no treatments for VCI since the actual pathology remains unknown. Nutrition is a risk factor for VCI, specifically high levels of homocysteine, a common amino acid in blood.  B vitamins, such as folic acid, can reduce levels of homocysteine.

My research program focuses on how nutrition affects the brain. Our results suggest that it is not elevated levels of homocysteine making the brain more vulnerable to VCI, but rather, a deficiency in folic acid. In the cell, folic acid is involved in essential functions that help the cell survival.

Reduced levels of folic acid may be changing the cells in the brain, making them more vulnerable to damage. More research is required to understand how nutrition can be used to promote healthy brain aging.

August 4, 2017


Championing child-friendly health policies: Giving children a voice

Tough TASK masters: Informing decisions on children’s health care services with the best-in-class evidence

Dr. Wendy Ungar
The Hospital for Sick Children

Why do health care costs keep rising? How can we continue to afford it? Is all of the new technology increasingly used in patient care actually making us healthier? With a focus on genomics, these are some of the questions that Dr. Wendy Ungar and her team at Technology Assessment at Sick Kids (TASK) address in her research investigating the cost-effectiveness of technologies, treatments, and services for children.

As important as examining the cost-effectiveness of new technologies is, developing the appropriate tools and methods to ensure that this research can be done well while working with children is an equally important part of TASK’s mandate.

With funding from CIHR and others, Dr. Ungar and her team are ensuring that the best-quality evidence is used to inform funding decision for children’s health care.

August 4, 2017


New hope for youth coping with depression

Pioneering the use of brain stimulation to fight depression in youth

Dr. Frank P. MacMaster
University of Calgary

One in nine Canadians aged 15 to 24 suffers from depression—this is the highest rate of depression in any age group. Depression has negative impacts at home, at school, with friends and with family, and the impacts can be felt for decades. Unfortunately, front line treatments only work in about half of youth, leaving many ill and vulnerable to suicide—the second leading cause of death in this age group.

Depression threatens their very lives.

Our lab has pioneered the use of brain stimulation to fight depression in youth. This treatment offers new hope for those who are suffering. Our work has also helped to spearhead the effort to bring brain stimulation to Alberta as a clinical service.

From a study participant: “…brain stimulation truly saved my life, it scares me to think of what I may have done if I hadn't had the opportunity to participate.”

August 4, 2017


The role of health research on the pathway to reconciliation

The strength and resiliency of Indigenous people is an inspiration for us all

Ms. Kaela Anne Schill
Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society, Kelowna, B.C.

I am working on my Master of Science thesis project with the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society. Our project explores the knowledge and experience of mental wellness among Urban Indigenous adults aged 55 and over.

Through sharing circles and interviews, participants are leading us to an understanding about the barriers to mental wellness, including historical and contemporary colonial policy, social inequity, intergenerational trauma, and systemic and individual racism. They have also emphasized the strength and resiliency of the community as they fight to achieve mental wellness for themselves despite these barriers.

As a non-Indigenous researcher working with an Indigenous population, Canada 150 poses an opportunity to critically reflect on my role in research, and the role of research in reconciliation. It is a reminder to be conscious of the oppression and violence perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in the name of research, to use my research to advocate for the correction of this historical injustice, and to encourage other health researchers and professionals to do the same.

August 4, 2017


Transforming a parent’s heartbreak into action

Devoting a career to giving other parents of seriously ill children the gift of extra time

Dr. Emilio Alarcon
University of Ottawa Heart Institute

For most of his life, my son has faced medical conditions, including cancer. As a parent, this experience made me realize the urgent need for better technologies and devices in the clinic, so I decided to pursue an academic career in Canada, in order to give back to others the gift of extra time that I have had with my son.

My research team is currently developing new materials for treating chronically infected and non-healing wounds, which will improve the quality of life and reduce the amputation rate for the many patients living with diabetic foot ulcers. We are also working on new technologies for the functional and rapid repair of damaged tissue, including the heart, skin, and cornea. My team is also investigating how nanomaterials can be combined with natural polymers to produce new materials with better properties for regenerative medicine.

We always have patients and families in mind; and we continuously aim to provide practical and clinically usable technologies for our country.

August 4, 2017


Patient Navigator

Facilitating the integration of primary care and community services

Dr. Simone Dahrouge
University of Ottawa and Bruyère Research Institute

We are interested in understanding how primary healthcare services can be organized to improve the quality and equity of care delivery.

Our current project, Access to Community Resources (ARC), aims to enhance equitable access to community health and social resources that can help individuals achieve their health goals. These services, such as falls prevention, smoking cessation and health self-management for persons with chronic conditions are under-utilized because many people face barriers to access. These barriers include challenges navigating the system, transportation restrictions, language barriers, or other limitations related to their social context.

ARC is introducing a Patient Navigator in family practices to facilitate the integration of primary care and community services. The Patient Navigator will assist patients referred to these services by their primary care provider to overcome barriers to access and reach the resources they require. It will also support information continuity across the two sectors.

We anticipate that patient navigation will reduce unmet health needs.

August 4, 2017


How child maltreatment hurts us all

Why it shouldn’t hurt to be a child: Being mistreated can have lifelong consequences

Dr. Tracie O. Afifi
University of Manitoba

Child maltreatment is a major public health problem associated with mental and physical health impairment in childhood, adolescence, and extending throughout the lifespan. However, preventing child maltreatment remains a difficult task. The effectiveness of many existing prevention programs is largely unknown and prevention programs for some child maltreatment types are not well developed.

Dr. Afifi is currently collecting and analyzing new data to better understand child maltreatment within a Canadian context and how it relates to health and health services. Her work is focused on identifying protective factors associated with a decreased likelihood of child maltreatment and an increased likelihood of improved health outcomes following child maltreatment. She is applying this knowledge to develop and evaluate new evidence-based intervention strategies to determine effectiveness in preventing child maltreatment and its associated effects. Dr. Afifi’s vision is to prevent child maltreatment and thereby change a child’s trajectory, improve health, and strengthen families.

Further reading

July 28, 2017


OASIS: A made-in-Ontario asthma monitoring system with big aspirations

A breath of fresh air: The Ontario Asthma Surveillance Information System (OASIS) studies the impact of air pollution and climate on disease

Dr. Teresa To
The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute, University of Toronto

My team, based at The Hospital for Sick Children, pioneered a population-based asthma registry called OASIS (Ontario Asthma Surveillance Information System). Established in 2003, OASIS follows over 2 million Ontarians with physician-diagnosed asthma and reports that 1 in 4 children are affected by asthma and 1 in 3 persons will develop asthma in their lifetime.

Today, OASIS is one of the most promising prototypes for the development of a national asthma monitoring system, providing asthma statistics including incidence, prevalence, mortality and health services use. 

Our team also combines multiple population databases to study the impact of air pollution and climate on disease progression such as asthma to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. With this research, we aim to identify geographical regions and populations at risk (such as immigrants, lower socioeconomic groups) to target community-based interventions designed to reduce disease morbidity and to improve health outcomes and quality of life.

Further Reading

July 28, 2017


And baby makes three: Researchers helping couples with fertility problems to conceive

Defining the stages of human development helps the success rate of fertility clinic physicians working with couples eager to become parents

Dr. Andrew J. Watson
University of Western Ontario

Our research is focused on defining the mechanisms controlling the earliest stages of development, from fertilization, to uterine implantation, and early pregnancy. We use animal models and translate our discoveries to the human context, in order to assist the clinician’s ability to apply more effective ways of helping couples with fertility problems to conceive. Research has demonstrated that the very beginning of a human’s development cycle has a major impact on not only whether pregnancy will occur, but also on the health of the fetus, newborn, child, and even on the susceptibility to disease later on in life. It is vitally important to ensure that safe and efficient methods are applied in fertility clinics to ensure that the assistance provided to couples with fertility challenges not only allows them to start their family, but also ensures that their family will enjoy the best health possible throughout their lifetime.

July 28, 2017


When your heart skips a beat

Atrial Fibrillation is one of the most common forms of abnormal heart rhythm and a major cause of stroke

Dr. William McIntyre
McMaster University

Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm problem and is a major risk factor for a disabling stroke. In many patients, AF comes and goes which makes it difficult to catch and diagnose. AF is often detected for the first time after surgery. When this happens, there are two possibilities. AF could be a normal response to stress that will go away when the patient recovers. On the other hand, AF detected after surgery could also mean that the patient is at risk for stroke and might benefit from medication to lower their risk.

Our group is giving portable heart rhythm monitors to patients who have had brief episodes of AF after surgery and comparing them to patients who had surgery but did not have AF. Our goal is to develop a strategy to identify which patients truly have AF and can benefit from stroke prevention medications.

July 28, 2017


Becoming the change we wish to see in the world

One researcher’s personal journey to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes

Dr. Erna Snelgrove-Clarke
Dalhousie University

I chose health research because I want to see change. I want to support a more consistent use of best evidence to improve maternal newborn outcomes. We need to work collaboratively, using best practices to strategize for change. We can create a climate and a context for best practice when we value health, research evidence, patient voice, and clinician expertise.

Despite the availability of research evidence, a variety of health practices are inconsistent. Patients see differences in provider practices such as listening to the baby’s heartbeat during labour, managing the second stage of labour when a mom is ready or getting ready to push, and breastfeeding support.

Why do patients see these differences? Many factors influence the use of best evidence; the evidence itself, clinicians, context, and the inclusion of the patient in decision-making. Bringing these factors together for consistent application of evidence is challenging, exciting, and essential for improving health outcomes.

July 28, 2017


Men’s health: Out of the shadows into the spotlight

Creating safe spaces and gender-sensitized programs to advance the health of men and their families

Dr. John Oliffe
University of British Columbia

In 2003, Dr. John Oliffe founded the Men’s Health Research program with the goal of emphasizing the positive elements of multi-faceted, culturally diverse masculinities, such as helping others, leadership, empathy and accountability. Along with his dedicated research team, which is based out of the University of British Columbia’s School of Nursing, the program has grown to include a suite of empirically informed, innovative interventions, and has championed knowledge translation activities that focus on a variety of men’s health issues. This includes health promotion and e-health interventions around men’s depression and suicide, psychosocial prostate cancer care, and smoking cessation.

By applying strength-based approaches to affirm and leverage positive masculinities, the Men’s Health Research program offers safe spaces and gender-sensitized programs to advance the health of men and their families.

July 21, 2017


A career devoted to understanding the placenta: A key element in the fetal life-support system

Over the course of a career spanning four decades, Dr. Peeyush Lala has shed light on “The Fascinating Story of the Placenta”

Dr. Peeyush K. Lala
University of Western Ontario

My research during the last four decades has led to a fascinating story about “placenta,” the organ that nourishes a fetus by exchanging oxygen and nutrients from the maternal arterial blood. This research has helped to resolve the dual paradox of “placenta as an alien graft in the mother’s uterus, which remains protected from maternal immune attack” and “placenta as a highly invasive tumour-like structure, which unlike tumours, does not destroy the uterus.”

The culmination of forty years of research led to the discovery of mechanisms that allow for the development of placental cancers, a novel immunotherapy of certain cancers, and the discovery of a novel predictive blood biomarker of “preeclampsia,” a serious pregnancy-associated maternal disease of placental origin.

July 21, 2017


Advocating for “hands on” approaches to cancer prevention

Researchers working to make the possibility of preventing cancer a reality

Dr. Carolyn Gotay
University of British Columbia

Cancer is one of the greatest health threats faced by our country today. About one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. This year, more than 80,000 Canadians will lose their lives to cancer. We know that about half of cancer cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes – that is to say; not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, keeping physically active, eating better, drinking within guidelines (if at all), and getting enough sleep. Our research at the Centre of Excellence in Cancer Prevention has shown that a variety of strategies can lead to positive changes to reduce cancer risk: “new technologies” incorporating computer-generated, tailored messages; “hands on” approaches such as cooking classes for prostate cancer patients and their spouses; and a personal touch, like an individual sleep coach. Much of cancer is preventable, and our research works toward making that possibility a reality.

July 21, 2017


Protecting the mind and body against cancer with yoga and meditation

Improving the physical and emotional well-being of cancer patients and survivors

Dr. Linda E. Carlson
University of Calgary

I began working in supportive cancer care 20 years ago. As a clinical psychologist working in the area of psychosocial oncology I wanted to help people cope with debilitating symptoms and side-effects that so often linger well beyond treatment, like fatigue, pain, sleep problems, anxiety, stress, depression and fears of cancer recurrence.

My team and I developed a program combining training in mindfulness meditation and yoga, and conducted a series of nationally funded studies showing benefit for patients, including improved mood, stress reduction, better quality of life, improved sleep, and even changes to their stress hormones, immune function and DNA structure. We were the first in the world to report the scientific benefits of meditation in cancer care, and since that time, programs offering similar services have sprung up all around the world.

Mindfulness: A key for personal and collective evolution, a Tedx Talk with Linda E. Carlson

July 21, 2017


Free to be me, unconditionally

Working with dogs and horses to help people struggling with addiction on their road to recovery

Dr. Colleen Anne Dell
University of Saskatchewan

Our team is working alongside canine companions and helpful horses to better understand the human-animal bond and its impact on wellness within the addictions field. It is well established that connection is important for healing from addictions, but this can be very difficult for people who have been judged and stigmatized because of their disease. In an attempt to overcome this, our team works with clients, individuals in residential treatment programs, prisons and methadone clinics, along with their animal helpers.

As one client simply stated “The therapy dog makes me feel comfortable, so I can just be me.” When this happens, it opens up a unique opportunity for a therapeutic connection within a health care system that has been designed to help, but is known to also isolate. Our CIHR-funded team is honoured to be able to contribute to this unique understanding, alongside our various community and academic partners.

You can follow our adventures on Facebook at Anna-Belle & Subie's Adventures.

July 21, 2017


Demystifying health, empowering patients

Dr. Holly Witteman
Laval University

Our group designs, builds, and tests ways to help people make decisions about their health. We want to help people make health decisions that are informed by the best available medical evidence and align with what matters to the person or people affected by the decision. This can be hard to do for lots of reasons, including complicated statistics, decisions that are emotionally difficult, and short clinical visits. Electronic decision support tools can help if they are well-designed and easy to access and use. To build such tools, we work with patients, doctors, nurses, and others to refine ideas. We do iterative design and usability testing in our lab, then user experience testing in clinics and people’s homes, and online randomized controlled trials to make sure tools are helpful. We will make these tools available to people across Canada in different ways, including in patient portals to electronic health records.

June 27, 2017


The protective power of breast milk

Dr. Meghan Azad
University of Manitoba

My lab studies the early-life determinants of lifelong health. Our current research is focused on the role of maternal nutrition and infant feeding in the development and prevention of chronic disease. Our results from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Study show that breastfeeding is associated with reduced risks of asthma and obesity in early childhood. To understand how this works, we are analyzing breast milk to measure nutrients, immune factors, microbes, and hormones – and studying their impact on the developing infant gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in infants' intestines). This research will guide new strategies for health promotion and disease prevention, help optimize nutrition guidelines for mothers and babies, and inform related policies to support maternal-child health.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


When our DNA mutates, cancer can be the result

Dr. Mani Larijani
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Dr. Larijani researches processes that mutate the DNA of our genes. In health, these processes change specific genes in immune cells to make them better at fighting infections. Unfortunately, these processes often mutate bystander genes. When this happens, it causes and exacerbates cancer by mutating cancer cells so they become aggressive and resistant to treatment. Dr. Larijani's work has several aims: first, to visualize what these DNA-mutating processes look like at the very instant of causing cancer; second, to distinguish how they operate in healthy versus cancer cells; third, to determine how they impact immune response. Dr. Larijani's lab recently made a paradigm-changing discovery that has attracted international attention. They found that DNA-mutating processes constantly transition between two different forms: a dangerous cancer-causing version, and an inactive harmless state. Based on this, Dr. Larijani is designing a new type of cancer drug, and improving how the immune system recognizes cancer.

June 26, 2017


A window on the circuitry of the brain

Dr. Kurt Haas
University of British Columbia

My lab in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at the University of British Columbia is highly innovative in our approach to science. We develop techniques for controlling gene expression in individual brain cells, and we design and build super-fast microscopes capable of capturing the dynamic 3D activity and growth of neurons in the developing brains of animals when they are awake. We use these techniques to answer fundamental questions of how functional brain circuits form and encode information, as well as to understand how these events go wrong to produce disease. I am particularly interested in the origins of autism and epilepsy. For autism, my lab is identifying underlying gene mutations and determining precisely how they alter brain circuit structure and function. We expect our findings will be the basis for efforts to develop therapeutics to prevent or treat this disorder.

June 26, 2017


Helping young brains recover from concussion

Dr. Roger Zemek
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute

Visits for pediatric concussion have quadrupled over the past decade. While most children recover within a few weeks, 30% of children experience ongoing symptoms that can affect quality of life. Dr. Roger Zemek and his research team at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) led a study across nine emergency departments of the Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC) Network that studied over 3000 children with concussion. We can now better predict which children have higher risk for persistent post-concussive symptoms. We also learned that children who return to physical activity sooner have a lower risk of ongoing symptoms than those who rested more. Both of these studies were published in the highly-esteemed Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2016. His team is now studying when is the best timing and type of physical activity following concussion to improve recovery. Ultimately, this evidence will help physicians design individualized, evidence-informed treatment plans for this common brain injury.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


The far-reaching effects of bullying

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt
University of Ottawa

Violence destroys individuals, communities, religions, and national economies. It creates physical and mental health problems and impacts productivity. Dr. Vaillancourt’s program of research documents the causes, developmental course, and consequences of violence, with a focus on bullying. For far too long, bullying has been considered by many to be a normal part of childhood; but research on the long-term effects of bullying discredits this myth, documenting that the negative impact of bullying is enduring and far-reaching. Dr. Vaillancourt is currently examining the influence of bullying on mental health by following a large cohort of Canadians from childhood to adulthood. Her research is showing that, for many, poor outcomes are the result of being abused by peers and not a precipitator of poor treatment. These results highlight an urgent need to prioritize the reduction of bullying as a way of improving mental health.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


Why some kids get asthma and others don’t

Dr. Stuart Turvey
University of British Columbia

Lungs are for life, and we don't think about them much. Yet even small babies and children can have serious lung diseases, like asthma. In Canada, about 1 in 3 people has asthma and it often starts in childhood. Asthma has no cure. Even if they feel fine, people with asthma still have the disease and it can flare up at any time. It isn't clear why only some people get asthma, but we think it is probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors. Dr. Stuart Turvey, in partnership with many clinicians and researchers across Canada, co-leads the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) study. The CHILD Study−a nationwide birth cohort study involving almost 3,500 Canadian infants and their families−explores how genetics and early childhood environmental exposures impact the development of asthma, allergies and other chronic diseases. Through this research we are creating better tools to predict who will get asthma and we are finding new ways to prevent asthma from developing in the first place.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


Developing a molecule to help people with allergies breathe easier

Dr. Christine McCusker
Montreal Children’s Hospital

With the start of pollen season, 20 per cent of Canadians are reminded that with spring comes allergies. Eight per cent of people have potentially fatal food allergies and 15-20 per cent of the population has asthma and needs medication to be able to breath without difficulty. Yet treatment of these diseases has not changed a lot in at least 20 years and we have no cures. My research has looked at how allergies develop and how to effectively and safely change our body’s immune response to allergens. We have progressed the development of a novel therapeutic molecule, STAT6-IP, that effectively blocks asthma symptoms, such as airway tightening and swelling, in animal models. Using STAT6-IP as a vaccine in animals we have also prevented hay-fever and seasonal asthma caused by ragweed. STAT6-IP treatment of blood cells from peanut allergic donors also shows promise as a therapy for food allergy as STAT6-IP appears to stop the activity of the allergic cells and promote non-allergic responses in human cells. This work has made great strides in developing a human therapy that would alleviate some of the most debilitating allergic diseases known to man and, for the first time, shows the promise of a “cure” for asthma, nasal and food allergies.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


Extending the lives of people with cystic fibrosis

Dr. Christine Bear
Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)

Our lab is focused on the study of cystic fibrosis (CF). Collaborating with clinical and basic science groups across SickKids and the University Health Network of Toronto, we are working to better understand the mutations in CFTR (the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator, a protein that serves as a passageway that allows for the movement of salt and water in and out of organs, including the lungs) and the mechanism of action behind CF therapeutics. We are currently developing platforms for personalized medicine in CF. From CFTR protein in isolation to stem-cell derived cultures, our assays allow us to further enhance our understanding of the disease at the molecular level. We are also interested in examining secondary therapeutic targets, such as genetic modifiers that may affect CF disease. Using these tools, we can move closer towards the development of patient-specific therapeutics that may one day be employed as viable CF treatments.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


#ItDoesn’tHaveToHurt

Dr. Christine Chambers
Dalhousie University

All children have pain and parents are generally unaware of how they can help. Despite the fact that Canada is a world leader in children’s pain research, many children do not receive the pain care they deserve. Dr. Christine Chambers and her research team are working with parents to improve pain management for Canadian children and their families. They have developed an innovative science-media partnership with Erica Ehm’s YummyMummyClub.ca (YMC) that allows them to reach and engage with over 6 million Canadian parents per month about research on children’s pain management in a social media initiative called #ItDoesntHaveToHurt. Capitalizing on YMC’s expertise in creating compelling, integrated, multi-platform digital content and their network of parent influencers, #ItDoesntHaveToHurt engages parents and shares content about children's pain through blog posts, YouTube videos, Twitter parties, Facebook polls, and Instagram images. Over the last year, #ItDoesntHaveToHurt generated >130 million content views worldwide and, on several occasions, became a trending topic on social media.

Further reading

June 26, 2017


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