Patient-oriented Research on Children and Youth

By Dr. Martin Osmond
CEO and Scientific Director, CHEO Research Institute (Ottawa, ON)

As part of the federal government’s recent strategy on patient-oriented research (SPOR), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Government of Ontario have invested in a Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials (SUPPORT) Unit in Ontario. The goal of the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT unit (OSSU) is to promote and support high quality patient-oriented research in Ontario that will contribute directly to health system and patient care improvements.

I want to take a moment to shine a spotlight on one of twelve centres that make up the Ontario Child Health SUPPORT Unit (OCHSU), an arm of the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT unit. OCHSU’s mandate is to create better health outcomes for children and youth. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is proud to be co-leading this collaboration of pediatric academic sites across Ontario along with the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Our extended network partner sites include McMaster Children’s Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, Kingston General Hospital, and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

The goal is to assist researchers in solving health problems that are important to children and their families. OCHSU does this by providing an integrated, province-wide clinical research infrastructure for child health researchers. By leveraging a ‘Clinical Trial hub’ at SickKids and a ‘Data Research and Database Management hub’ at CHEO, we engage our network partners to conduct world-class pediatric clinical trials that have the potential to transform our province’s healthcare system through high-impact, patient-oriented research for children and youth.

Our aim is to optimize children’s health outcomes by enhancing the efficiency, quality, and standards of child health clinical research across Ontario. We also promote the knowledge translation of clinical research into practice and policy, all with the aim of delivering cost-effective and safe healthcare.

Sounds good, but how do we do this?

We provide research consulting support and services to investigators who wish to address important questions on the health and wellbeing of Ontario’s children. Current studies include new approaches for treating concussion, novel supports for the transitioning of care for teens reaching adulthood, and determining safety profiles for drugs used frequently in children.

As part of the Data Research and Database Management hub, OCHSU experts at CHEO offer services related to clinical and health administrative data research and solutions for high quality data management in clinical trials.

As part of the Clinical Trial hub at SickKids, OCHSU experts offer support in areas such as clinical trial methods, biostatistics, health economics, and regulatory compliance.

Both hubs encourage and facilitate research opportunities where patients are involved in all stages of the design and conduct of the studies. In addition, we encourage projects that catalyze and build new stakeholder relationships, encourage new research collaboration, build capacity in child health clinical research, lead to healthcare system transformation, and develop new models for child health research.

Our collective goal is to enact major changes in policy that will improve outcomes and generate significant cost savings by the widespread implementation of the results of our research. By providing scientifically excellent, high-impact projects that tackle areas of major burden in child health, OCHSU will lead in the development of innovative research methods and will set the standards for child health research.

CHEO is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Health Sciences North

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Health Sciences North

Promising Early Results for AMRIC Flu Study

A stronger dose of the flu vaccine could help seniors better fight the flu, according to the early results of a research project in Sudbury.

The five-year study is being led by Dr. Janet McElhaney, a geriatrician and Medical Lead for Seniors Care at Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury, and Scientific Director of the Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada (AMRIC), HSN’s research affiliate.

The study is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, using a flu vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur, which is four times the strength of the usual flu shot.

Last year, approximately 75 people, mostly seniors 65 years of age and older, were given the higher-dose vaccine. Blood samples were also taken of the test subjects. Follow-up visits and analysis of the blood samples were conducted at 4, 10, and 20 weeks to gauge how well the immune system was responding to the stronger dosage.

Preliminary results show the higher-dose vaccine stimulated a stronger immune system response to the flu virus than the standard dose, which could improve the ability of seniors to avoid or fight the flu.

“We know that older people need a bigger boost to get the same protection from the flu vaccine than the general population, so that’s the rationale for a higher-dose vaccine,” says Dr. McElhaney. “We also know that the flu can also cause or worsen things like heart attacks, strokes, and may even contribute to falls for seniors. That’s why I’d encourage seniors to get their annual flu shot because it can contribute to your overall health. Even when the flu vaccine is a mismatch for the prevalent strain of the flu, it still provides you with more protection than if you didn’t get the shot.”

The blood test developed by Dr. McElhaney and her team also holds promise as an early indicator of how well a person will respond to the flu vaccine, either regular dose or high-dose.

Dr. McElhaney and her research team will continue to enroll between 75 and 100 new patients per year for the remainder of the study.

“Based on what I’ve learned so far, I would encourage seniors to get their annual flu shot,” says Dolores Higgins of Sudbury, one of the participants in the study. “I think it’s very important to take part in these studies because it helps the future generations, and I think we’re very fortunate to have Dr. McElhaney and AMRIC in Sudbury, to get the best medicines and treatments.”

Health Sciences North is the main medical referral centre for Northeastern Ontario. AMRIC’s research activities are focused in the areas of vaccine development, infectious disease, and cancer care.

“Research is health care, and the work being done by Dr. McElhaney is having a direct impact right now on the day-to-day health of people, particularly seniors,” adds Dr. Denis Roy, CEO of HSN and AMRIC. “This study again demonstrates the value of research for improving front-line health care.”


Health Sciences North is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.



Health & Community Leaders Talk: Barry McLellan

Ontario's health research hospitals make our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter

Health & Community Leaders Talk: Barry McLellan

The HWS campaign is a platform for collaboration. That’s why this blog series is co-authored by community and health leaders from across the province to share their insights on why health research matters for Ontarians and our economy. Barry McLellan, President and CEO of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, shares what health research has meant to him, and how it has made a difference in the day-to-day lives of patients. Thank you, Barry, for adding your voice to the HWS conversation.

Who are you?

Name: Dr. Barry McLellan
Organization & Title: President and CEO, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Dr. Barry McLellan_Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

1. What does health research mean to you?

Seeing health research translate to a better quality of life for our patients is one of the most impactful and inspirational things I have seen during my career.  Sometimes that impact is immediately visible.  When researchers from Sunnybrook and Toronto Western Hospital used MRI-guided, high-intensity ultrasound, they profoundly changed the life of a patient with ‘essential tremor’.  The patient went from being unable to hold a cup of water without soaking himself, to drinking the water without spilling a drop.  Research breakthroughs can also be a sign of what is to come.  Recently, Sunnybrook clinicians achieved a world-first research breakthrough by using focused ultrasound waves to open the the human blood-brain barrier.  The future implications are vast for patients living with currently impossible or hard-to-cure illnesses, from brain cancer to certain forms of depression, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In a hospital setting, care driving inquiry, or practice-based research, is also an exciting realm. Health professionals who directly care for patients and families know what needs to be improved and how best to improve it.

I am proud of Sunnybrook’s commitment to engaging patients in shaping research.  The hospital engages patients and families in the development of research proposals, where they can offer insight to the investigative team on how the efforts of a study may benefit or impact care of current or future patients.  Sunnybrook’s Burn Centre developed a survey to gauge the challenges faced by family members of burn survivors, helping to determine what questions should help shape a new research study.

For me, health research is about advancing cutting-edge treatments that improve the day-to-day life of our patients, at the same time engaging our patients and families and ensuring we provide opportunities to support the brightest minds in Ontario to continue to do this.

2. How does health research contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario?

Health research is inextricably tied to a healthier, wealthier and smarter Ontario.  Advances in treatment cannot help but lead to better care for Ontario’s population, improving quality of life and helping them to live longer.  Sunnybrook’s research arm is driven by the overarching goal of making discoveries and delivering these discoveries to patients.  With total research funding of $95.8 million for 2014 to 2015, Sunnybrook Research Institute alone has 300 scientists and clinician-scientists, with a 1,212 research staff in total.

In 2015, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario invested $20 million in Sunnybrook Research Institute to help develop and commercialize innovative technologies in image-guided therapeutics.  The funding is matched by a $21 million investment from 28 industry partners.  This success builds on a $14 million investment in 2012 from FedDev Ontario and private sector partners.  The commitment to an “end-to-end” solution cannot help but make Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter.  By attracting and supporting the best researchers, CAHO hospitals are helping to fuel a knowledge-based economy.  Sunnybrook is proud to play an active role as a CAHO hospital, and in making Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter.


Stay tuned on our blog for more Health and Community Leaders Talk posts and share your insights on Twitter with #onHWS. To learn more about why health research matters for Ontario and how you can support it, download the Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Policy Platform and check out our other blog posts and videos.