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. 

Caring for people with dementia

Active participation in life: a key factor in promoting health

Dr. Alison Phinney
University of British Columbia

As a young nurse, I cared for people with dementia, and often found myself wondering what it was like for them to live with this condition. This curiosity led me to doctoral study where I developed methods to engage people with dementia in research, using interviews and participant observation to better understand their lived experience. I have since continued along this line of inquiry, integrating social science and health perspectives to learn what can be done in organizations and communities to support personhood and social citizenship for the growing numbers of people who are living with dementia. Our current work uses applied qualitative methods to study people’s perceptions and experiences of meaningful activity, and how communities can help them maintain this kind of involvement. We have learned that having opportunities for physical and creative expression is critical for well-being, and contributes to people’s capacity to remain engaged as full social citizens.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Bile acids: The heart of life

Life is BilE Acid UTIFUL!

Dr. Olivier Barbier
Laval University

Bile acids are located at the crossroads of pharmaceutical, nutritional, microbiomial and environmental sciences. While some bile acids are used clinically, others play a central role in the relationship between food, intestinal microorganisms and our bodies. Not only do these acids facilitate the exchange of information between organs (the liver and the intestine, for example), they also participate in the communication between cells (to modulate inflammation of the liver, for example), all while allowing the cell to control its own death. Furthermore, they play an essential role in nature because they act as pheromones that allow salmon, trout and certain eels to flee their predators and reproduce!

Bile acids are thus fascinating study subjects, both for the basic sciences and for those interested in their therapeutic potential. Researchers have only barely scraped the surface of how bile acids may be used, both clinically and environmentally, and much still remains to be discovered. This is the task at hand for members of the CHU de Québec Research Center’s molecular pharmacology laboratory at Laval University’s Faculty of Pharmacy. By combining approaches from molecular biology with targeted metabolomics, Olivier Barbier (director of the laboratory), Mélanie Verreault and Jocelyn Trottier (professional researchers and cofounders of the laboratory), as well as several graduate students and research interns, are deciphering the pathophysiological properties of these molecules and finding new applications for them.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Expanding the reach of evidence-based interventions through partnerships and the public health approach

Health benefits messages can be just as powerful as vaccines

Dr. Theresa Tam
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada

I began my career as a pediatric infectious disease specialist, because I was drawn to patient care and had a desire to understand human-pathogen interactions. Recognizing the role of public health in addressing the root causes of illness, I trained in field epidemiology and entered the federal public service with a focus on infectious diseases and the impact of immunization on population.

As Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, I continue to feed my passion for science through a commitment to build a robust evidence base that motivates public health action. This role allows me to build on previous networks and partnerships, reaching across areas of expertise, borders and cultures so that I can work collaboratively in addressing the large and complex issues that face us on a national and global scale.

I believe that public health should reduce inequality so that all Canadians can reach their optimal health. This means leveraging other sectors, as well as incorporating research and innovation from other disciplines  so that benefits can be communicated to the public. A public health message can be as important and powerful as a vaccine.Through use of  sound evidence and innovative partnerships, I aim to use my voice to deliver credible, meaningful and empowering messages.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Helping Canadian patients get access to family doctors and nurses

How data from MAAP-NS could provide benefits for Canada’s health system

Dr. Emily Gard Marshall
Dalhousie University

With Canada’s aging population and increasing multimorbidity, access to primary healthcare (PHC) is extremely important. In 2009, I moved to Nova Scotia and tried to find a family doctor. After several unsuccessful attempts, I thought: “I wish I could call every doctor and nurse practitioner in this province to find out if they are accepting new patients!”

So I launched "MAAP-NS: Models and Access Atlas of Primary Care in Nova Scotia”, the first Canadian study that links census survey data of PHC providers and practices to equity and comprehensiveness outcomes from administrative data. Since then, researchers have collected MAAP data in Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and British Columbia. I’ve launched studies to understand what it’s like to be an unattached patient and approaches that can be used to increase PHC access in Canada’s health system. Collectively, my intersectoral and interdisciplinary team is building a national hub of PHC research with robust, multimethod, and linked datasets responsive to health system needs.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

How CIHR seed money grew a national educational program for prostate cancer patients

Empowering patients dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment with knowledge

Dr. Richard Wassersug
University of British Columbia

A decade ago, I had a small CIHR grant. What came of that is now a national educational program to help prostate cancer patients along with their loved ones manage the side effects of their treatment. That program currently has industry funding. A book on androgen deprivation therapy was published as part of that educational program. In addition more than a dozen research papers have been published along the way, all related to helping patients and their partners recognize and adapt to the side effects of the major drugs used to control prostate cancer.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Natural Problem Solvers Wanted!

From endless questioning springs discovery: One researcher shares their career trajectory

Dr. Katey Rayner
University of Ottawa Heart Institute

Being a scientist hasn't been exactly what I expected. I was drawn to biomedical research simply because I liked understanding why diseases happen so we can cure them. However, I have learned over the past decade that being a scientist is also being at the cutting edge of understanding how the human body works.

I have witnessed how the understanding of heart disease has changed. We are working in my lab to try to understand what triggers inappropriate inflammation in the arteries, and what tools we can use to better diagnose patients with heart disease before they have a heart attack. And research like ours is finally beginning to bear fruit in the clinic: the first clinical trial using an anti-inflammatory drug lowered the rate of heart attack and stroke. So it's working–our research is working to help us make progress to help the many millions who suffer from cardiovascular diseases and for whom current treatments just do not work.

Most importantly, along the way I have had fun working with the brightest young scientists Canada has to offer, which is by far the best part of my job!

Further reading

December 19, 2017

One of the world’s leading neonatologists shares their personal recipe for success

Constant questioning, careful listening and an unwavering belief in yourself! Three essential ingredients to making a lasting impact

Dr. Shoo Lee
CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child Youth Health
Mount Sinai Hospital

Throughout my career, my goal has always been the same — to make an impact. By questioning constantly, listening carefully, and believing in yourself you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

I come from humble origins. My parents were illiterate, yet they valued education and paid the school fees first, even when there was not enough to eat. I kept their lessons in mind as I finished medical school, earned my PhD, and helped make Canada a world leader in neonatal care.

Now, I am fortunate to be Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health where I can facilitate improvements that will impact the health and well-being of all Canadians. First, we asked our researchers and clinicians — how can we help YOU make an impact? From their answers we developed our strategic plan, the Healthy Foundations of Life, which informed our key initiatives, including the Healthy Life Trajectories and Preterm Birth Initiatives. Then, we focused on building capacity by funding early-career investigators, clinician investigator teams, and mid-career Applied Chairs.

With all of these resources in place, and more to come; it’s your turn — make an impact!

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Seizing a tantalizing opportunity to explore unchartered territory

CIHR support helped demonstrate that ‘CapZ’ was a dynamic protein that controls heart disease signals

Dr. Glen Pyle
University of Guelph

As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Illinois I came across a protein called ‘CapZ’ whose function seemed to be well established. But some of the details in these studies hinted at a larger, unexplored role, and offered a tantalizing opportunity to explore unchartered territory. These curiosity driven ideas formed the basis of our first CIHR grant and we have been working to unravel the mystery of CapZ ever since.

When we started, CapZ was considered to be a passive but important protein that helped to hold heart muscle together. With the support of CIHR we showed that CapZ was actually a dynamic protein that controlled signals of heart disease.

We discovered that causing small changes in the amount of CapZ protected against heart attacks and are currently developing therapies to move this discovery towards a treatment for patients.

More recently, our CIHR-supported work discovered that these same changes in CapZ slow the ageing of the heart. Interestingly, differences in CapZ levels between males and females might explain the disparity in life expectancy between the sexes.

CIHR funding has been vital in moving our discovery based research towards real life applications in the battle against heart disease.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

At the vanguard of a "genetic revolution"

A fascination with molecular genetics became the impetus for a stellar career in genetics and genomics

Dr. Paul Lasko
CIHR Institute of Genetics
McGill University

I first became fascinated with molecular genetics while working on an independent lab research project as an undergraduate at Harvard and started to work with the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, in my PhD project at MIT. During my postdoctoral period at the University of Cambridge, I turned my attention toward understanding the genetic control of development, the process through which a multicellular organism arises from a single cell. 

In 1990, I established my own research group at McGill which conducts fundamental research in Drosophila in order to study genetic mechanisms that control reproduction and the development of animals from fertilization to adulthood.

One focus has been on the vasa gene, which has been linked to germ cell and stem cell biology in humans. Dysregulation of this gene is associated with malignancy and male infertility syndromes. In 1999, I was involved in the Celera ‘annotation jamboree’, an unprecedented and historic international community effort that modeled the human genome by using information from the Drosophila genome sequence.

In collaboration with Nahum Sonenberg’s lab, my group has also made numerous advances in gene expression analysis, improving our understanding of how cells grow and communicate.  Much of this research has focused on a key protein called eIF4E, which has been linked to cancer and autism.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

The FIREWELL research program is spreading like wildfire across Canada

Safeguarding firefighters by preventing injuries that can be sustained performing their duties

Mr. Robert D’Amico
Hamilton Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 288

The equipment that a firefighter wears combined with tools they carry can weigh more than 100 pounds, which can contribute to joint and bone injuries on the job. Seven years ago, I got involved with the FIREWELL research program because it was a unique opportunity to partner up with researchers to help prevent these injuries sustained by firefighters while performing their duties. It’s important to conduct research that explains how firefighters get hurt and when they get hurt.

We’re using the research findings to develop tools that show firefighters what they’re doing wrong, why they’re doing it wrong, and how repeated improper techniques could lead to serious injuries 10-15 years down the road.

Our CIHR-funded research results have been posted on websites, around fire stations, and discussed at different functions.

FIREWELL is now spreading across the country and I hope to do more research that will help firefighters across Canada.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Making a positive difference in health care delivery

MOXXI: The Medical Office for the Twenty-First Century is a unique, integrated eHealth solution for primary care physicians

Dr. Robyn Tamblyn
CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research
McGill University

I went into health research because I wanted to make a difference. I trained as a nurse to improve the health of people. But, I realized that the system faces big, complex challenges, and that to affect the health of many people, to really improve population health and system outcomes, research is critically needed.

My research focuses on creating advanced technologies to monitor adverse events in populations and creating new tools to improve the safety, effectiveness and quality of health care. One of these systems is The Medical Office for the Twenty First Century (MOXXI), a unique integrated solution created for primary care physicians that allows them to identify all dispensed drugs and medical services provided to their patients, giving them better control and understanding of their patients drug intake and health problems.

I’m dedicated to and passionate about working towards developing new eHealth innovations that will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of patient and population-centred care. As the Institute of Health Services and Policy Research’s Scientific Director, I look forward to continuing to work through the challenges of developing new avenues of care delivery, and to working together with CIHR, Institute staff, and our research community towards IHSPR’s vision of outstanding health services and policy research to improve health system outcomes.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Preschool autism interventions: Assessing the best in class

Evaluating intervention services for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to maximize potential and value for dollar

Dr. Isabel Smith
Dalhousie University

As more children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), governments invest considerable resources in intervention programs for preschoolers. Research shows that early and intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) improves children’s language, problem-solving and everyday functioning.

However, current models of ASD service delivery vary widely and outcomes for individual children are hard to predict. Little is known about which programs yield the best results for the money being spent by families and governments. 

What if there was a way to achieve a better quality of life for children and families while limiting costs? Can interventions be optimized to meet individual needs?

With funding from CIHR and others, a research team led by Dr. Isabel Smith, Dalhousie University / IWK Health Centre, has been studying the Nova Scotia EIBI program, including comparison with other programs. The lessons learned have the potential to answer these important questions and to guide evidence-based programming and policy decisions across Canada.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Canadian North Helicobacter pylori Working Group

Community-driven research in Canadian Arctic communities

Dr. Karen Goodman
University of Alberta

Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori for short) is the name of a bacteria that can infect the human stomach lining. It is found all over the world, with an estimated prevalence of 70% in developing countries and 40% in developed countries, though declines have been noted in some areas in recent decades.

H. pylori infection can persist long-term, causing chronic stomach inflammation, and in some cases, peptic ulcer disease and stomach cancer. H. pylori has a disproportionately high prevalence in northern Canada (>50% has been reported for several Arctic communities); while the estimated prevalence in southern Canadian populations is much lower (closer to 30% or less).

The Canadian North Helicobacter pylori (CANHelp) Working Group is a collaboration of academic scientists, northern community leaders and health care providers who are investigating H. pylori in order to address community concerns.

Our community-driven research goals are to describe the disease burden and risk factors associated with H. pylori infection, develop clinical management approaches to reduce health risks, and to develop knowledge exchange strategies that help foster a greater understanding of H. pylori infection.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Introducing FROOGIE

A smartphone app that is helping families eat more fruits and veggies!

Dr. Sara Kirk
Dalhousie University

We all want our children to have a healthy start and to enjoy a healthy future.

As part of a balanced diet, a high intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce our risk for developing some types of chronic diseases. Unfortunately, researchers at the Healthy Populations Institute at Dalhousie University have found that many of today’s busy families experience challenges when it comes to eating enough healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.

That’s why we created Froogie. Working with a local developer, Weusthem, we crafted an app for families to track their fruits and veggies consumption in a fun and engaging way.

A combination of the words “fruits” and “veggies”, Froogie offers tips and reminders that promote daily fruit and veggie intake and help meet age-appropriate dietary intake goals. Each animated Froogie character has a special twist for families to discover, encouraging families to live life on the veg!

You can learn more about Froogie by visiting the Froogie app. The app is free to download on the App Store or Google Play.

Further reading

December 19, 2017

Direct funded home care for Canadian seniors

Does this help seniors maintain autonomy or create problems for service providers?

From left to right: Dr. Yuns Oh, Dr. Mary Jean Hande, Dr. Christine Kelly and Ms. Aliya Jamal

Dr. Christine Kelly
University of Manitoba

Most seniors want the choice to “age in place,” at home and in community, rather than having to stay in hospital or move into residential care facilities. A growing policy mechanism to support this demand is “directly-funded” (DF) or self-managed home care. DF home care allows individuals with the necessary financial resources to hire and manage attendants or to arrange for their own service providers instead of accessing public, government-provided services. This model is championed for increasing autonomy, cultural sensitivity, cost-effectiveness, and even improving health outcomes. Yet, it also contributes to precarious forms of work for service providers. Rather than a program evaluation, our research is an in-depth, qualitative exploration of the question: How do DF programs shape the experiences, working conditions, policy landscape, and theoretical implications of home care in Canada?

This examination focuses on inequalities related to disability, gender, racialization and immigration.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Research interests fueled by personal experience

How a researcher became fascinated with applying biology for innovative treatments

Dr. Uri David Akavia
McGill University

I went into health research when I became a patient, of one stripe or another, at age 7. I was quite impressed by my doctors, and I also really wanted to understand Crohn's Disease (which is what I have). I ended up becoming more and more interested in biology and how it can be used for treatment.

In my lab, we are working on understanding the interplay between metabolism and expression in cancer. We are developing new technologies that will help us better measure gene expression and we are working on generating new datasets. We are also trying to manipulate known metabolic regulators through genome editing technologies, so that we can get an in-depth view of their role in the metabolism of cancer.

We are tackling breast cancer by using computational models of metabolism to try and predict metabolic weaknesses and develop therapeutic approaches. We hope to have an effect on clinical treatment of patients based on our research.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Making older women visible in research

A movement to study the differences between men and women

Dr. Paula Rochon
Women’s College Research Institute

I was inspired to work with seniors in part because of my grandparents, who emphasized the importance of staying healthy as you get older. My grandmother was a committed athlete, which was unusual for women of her generation.  I admired her dedication, and became a geriatrician as well as a researcher.

My research has demonstrated that women represent more than 85 per cent of centenarians in Ontario. Despite this, data from studies of medications that are often prescribed to older men and women are virtually never reported separately. This makes it difficult for doctors to know if they should be prescribing lower doses to women, for example.

Now, through my research and leadership of an initiative called the Women’s Xchange, I am working to ensure that research considers the differences between women and men, both biologically and in terms of gender.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Is there any way to measure pain among those who can’t communicate it verbally?

Observational scales can help solve that problem

Dr. Kenneth D. Craig
University of British Columbia

Do babies and young children, or people with intellectual disabilities or brain impairment experience pain? Surprisingly, when this became the focus of our work at UBC a couple of decades ago, researchers wondered whether these patients could actually have difficulty verbally reporting the problem. We discovered that they talk loud and clear when you pay attention to their nonverbal behaviour. We also found that facial expression can be valuable to those who are attentive. As a result, observational scales are now used as a standard in health care settings where pain remains a serious problem in nonverbal populations. Rather than being insensitive to pain, studies can disclose greater sensitivity and help patients coping with it. This research is but one illustration of how Canada is a leader in pediatric pain research.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Shifting health systems to help low-income seniors in social housing

Exploring the new role of community paramedicine

Dr. Gina Agarwal
McMaster University

Our population is rapidly changing. Lifespans are increasing and more people are living in poverty and social housing. As a result, seniors have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and falls. Those with lower incomes report poor overall health, which leads to 911 calls and expensive emergency room visits. Our health system is struggling to keep up with demand.

How can we improve the lives of low-income seniors and reduce the burden on our health system?

My research takes a fresh look at how weekly drop-in sessions for seniors at subsidized housing arranged by paramedics could reduce their visits to emergency rooms at hospitals.  Sessions include risk assessments, health education, referrals to resources (e.g. MedsCheck), and communication back to the family doctor. Starting as a pilot project in 2010, the success of this community paramedic program has been implemented by 10 Ontario paramedic services, and continues to expand!

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Getting to the gut of the matter

Analyzing how microbes can cause human diseases and beneficial microbes can help gastrointestinal injuries

Dr. Philip M. Sherman
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes
Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto

I am a prairie boy, born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. I went to medical school at the University of Calgary and then moved to San Francisco to do my training in pediatrics. While in California, I was disturbed by the number of children who are admitted to the hospital with serious gastrointestinal problems and the lack of knowledge regarding the cause of their illnesses. This led to my training in pediatric gastroenterology and, ultimately, to a rewarding career as a physician-scientist at SickKids in Toronto. 

In the past, I engaged in patient-based research, including work on Helicobacter pylori and inflammatory bowel diseases in children. My research now focuses on characterizing the interactive roles between gut bacteria and the host. My research team assesses how harmful microbes cause human diseases, such as colitis, and how beneficial microbes, called probiotics, can be used to manage gastrointestinal injury and alleviate stress-induced intestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Fostering innovative care for obese pregnant women

Scientists examine ways to help obese women avoid pregnancy problems and give birth to healthy children

Drs. Barbra de Vrijer and Genevieve Eastabrook
Lawson Health Research Institute

At the Lawson Health Research Institute, with the help of co-investigators, Drs. Barbra de Vrijer and Genevieve Eastabrook are developing new tools to address needs of obese pregnant woman who face negative outcomes (e.g., preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction). This research targets the mother’s cardiovascular and metabolic health and the effect of associated chronic stress on the placenta/fetus, using novel technologies such as magnetic resonance images, assessment of metabolic stressors (metabolomics), placental response to stress (autophagy) and maternal blood vessel stiffness (pulse wave analysis). Identifying changes in metabolism and inflammation during pregnancy will not only help pregnant woman avoid negative pregnancy outcomes, it may also help the health of their infants in the future. Modifications of metabolic plasticity, made between conception  and 2 years of age, could prevent them from becoming obese and developing diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease.

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Toward a history of the modern brain

Researchers study Canada’s neuroscience, psychiatry, and mental health contributions from Confederation to today

Dr. Frank W. Stahnisch
University of Calgary

The human brain is a fascinating organ for researchers. In a world full of communication and interaction, historical in-depth knowledge helps us better place ourselves and understand concepts of health, disease, and research. Canada’s contributions to the neurosciences are both intriguing and complex – from those made by its early neurologists and psychiatrists to institutions such as the Montreal Neurological Institute and Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI).

At the University of Calgary, Dr. Frank W. Stahnisch and a team of trainees and colleagues are studying fascinating examples of neurological therapy options, epilepsy and tumour surgeries, as well as the discovery of neuronal stem cells. By providing in-depth insights into the development and importance of neuroscience and public mental health research, we want to expandi our understanding of the modern brain, its place in society, and its overall shape.

Our rich history of scientific and economic knowledge sharing among countries, immigration patterns, and research training abroad represent a possibility for us to bring to light our research.

Because Canada has moved towards a knowledge-based society over these past 150 years, its neuroscience research has become a pivotal element of its healthcare system, research institutions, and even humanitiesat large. 

Further reading

December 8, 2017

Why are some metals so toxic to bacteria? What makes them such powerful germ fighters?

Metals been used for their antimicrobial properties since antiquity: Today’s researchers want to know why!

Dr. Raymond J. Turner
University of Calgary

The Turner Microbial Biochemistry Laboratory studies antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, particularly the interactions between microbes and metals. The progression of bacterial resistance to antibiotics has led us to an era that urgently requires alternative antimicrobial therapies.

Metal-based antimicrobials, which has been used for millennia, are increasingly seen as a solution. Yet to date, we still do not understand exactly how they work to kill bacteria. We are interested in a wide range of antimicrobial metals including copper, silver, selenium and others. Within this envelope we examine how metal-based antimicrobials are toxic to bacteria.

Key to this research is studying the bacteria in all forms of their growth: free swimming single species, microbes growing as surface adherent communities called biofilms, and exploring bacteria growing under different physiological conditions of carbon and energy sources. We have found that metal antimicrobials have very different efficacies depending on how the microbes grow.

Further reading

December 5, 2017

How do you mend a broken heart?

Understanding novel intracellular actions of a protein enzyme to fight heart disease

Dr. Richard (Rick) Schulz
University of Alberta

Following even successful initial treatment, a heart attack can eventually lead to heart failure.

In many heart diseases, the heart’s ability to contract is impaired, triggered by increased oxidative stress (the impaired performance of cells caused by the presence of too many oxygen molecules in them).

This activates matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), enzymes which cut other proteins found in cardiac muscle.

We discovered that MMPs have intracellular actions that cause contractile dysfunction in ischemic heart disease, such as heart attack, and in heart failure. By decreasing the severity of the initial damage during a heart attack, by inhibiting MMP-2, we hope to prevent heart failure.

Intracellular MMP-2 is a unique therapeutic target compared to the extracellular MMPs. Drugs that inhibit its activity should be effective in treating heart diseases with fewer side effects.

Our research will reveal the pathological and physiological roles of intracellular MMP-2 and we will translate this knowledge into effective new therapies for heart diseases.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Vascular Dynamics Laboratory

If you’re sitting right now, stand up and jump around!

Dr. Maureen MacDonald
McMaster University

If you’re sitting right now, stand up and jump around! You may notice your heart rate rise as more blood pumps through the network of blood vessels to meet the demand of your body. The Vascular Dynamics Laboratory at McMaster University studies the human arteries to characterize their stiffness, thickness, and responsiveness to stresses like exercise and diseases.

By studying these properties, we can better understand how arteries improve with exercise training and how they may become impaired with different disease states. Under the guidance of Dr. Maureen MacDonald we study these mechanisms using ultrasound imaging in people with a range of different health characteristics (those with coronary artery disease, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injured individuals) and exercise capabilities amongst all age groups (young children, adolescents, adults, and older adults).

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Vitamin A, Eh?

Working towards a better understanding of vitamin A’s role in health and disease

Dr. Robin Clugston
University of Alberta

Although it was discovered over a century ago, we are still uncovering important ways in which vitamin A contributes to good health.

We all know that we need to consume vitamin A in our diets regularly to keep us healthy, but the first thing we admit in my laboratory is that there’s still a lot we don’t know about vitamin A.

Be it fundamental questions about how the body metabolizes vitamin A, or how defects in vitamin A actions can cause disease, it is our goal to answer these questions and improve the health of Canadians for the next 150 years, and beyond.

As a new Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta, I consider myself extremely lucky to be embarking on a career in health research. Not only do I get the opportunity to generate new scientific knowledge, but I also get to work with and train Canada’s next generation of scientists, a privilege that drew me to this career in the first place.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Putting research into action: The best job in the world

The first pediatric patient navigation service of its kind in New Brunswick helps children with complex health conditions access care

Ms. Jennifer Belyea

In mid-2016, I was invited to be a Family Advisor for NaviCare/SoinsNavi. The brainchild of Drs. Rima Azar (Mount Allison University) and Shelley Doucet (University of New Brunswick); the centre  is the first pediatric patient navigation service of its kind in our region. Understandably, I was very excited to be asked to help inform such an innovative centre. As a mother of two children who have complex health conditions (and a social worker) I am well aware of the barriers that families face.

In January 2017, I came on board as Program Coordinator, a perfect fit both personally and professionally. I hadn’t realized how rewarding it would be to be part of a research team. There is a certain confidence that comes with offering a program so closely tied to strong research and a committed professional team. The evaluation component of our program ensures quality and accountability that not all patient programs can offer.

There is great fulfillment that comes with putting research into practice, and watching it come to life.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Meet WikiTrauma: A platform for health professionals to share knowledge

New knowledge platforms can be adapted to any health care improvement strategy in any context

Dr. Patrick Archambault
Centre de recherche de l'Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis

Dr. Patrick Archambault has been working at the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux Chaudière-Appalaches (CISSS CA) at Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis Hospital since 2008 as an emergency and critical-care physician, and clinician-researcher.

He has dedicated his research career to exploring wikis and other collaborative writing applications for knowledge translation in health care. He created WikiTrauma, a platform that allows knowledge tools to be shared among health professionals and he’s leading three projects on shared decision making involving the creation of wiki-based patient decision aids.

In 2015, the CISSS CA was chosen by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement to improve health care services for the elderly by adapting and implementing the Acute Care for Elders program into the services offered by the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital. In 2017, he received a four-year CIHR grant to improve the coordinated transition of elderly patients from hospitals to their homes as a model for a future system-wide scale-up.

The ultimate goal is to learn from this experience in order to produce a new knowledge platform that can be used to adapt any health care improvement strategy to any local context, and to develop interoperability standards for nationwide adoption of these tools.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

A brighter future for children with brain-based disabilities

CHILD-BRIGHT unites health care providers, policymakers, and researchers to develop new therapies and better services

Dr. Annette Majnemer
Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre

I have always been inspired by the resilience and achievements of children with disabilities and their families. My research focuses on learning how to best support them on their journey.

About 850,000 Canadian children are living with brain-based developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy and attention deficit. Many face lifelong challenges with mobility, language, learning, socialization, and/or self-care. To make a difference, we launched an innovative network that aims to improve life outcomes for these children and their families called CHILD-BRIGHT, with colleagues from SickKids and the BC Children’s Hospital.

Working in partnership with patients, CHILD-BRIGHT allows health care providers, policymakers, health decision-makers, and researchers to focus on developing new therapies and better services to help these children.

With funding from the CIHR, under Canada’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research, we are mobilizing this ambitious network, which reflects significant contributions and leadership in child health research across Canada.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

A decade of advancements in preterm infant care is reaping huge rewards

Tiny patients are enjoying brighter futures thanks to improved pregnancy and neonatal care

Dr. Prakesh S. Shah
Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto

Babies that are born too early (before 29 weeks of gestation) are at higher risk of complications. My goal is to improve the care of these fragile newborns (neonates) using multidisciplinary collaboration and quality improvement efforts both in Canada and internationally.

As the Director of the International Network for Evaluation of Outcomes (iNEO) and the newly established Canadian Preterm Birth Network, I lead collaborative efforts to explore the reasons for preterm birth, to improve pregnancy care, and to provide the best possible starts to these newborns and families.

Over the last 10 years, our quality-improvement efforts have led to fewer infections and healthier eyes and lungs of extremely preterm infants. Going forward, our team of maternal and neonatal-care providers, parents, researchers and children’s development experts will strive to enhance the long-term potential of children born at these early weeks of pregnancy.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

ENVISIONing a brighter future for Manitoba First Nations families

Strong family relationships and parental supports help create a nurturing home environment for Indigenous children

Dr. Marni Brownell
University of Manitoba

At the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, we are partnering with Nanaandawewigamig (the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba) to study programs and policies that support the health and well-being of First Nations people in Manitoba. First Nations families sometimes face challenges in creating nurturing home environments for their children. Decades of trauma related to residential schools and the Sixties Scoop contribute to children growing up in poverty, social isolation, or in disrupted family structures.

Through our ENVISION project, we are studying home visiting programs, which aim to build on the strengths that parents and caregivers offer their families and improve children’s healthy development within the family structure. Home visitors focus on strengthening family relationships and supporting parents by lessening their stress and enhancing their employment opportunities. They also connect families with health and social services in their communities. Our research is showing that home visiting programs make a real difference for Manitoba First Nations families.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Uncovering the benefits of the Patient-Centred Clinical Method

Improved symptom resolution, better health outcomes, higher patient satisfaction and lower health care costs are all within reach

Dr. Moira Stewart
Western University

As a patient, I want my health care to help me get better and feel better. I want my information to be respected and I hope to feel empathy and understanding from the clinicians in order to boost my confidence during my struggle.

I have worked for three decades as a researcher with an interdisciplinary team at Western University to define and study a patient-centred clinical method which we have found leads to improved symptom resolution, better patient health outcomes, higher patient satisfaction and lower costs of health care. It simultaneously focuses on health, disease and the illness experience, the whole person in context, finding common ground and developing the patient-clinician relationship over time. Our work addresses not merely the concepts but also the tasks which we have shown can be taught, learned, measured and researched.

To this end, our research team has created measures and studied effects on patient, clinician and health system outcomes. This evidence applies to primary care practices, walk-in clinics, emergency departments, surgery and oncology units.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Learning from our mistakes to make our world healthier and safer

A rookie error led to this physician becoming an advocate for safer roads

Dr. Donald Redelmeier
Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES)

I was a young doctor starting out on my journey in medical practice when I inadvertently caused one of my first patients to become involved in a traffic accident. I was returning messages from my office and reached him on his cellphone. It was mid-conversation when he had a collision. Our talking had been distracting and had indirectly caused his collision

I though my experience was no coincidence and, in subsequent science, I discovered that talking on a cellphone led to a four-fold increased risk of a traffic crash for the average driver. This included motorists with years of experience driving. I published my work, subsequently met with the Minister of Transportation, and later helped enact laws against using a cellular telephone while driving.

This adverse event, occurring early in my career, is one of many examples in Canada where science helps us to learn from our mistakes and make our world safer.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Exploring the lifelong impact of early-life adversity

The consequences of adversity during childhood can span a lifetime

Dr. Michael Kobor
University of British Columbia

Mounting evidence supports the formative effect of environmental exposures during childhood on development and health outcomes later in life.

More specifically, early-life adversity has been associated with a wide range of developmental outcomes and diseases, including obesity, heart disease, depression, and anxiety which may occur years or decades after the initial exposure.

Epigenetic mechanisms, including chemical modifications to the DNA sequence and changes to DNA packaging via alterations to histone proteins, are responsive to environmental factors, and can alter the accessibility and function of DNA without changing the DNA sequence itself. As such, they are important and responsive regulators of genome function and may serve as the molecular memory that connects early-life exposures to health outcomes later in life.

My lab takes advantage of yeast and rodent model systems as well as human cohort studies to uncover basic epigenetic mechanisms and determine how they correlate to human exposures and disease states.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Reason is her compass but her passion is the gale

A career dedicated to improved end-of-life care for patients from vulnerable populations and their families

Dr. Kelli Stajduhar
University of Victoria

Twenty years ago, University of Victoria health researcher Dr. Kelli Stajduhar was a nurse during the peak of the AIDS crisis in B.C.

After leading a Rapid Assessment, Response and Evaluation (RARE) research project aimed at understanding and responding to an outbreak of HIV/AIDS among injection drug users in Victoria in 1999, Kelli discovered her passion for health research with marginalized populations and family caregivers. This passion has launched her into multiple research projects in the intervening years.

Kelli has worked in oncology, palliative care, and gerontology for almost 30 years as a nurse, educator, and researcher, focusing on vulnerable populations and end-of-life health needs for the dying and their families. She is currently lead investigator on B.C.’s iPANEL research project, bringing together nursing researchers, practitioners and administrators in order to integrate a palliative approach into the health care system.

Other current projects include an international research collaborative on family caregiving; evaluating the integration of a palliative approach in acute and residential care settings; and a Victoria-based study on access to end-of-life care for structurally vulnerable populations.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Pionnering research in Deep Brain Stimulation and Focused Ultrasound

Restoring brain function in neurologic and psychiatric conditions using ultrasound

Dr. Andres Lozano
University of Toronto

Andres Lozano is a neurosurgeon and scientist at the University Health Network and Chairman of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto. His work is directed at restoring brain function in neurologic and psychiatric conditions.

He is best known for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) for the treatment of tremor, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, epilepsy, depression, anorexia and Alzheimer’s disease. His team also studies focused ultrasound (FUS) a non-invasive form of neurosurgery.

Dr. Lozano has published over 500 manuscripts and is the most highly cited neurosurgeon in the world according to Thomson Reuters. He has held leadership positions in a number of learned societies and has trained more than 60 post-doctoral fellows from throughout the world. For his work, he has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, has received the Order of Spain, and has been elected to Royal Society of Canada, among a number of other awards and recognitions.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Lifesavers: Diagnosis driven by artificial intelligence (AI)

Powered by AI at a fraction of the cost, new imaging technology can catch subtle signs of disease

Dr. Alex Wong
University of Waterloo

Today, doctors need a lot of judgement in order to detect cancer and heart disease on MRI, CT, and ultrasound scans. My research lab has developed technology that can catch subtle signs of cancer and heart disease from medical images that might otherwise be missed.

We’ve introduced the first touch-free system to capture arterial and venous blood flow, which makes it easier to catch heart disease early. We’ve also pioneered a new form of lightfield microscope that captures images roughly 100 times larger than traditional microscopes.

Both are powered by artificial intelligence and cost a fraction of the price of conventional equipment, which could make cardiac clinics and pathology labs more affordable in smaller communities.

Two of my grandparents died from heart disease. I hope my research helps usher in a new age of preventative care that catches diseases like theirs sooner, allowing people to stay healthier and live long, fulfilling lives.

Further reading

December 1, 2017

Rural citizens: Hospice care planners par excellence!

Understanding the evidence to demonstrate how community members are addressing their rural hospice care needs

Dr. Kyle Whitfield
University of Alberta

Many rural communities in Alberta – and across Canada – are leading the way in addressing the hospice care needs of their community. They are reflecting upon, planning for, implementing supports for and evaluating hospice care for members of their community that have a life limiting illness and for their family care givers.

With a PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and being a Registered Professional Planner I am curious about the factors that help and hinder rural communities as they plan for and provide care so that people can remain in their own homes and communities. My research is about citizen engagement and the capacity of citizens to be leaders, advocates and sometimes providers of health care.

One thing that we are learning is that governments are downloading care onto the shoulders of communities. The care that communities are planning for and providing is done voluntarily. Therefore, there is a clear need for a balance as volunteer burnout needs to be addressed at the rural community level.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

A career dedicated to hereditary disorders

Discovering how proper diagnosis, specific-population screening, genetic counselling, and prenatal diagnosis can reduce the incidence of inheriting mutated genes

Dr. Vazken M. Der Kaloustian
McGill University

While I was studying medicine in the 1960s in Lebanon, I realized that many diseases were due to environmental factors, like infections, but that many others were hereditary. The latter group attracted my attention.

As I come from a Mediterranean country where there are high rates of consanguineous marriages (when you marry a biologically related or blood relative) leading to disorders with autosomal recessive inheritance (inheriting two inherit two mutated genes), one from each parent, my attention focused on diseases like Thalassemia Major which could be prevented by the proper diagnosis, specific population screening projects, genetic counselling and prenatal diagnosis.

Later on, my attention shifted to congenital and hereditary disorders that produce various types of physical problems. One of them is the Clouston Hereditary Ectodermal Dysplasia. This condition is more common in certain families in the region of Huntingdon, Quebec.

With our collaborative studies, the mutated gene was identified and many affected persons were diagnosed to include, besides French-Canadians, persons of Indian, Scottish-Irish, African, Spanish, French and Malaysian origin. However, the high frequency in French-Canadian populations in Quebec suggested the presence of a founder effect.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Obsession with a paradox

Inspired by researching a population that represents joy and hope

Dr. K.S. Joseph
University of British Columbia and the Children's and Women's Hospital of British Columbia

My research is focussed on improving the health of mothers and babies. One aspect of perinatology which is particularly fascinating deals with the unresolved paradoxes that have plagued the field for decades.

The most florid example is the paradox of intersecting perinatal mortality curves: death rates among low-birth weight babies of mothers who smoke are substantially lower than the neonatal death rates of low-birth weight babies whose mothers do not smoke.

The reverse is true at higher birth weights.

Various explanations have been offered to resolve the paradox, though there is no consensus on the preferred solution. Some perinatologists see this phenomenon as a clinically unimportant scientific curiosity, while others feel its resolution will provide scientific insights and advance perinatal and obstetric theory.

I live in the hope that my work will make a small contribution to the literature on the paradox of intersecting perinatal mortality curves.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Removing barriers and promoting social reintegration

Improving our understanding of the symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury

Dr. Dawn Good
Brock University

Our lab explores challenges for building and maintaining relationships faced by people who have had concussions and other brain and head injuries. Damage to neuropsychological and physiological systems often affects the way people think and how they present themselves, which impacts interactions with others.

The physiological under-arousal and slowing of cognitive processes that can result from brain injury may reduce a person’s ability to focus, notice or understand social cues, and/or respond with empathy. Decision-making processes may also be impaired or altered, which can result in increased risk-taking and sensation-seeking.

When others misinterpret or misunderstand what causes these behaviours, it leaves an individual with a mild traumatic brain injury at risk of being socially excluded. In our lab, we examine ways to manage physiological arousal effectively, comfortably, and sustainably in order to modify these outcomes and improve social success.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Closing gaps in care for survivors of gender-based violence

Research to innovate sexual assault and domestic violence treatment

Dr. Janice Du Mont
Women’s College Research Institute

I pursued a career in research because I am passionate about ensuring survivors of gender-based violence get access to care that addresses their immediate needs and helps them recover from trauma in the longer term. My research has led to improvements in care for people who have been sexually or physically assaulted in Ontario, particularly with respect to HIV care, drugging, and the documentation of medical evidence. I am currently developing a curriculum to teach specialized health care providers how to assess and treat elder abuse, which is a growing public health concern as our population ages. I am also conducting a study on sexual assault services for transgender survivors, asking nurses at the Ontario Network of Sexual Assault / Domestic Violence Treatment Centres about their knowledge and skills with regard to caring for trans clients. The goal of this (and all of my research) is to close gaps in our approaches to caring for diverse survivors of violence, making our health care system more effective and accessible.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Caring for critically-ill infants

Investigating treatments to promote healthy brain development in newborns

Dr. Steve Miller
The Hospital for Sick Children

Each year in Canada, thousands of babies are born critically-ill, including babies born preterm and babies with congenital heart disease. These babies are at high-risk for brain injury, including cerebral palsy. My research team focuses on understanding the causes of brain injury in newborns. We aim to identify clinical care strategies that promote optimal brain development and outcomes for babies born critically-ill. By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in babies born preterm or with congenital heart disease, we have identified patterns of brain growth and injury linked to specific aspects of their care. These patterns of brain growth and injury are also predictive of later child development. By combining our findings from MRI with health care data collected during the intensive care unit stay, we have also identified medications and practices that promote healthy brain development in preterm newborns and newborns with congenital heart disease.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

A good start in life

Early childhood development tool allows researchers to measure the health of young populations

Dr. Magdalena Janus
Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University

How children develop during the early years has lifelong effects. Communities across Canada and around the world monitor children’s development with the Early Development Instrument (EDI), a teacher-completed questionnaire measuring development in Physical Health and Well-Being, Social Competence, Emotional Maturity, Language and Cognitive Development, and Communication Skills and General Knowledge.

Because we collect data on all children in kindergarten, the EDI presents a snapshot of how populations of children are doing across schools, neighbourhoods, cities, provinces, and even countries. Using this information, we can explore what makes children’s development better and in which neighbourhoods it is most likely to happen. Children who have low EDI scores are more likely to experience poorer outcomes later in life: academically, emotionally, and in relationships with peers. The whole population approach focusing on strengthening areas in which children are vulnerable allows schools, communities, and governments to make decisions on how to best support early development.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Living longer, living better

Promoting an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to research on aging

Dr. Yves Joanette
CIHR Institute of Aging
Centre de recherche – Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (CRIUGM)

Interdisciplinarity, interaction with knowledge users, and team work are characteristics that have defined my education and career in research and research administration, and continue to guide me today.

I first became interested in the brain as a young person. I recall visiting Expo ’67 in Montreal and seeing an exhibit on science and the brain. The brain was described as a vast, unknown entity. I became interested in learning about and exploring this terra incognita.

I initially trained as a speech pathologist because speech and language are a uniquely human behaviour and are inextricably linked with the brain. I then pursued graduate training – and have since taught at the university level – in neurosciences, linguistics, psychology, and cognitive sciences. This training, combined with my interest in the effect of time – or aging – on communication, have led me down the path on which I find myself today.

I have always worked with knowledge users – primarily clinicians such as neurologists and speech pathologists. My research has led to the development and widespread use of clinical tools to diagnose speech disorders.

My research career has also led to roles as a senior university administrator, the head of Quebec’s health research funding agency, the founder of an internationally recognized research centre in aging, and now my present role as the Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Aging.

It is a privilege to work with my team in Montreal and my colleagues at CIHR in Ottawa – otherwise known as “160” because of its address on Elgin Street – as well as our community of researchers, health professionals, patient groups, and partner organizations.

Together we’re improving the health and wellness of older Canadians.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

The answers within

Collaborative approaches to enhancing young people’s mental health

Dr. Srividya Iyer
McGill University

In India’s searing southern summers, a little girl, tired by the morning’s play, would eagerly await naptime. To lull her to sleep, her grandma told the most mesmeric tales, some made up, others inspired by epics. Their flawed heroes and noble villains were plagued and propelled by passions that they had to reach within themselves to resolve. Those stories piqued the girl’s interest in inner and collective struggles and strengths. That interest became a career in psychology.

That little girl now works to ensure that young Canadians have timely access to high-quality mental health care and enjoy well-being and social participation. Her work is advancing mental health services and research across Canada and beyond.

Although Dr. Iyer’s current work is vastly more complex than her grandma’s tales, she remains convinced that, as it was for their protagonists, the solutions that she and her team are seeking lie within the people they serve.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

From parent to partner: My journey through the complex world of youth mental health

Building bridges of hope and communities of care with families/caregivers of youth with mental health concerns

Ms. Mary Anne Levasseur
Family Peer Support Coordinator, PEPP-Montreal

My journey began several years ago when my then-teenage son experienced the first signs of a serious mental health concern. Unfortunately, neither I nor anyone else recognized these signs. It was a very difficult time for my son and our family, until we found appropriate health care services.

Journeying with my son meant being not only his mom, but also caregiver/manager/advocate of all things health. Along the way, I met other families who were starting out on similar journeys. I decided I wanted to help. An opportunity with PEPP-Montreal researcher-clinicians resulted in the creation of a family peer support group. Six years later, we are families still helping families build bridges of hope. My interest in mental health and family peer support has led to being a patient-family research partner on several CIHR initiatives. I am also dedicated to building communities of care in other areas of family/caregiver support. My hope is that more patient/family/caregivers will partner with researchers to improve health care for all.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

Leading the fight against glioblastoma

Canadian researcher tackling one of the most lethal forms of cancer

Dr. Samuel Weiss
CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction
University of Calgary

I was inspired to pursue a postgraduate program in biochemistry and, ultimately, in the chemistry of the brain, by my third-year undergraduate neurochemistry professors, who both had made seminal discoveries in the fundamental understanding of the brain.

Today, my lab is exploring the stem cell biology of human brain tumours with an eye towards developing new therapies for one of the most lethal and aggressive cancers: glioblastoma. In particular, we are studying the fundamental biology that contributes to both the initiation and recurrence of brain tumours and the genetic and metabolic changes that occur when they transform from primary to secondary tumours.

By studying how and why these tumours change, we hope to develop very targeted therapies that will explicitly kill or transform those cells that are the most lethal, with the ultimate goal of improving survival rates for this devastating disease.

Further reading

November 24, 2017

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