RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s scientists get down to business

Up on the 5th floor of the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, Dr. Richard Gilbert, head of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for St. Michael’s Hospital, and Dr. Darren Yuen, a nephrologist with the hospital, work together on cases where diabetes and kidney disease intersect.

On top of stethoscopes and microscopes, the pair has added business scope to their frequent discussions—with the launch of a company called Fibrocor.

Drs. Gilbert and Yuen are two of the three scientific co-founders of Fibrocor, who will work to identify targets and develop therapies to prevent, slow and ultimately reverse organ scarring.

Read more about how research hospitals are driving Ontario’s knowledge and innovation economy.

“Scarring, or fibrosis, can help people in the short-term—such as healing after a cut or sealing off an infection so that it does not spread—but when an injury is chronic, such as with diabetes, the amount of scar tissue formed can cause organ malfunction,” said Dr. Gilbert, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Diabetes Complications.

The researchers and fellow co-founder Dr. Jeff Wrana, senior investigator at Sinai Health System’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, will test biopsy samples of scarred human tissue. They will measure which genes the body activates when scarring begins.

“Once we know what pathways are involved in activating the body’s scarring response, we’re well on our way to understanding how to block it,” said Dr. Yuen. “And because we’ll identify these pathways using human tissue samples, we think they’ll have a much better chance of being effective in future clinical trials.”

Although scarring underlies the development of liver failure, heart failure and certain type of lung disease, the company’s initial focus will be on kidney disease—reflecting Dr. Gilbert’s and Dr. Yuen’s clinical backgrounds and the tremendous unmet need.

By 2018, Fibrocor expects to have developed a new anti-scarring drug that will be ready for testing, not only in kidney disease but also in other diseases that involve fibrosis, the doctors said. The world-class academic team is complemented by management and business development from MaRS Innovation and drug discovery and development services from Evotec AG, which together launched the company with $2M USD financing.

“Because drug development is incredibly expensive and most granting agencies don’t fund this sort of activity, forming the company was a necessity,” said Dr. Yuen. “With Fibrocor, we’ll be part of the developmental strategy, taking our knowledge from the clinic, to the lab, to the boardroom and, hopefully, all the way back to the bedside.”

Written by Geoff Koehler at St. Michael’s Hospital


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St. Michael’s Hospital is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Read more Research Spotlight posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.


RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre

Photo (L-R): Barry Streib, Secretary/Chair, Governance, Board of Directors, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation; Clint Harris, Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute; The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay—Superior North; Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre; CEO, Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute


Investment in Health Research is Making Thunder Bay Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter

Across the province, communities are moving towards knowledge-based economies, and Ontario’s research hospitals are helping them get there. This fact was recently illustrated in Northern Ontario, with an investment of $1.85 million from the Government of Canada to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute to advance research, innovation and discovery while creating jobs and diversifying the local economy.

“Our Government is committed to positioning Canada as a global centre for innovation,” said the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, and Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay—Superior North, who made the announcement on behalf of the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Minister responsible for FedNor.  “We are confident this investment will lead to the health care solutions of tomorrow, while growing the local economy and creating meaningful middle-class employment here in Northern Ontario.”

Traditionally known as a resource-based economy, Thunder Bay and its surrounding community is seeing significant growth and diversification as a result of its health research sector.

Read more about how health research is helping to make Ontario communities wealthier

This new funding is expected to result in the creation of 15 jobs at the Thunder Bay Health Research Institute, along with 10 indirect positions through related research projects within the Health Research Institute, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and/or Lakehead University.

It will also enable the purchase equipment and implement new technologies in the area of probe development and bio-marker exploration. Specifically, the new research equipment will be used in the discovery of new bio-markers and to evaluate the effectiveness of new treatment protocols utilizing isotopes produced at the Health Research Institute’s Cyclotron.

New jobs and new equipment will also open up new avenues of research that will improve care for the local community while driving the economy. The Health Research Institute is poised to:

  • Enhance the conditions for new research while providing better care at a lower cost and improve diagnostic timelines and accuracy
  • Establish formal partnerships with industry, manufacture and sell medical isotopes, and pursue opportunities for contract research and clinical trials
  • Help to attract new medical talent to Ontario, improve training to next generation scientists, and make Thunder Bay an international demonstration site able to host visiting scientists and health care professionals from around the world.

Simply put, as the research arm of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, the Health Research Institute is poised to continue making its community, the province and Canada healthier, wealthier, and smarter.

Read the full press release.


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The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre 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 or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.

Patients + Research: Gretta Hutton

Meet Gretta

While parked at the local Home Depot, Gretta Hutton received her diagnosis over the phone: it was Mantle Cell Lymphoma, she had 2 – 5 years to live, and there was no treatment offered beyond the standard of care treatment. After weeks of feeling hopeless, Gretta found a clinical trial at Hamilton Health Sciences led by Dr. Tom Kouroukis. A year later, Gretta’s cancer was in full remission.

Gretta Hutton at CAHO healthier wealthier smarter conference
Gretta shares her insights at the 2015 Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter conference.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?

By day, I am a social worker in the health sector, counselling clients who are struggling with critial illnesses. In 2014, I began to feel ill myself and went to see my doctor for some tests. Driving home from work one evening, I received a call from my internist wanting to share the results. He asked that I pull over so I drove into the parking lot of my local Home Depot where he then gave the diagnosis: stage 4 Mantle Cell Lymphoma. A subsequent meeting with a local oncologist revealed that I had 2 – 5 years to live. More than that, I wasn’t given any alternative treatment beyond the standard of care, RCHOP, that might  help me beat my cancer. But thanks to the persistence of my friend and my sister, I discovered a clinical trial led by Dr. Tom Kouroukis at the Juravinski Cancer Centre at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS). The care that I am receiving in that trial is outstanding. Dr. Kouroukis listened to me, not just as a patient, but as a person, and walked me through the science of the trial and my care plan.

Why does health research matter to you?

If you asked me two years ago whether I thought I’d be back at work and able to resume my normal activities, I don’t think I would have believed you. This place, and the research here, has saved my life.

I was very ill at the beginning of the research study—sleeping a lot, exhausted—but that started easing up within the first two months. After 12 weeks, I was feeling “normal”. When I didn’t dare to hope that I would beat my cancer, the research team was there, bringing my hope to life with the data and the results from the study. Now here I am, and I have my life back.

Health research, and the clinical trials that result from it, are really important because they offer patients a different path. Having options, especially when you’re ill, is really important.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

Clinical trials don’t exist in a vacuum; they are the results of a whole body of scientific study. They move research discoveries into new and better therapies for patients like me. Without health research, you can’t have clinical trials, and without clinical trials, you can’t improve the health of Ontarians.

How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?

One of the hesitations that people might have in participating in clinical trials is the safety aspect of it. The best people to help reduce fear, hesitation or, in some cases, stigma are the people who have gone through clinical trials. Those of us who have thought through the risks and the benefits, who have worked with the researchers and staff, and who have come out on the other side with renewed hope—we are the ones who need to share our stories with the public and be strong champions for health research.

Patients and the public also have an important opportunity to voice their health research needs to decision makers. If there are life-saving clinical trials and medicines available, then patients should be aware and have access to them. In my role as Ontario Lay Representative on the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network since November 2015, I am working hard to ensure that that conversation takes place at the point of diagnosis for every patient with cancer or other serious illness even if their local hospital is not a research hospital in a major urban centre. Where you live should not be the determining factor in being offered access to research.

Our health system, including research and clinical trials, is a public system, and so the public itself can be a voice of change.



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Add Your Voice

Want to add your voice to the Patients + Research blog series? Email or call Elise Bradt at, 416-205-1469, or direct message or tweet at us on Twitter at @CAHOhospitals.

Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter, visit our impact page, and check out our other blog posts and videos.


Health and Community Leaders Talk: Debbi M Nicholson

By Debbi M Nicholson, President and CEO, Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce

Debbi Nicholson CEO Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce

What does health research mean to you?

When I think of health research, I think of all the noteworthy initiatives being undertaken by organizations like the Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI) in the areas of cancer care, heathy ageing, infectious diseases, and northern and indigenous health.  HSNRI has demonstrated that health research is not just about generating knowledge, it is about using research outcomes for action – to guide policy and program development and to find sustainable solutions to the most pressing health challenges faced by its stakeholders.

Health research has led to innovations like new therapies that reduce the need for in-hospital care, new devices that track patient diagnostics in order to prevent catastrophic health events, and more effective drugs that improve our quality of life.  Health research in mining has led to safer workplaces. These are just a few examples of how health research has transformed the quality of our health care system.

As a business association, we believe that to realize the full potential of the health sector, we need to support health research through its various stages, right up to commercialization and adoption.  Collaboration with industry and other partners, embracing leading technologies, and ensuring that research is put in the hands of policy makers, is essential to guarantying health research translates into effective health care action.  The commercialization of research is critical.

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

Let’s start with healthier: leading-edge research has contributed to pioneering practices in advancing patient care as well as treating illness.  Think about how the discovery of insulin treatment for diabetes and the electric wheelchair – two Canadian discoveries resulting from revolutionary health research – have impacted patient care.  Health research also plays a vital role in prevention and continuous health care quality improvement.

In terms of wealthier and smarter: the figures often reported state that every $1 spent on hospital research generates an estimated $3 in economic output.  When one looks at the impact of heath research here in Sudbury, you can see that job creation, the attraction of top talent from around the world, economic diversification, and innovative partnerships between research institutions, academia and industry, are some of the positive outcomes. All these initiatives will contribute to a wealthier Sudbury and Ontario.  Health research has enhanced our community’s knowledge economy allowing us to compete on an international scale.

Health spending in Ontario consumes nearly half of the provincial budget.  Our health care system is facing a series of challenges including a population that is aging and increasingly suffering from chronic illnesses.  Health research can play an important role in leading partnerships with academia and industry to innovate and find solutions to increase efficiencies and enhance the sustainability of our health care system into the future.   The Sudbury chamber has partnered with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on a year-long health transformation initiative that looks at the challenges facing the health care system and has made recommendations for health care reform.  We have released a series of reports focused on issues such as innovation in health care, supporting the health sciences sectors, and models for collaboration.  These reports can be found at

Feel free to reach out to us at the chamber ( or tweet us @SudburyCofC to share your thoughts on how you think we as a business association can better support health research and the sustainability of the health care sector.

All the best,



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Read more Health and Community Leaders Talk blog posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter site and share your insights on Twitter with the hashtag, #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter, check out our website and our other blog posts and videos.


Patients + Research: Becky Hollingsworth

Meet Becky

Shortly after receiving an asthma diagnosis, retired nurse Becky Hollingsworth joined a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital, which found that Becky—and 33% of adults diagnosed with asthma—did not have the condition.

Patient engagement in research Ottawa Hospital asthma clinical trial

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?

A couple years ago, my two pre-school aged grandchildren shared their colds with me. Although they recovered quickly, I wound up in the hospital with pneumonia. After I recovered from pneumonia, I continued to have a cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. My family physician diagnosed me with asthma and prescribed both oral and inhaled medication. Her diagnosis was based on my history and current symptoms. Shortly after the diagnosis, I received an invitation to join a clinical trial for people recently diagnosed with asthma that was being run by Dr. Shawn Aaron, senior scientist and respirologist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. I eagerly accepted the invitation, as I am a great believer in clinical trials. During the clinical trial, it was determined that 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not, in fact, have it. I was one of those people. My lungs just needed more time to heal from the pneumonia.

Why does health research matter to you?

Without health research, doctors are “shooting in the dark” when diagnosing and prescribing. Without information from clinical trials, it is possible people will be given treatments that do not work and may be harmful. I am a retired nurse, and perhaps have a bias toward science when it comes to practicing medicine. One needs a correct diagnosis in order to determine the correct treatment. Because my physician thought I had asthma, she prescribed both oral and inhaled medication, which I could expect to have to take for the rest of my life.

No one wants to have a chronic illness. It has implications for several aspects of a person’s life, including the negative side effects of drugs, increased pharmacy expense (for the patient and/or the government) and limitations on travel. A misdiagnosis is even more distressing, as one is exposed to the issues mentioned above and the real medical problem, should there be one, can go undetected, and therefore untreated, and potentially lead to a medical crisis.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

Without research, we are doomed to continue the same old practices. We want our health care to evolve. We want to know if accurate diagnoses are being made. We need to know if treatments work or if there are better treatments. We need to know the ramifications of treatments: are they more or less effective than other treatments, do they have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, are they safe? Through research, we move forward.

How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?

The results of Dr. Aaron’s asthma research left me thinking about the opportunities for educating both the general public and health professionals. The results were dramatic and received a great deal of publicity. Those of us involved in the media coverage made a point to talk about spirometry testing. Like a blood test to corroborate suspicion of diabetes, spirometry is a relatively simple way to measure lung capacity and volume. It gives important pulmonary function information that is of great benefit when diagnosing and treating people with conditions that affect breathing.

I live in a small community and have a high profile due to my past career, volunteer work, and my husband’s visibility. Everywhere I go, someone stops to tell me that they saw me on TV or heard me on the radio. They all have a story to tell about themselves, a friend, or a family member who has been diagnosed with asthma. After hearing that over 33 percent of adults diagnosed with asthma do not have it, they want to know if they or their friends or family should ask their doctors for spirometry testing. I encourage them to do so.


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Add Your Voice

Want to add your voice to the Patients + Research blog series? Email or call Elise Bradt at, 416-205-1469, or direct message or tweet at us on Twitter at @CAHOhospitals.

Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter, visit our impact page, and check out our other blog posts and videos.

HWS Field Trips: London

Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class hospital-based research happening across our province, we took a field trip to Ontario’s Forest City—London—where researchers at the Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) are transforming patient care through discovery and innovation.

Lawson is the joint research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London. We took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lawson labs and clinical research space, and were delighted to be joined by patients, researchers, hospital CEOs and local politicians MP Karen Vecchio, MPP Jeff Yurek, and City Councillor Harold Usher along the way.

This blog post highlights only a fraction of the research we learned about on our field trip – but we also live tweeted every minute! To take the full live-tweeted tour, scroll through our Storify story here.


The Kick-Off

Patients, community members, hospital CEOs, senior staff, researchers, and representatives from all three levels of government were on hand to celebrate and champion the game-changing health research underway at the Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson). Dr. David Hill, Scientific Director of Lawson, kicked off the tour by sharing a few words about the role of health research in building a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. “It’s research-based hospitals in Ontario that bridge the gap between discovery and the next generation of health service and delivery,” said Dr. Hill.

We were honoured to be joined by City Councillor, Harold Usher, who remarked that health research is a key contributor to London’s economy. We also heard from two members of the London community who have participated in health research at Lawson.

Councillor Harold Usher meets health research participants Michael Allan and Wayne Kristoff. /// Hospital staff, community leaders, researchers, MPs, MPPs and more all ready for the tour!

Dr. David Hill, Scientific Director of Lawson /// Councillor Harold Usher, London City Councillor

Patients + Research: Wayne Kristoff joined a clinical trial aimed at putting his type 2 diabetes into remission for an extended period of time. “I remember where I was on May 16, 2016,” said Wayne recounting his experience undergoing the treatment regimen, “when I received that call to say the test results were good, and that I could stop taking my diabetes medication.” Wayne has been off of his diabetes medication since then.

Michael Allen, a 2-time cancer survivor, participated in a personalized medicine research study with Dr. Richard Kim, a leader in personalized medicine not only in London, but around the world. “You can’t take a cookie cutter approach,” said Michael. “Medicine is personalized to each patient, and that’s something that Dr. Kim took the time to explain to me.”

Wayne and Michael’s stories drove home the punchline of our tour: health research is a necessity, not a luxury. It saves lives and improves outcomes for patients and families across Ontario. With Wayne and Michael’s stories in mind, a group of over 10 health research champions headed to the personalized medicine labs to begin the tour.

Wayne Kristoff /// Michael Allan

MPP Jeff Yurek, MP Karen Vecchio and Dr. David Hill strike a healthier, wealthier, smarter pose for the #onHWS Twitter audience. /// And off we go! Dr. Gillian Karnaghan (President & CEO, St. Joseph’s Health Care London), Murry Glendining (President & CEO, London Health Sciences Centre), MPP Yurek, MP Vecchio, Karen Michell (Executive Director, CAHO), Dr. David Hill (Scientific Director, Lawson).


STOP 1: Personalized Medicine Program

Our first tour guide of the day was Dr. Richard Kim, Director of the Centre for Clinical Investigations and Therapeutics (CCIT), and leader in personalized medicine research. The CCIT was the first clinical research centre of its kind in Canada, uniquely built for an academic health sciences centre to serve a dual purpose: enable hospital-based research and attract industry-sponsored clinical trials, supporting the city’s innovation and knowledge-based economy.

Better health at a better price: “Personalized medicine is more than something that sounds cool,” said Dr. Kim. “We’re finding that it’s actually better for patients and cheaper for the system.” For example, at his personalized medicine clinic, Dr. Kim runs genetic testing on patients prescribed the blood thinner drug, Warfarin, to determine the appropriate dosage for each particular patient. This is helping to ensure the safest, most appropriate level of medication while reducing unnecessary care.

Lab space in the CCIT is set up for industry use, drawing investment into London. /// Dr. Richard Kim tells the group about Dr. Wendy Teft’s research using personalized medicine to alleviate side effects for patients with colorectal cancer, while leading to better outcomes.

In the genotyping lab, Cameron Ross can processes blood and tissue samples for DNA variants in about 2 hours for personalized medicine. /// In the analytical lab, researchers look at drug concentrations in the body through blood and tissue samples to ensure efficacy and safety.

Read more about personalized medicine research at Lawson.


STOP 2: Lawson Imaging

As a key intersection for discovery and innovation, the Imaging team finds itself at the heart of Lawson research activity. Why? The unique technology developed and used here enables researchers in all fields of study (cancer, heart disease, stroke, brain health, and more) to employ new techniques and tactics for solving today’s greatest health challenges. One key piece of technology housed in London is the cyclotron – only one of two in Ontario.

Dr. Frank Prato shares that St. Joseph’s Health Care is home to Canada’s first MRI scan. /// Lawson is also home to Canada’s only molecular imaging training program, explains Dr. Savita Dhanvantari.

Cyclotron 101: PET scans (positron emission tomography) measure activity in parts of the body to help detect different diseases. For example, they can show blood flow to the heart to help detect heart disease, or how sugar metabolizes in cells to help detect cancers. The PET scan image is created by positron emission from radioactive pharmaceuticals that are given to patients in advance of the scan. The cyclotron is the technology that makes these radioactive pharmaceuticals, which can be tailor-made to study a variety of disease areas.

The cyclotron is also helping to make Ontario Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter. The Lawson Imaging team is able to sell the radioactive pharmaceuticals that they manufacture to other clinics across Ontario, from Toronto to Windsor. All of the revenue goes back into the research that’s advancing scientific knowledge and improving patient outcomes.

Dr. Mike Kovacs explains how the cyclotron produces radioactive isotopes. Did you know that they have a half life of 110 minutes? They are stored in pressure-controlled chambers with lead walls.  

Read more about imaging research at Lawson.


STOP 3:  Parkwood Institute Research

The tour made its way over to Parkwood Institute, where a clinical research program focuses on advancing innovations and discoveries directly related to patient care, in the areas of cognitive health, mobility, and mental health.

Parkwood Institute is home to a collaborative rehabilitation clinic – an open space where patients, caregivers, physiotherapists and occupational therapists are working together, using a variety of high and low tech devices and techniques to achieve daily rehabilitation goals while informing the research studies underway.

Stronger every day:  A research patient who has experienced a spinal cord injury inspired us all as he walked, step by step, around the room wearing an exoskeleton, a machine that sends electronic pulses to his muscles helping him stand upright and move. In the long-term, researchers hope to better integrate this technology with the wearer’s rehabilitation training by enabling the wearer’s brain to control the rhythm of the electronic pulses. Read more about how this technology is having an impact on the daily lives of members of the London community in this London Free Press story.

A research patient demonstrates the Lokomat – a robotic system that automatically moves the legs while on the treadmill. /// A research patient makes his way around the rehabilitation clinic in an exoskeleton.

Predicting dementia: We also visited the Gait and Brian Lab, where Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso is taking an integrated approach to studying mobility and cognition. Right now, the team is working on a gait study, which explores whether changes in the way an individual walks while doing a mental activity might be able to help predict how long it will take people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to progress to dementia.

Karen Michell, Executive Director of CAHO, takes the gait test. She walks down the sensor mat first without distraction, and again while thinking through a complex math problem as researchers measure any changes in her gait.

Read more about Parkwood Institute Research.


STOP 4: Kidney and Cancer Research

Did you know that there are over 23,000 Canadians on dialysis? Dr. Chris McIntyre, who came to Lawson from the UK in 2014, explained that the biggest challenge for these patients is often not receiving a transplant, but remaining healthy long enough to get one. Over time, dialysis causes injury to other systems in the body, with the most common cause of death for dialysis patients being sudden cardiac death.

Making dialysis safer: Dr. Chris McIntyre is working with imaging scientists to take a closer look at the causes for sudden cardiac death. By mapping out the problems, Dr. McIntyre and his team will begin to understand where changes are needed to improve dialysis and give patients a better quality of life. In the future, the goal is to conduct personalized imaging so that dialysis improvements are tailored to each patient’s unique needs.

Lawson has about 100 researchers dedicated to nephrology, including Dr. Chris McIntyre. /// See the small white mass? Dr. Aaron Ward explains that it’s a tumour in the lung.

Smarter care with smart tech: Dr. Aaron Ward is also using imaging to improve prediction of lung cancer recurrence after radiation therapy. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada, and while radiation therapy is a less invasive treatment than surgery, it doesn’t always work the first time. Complicating matters, this therapy can sometimes result in non-permanent lung injury that can often be confused with cancer regrowth on CT scans after the treatment. The challenge for clinicians is accurately assessing whether the scans show an injury that’s healing, or a tumour that’s growing.

To help solve this problem, Dr. Ward is developing a computer-assisted decision support tool that clinicians can use when assessing the results of treatment. By accurately assessing injury, patients will avoid unnecessary treatment, and by accurately assessing cancer regrowth, patients gain faster access to a second round of radiation.

Learn more about this work from Sarah Mattonen, a trainee in Dr. Ward’s lab, and about nephrology and cancer research at Lawson.


STOP 5: Children’s Health Research Institute

Does past research about fetal health still hold true with today’s population of pregnant moms? This is just one of the questions being answered at Children’s Health Research Institute, a Lawson program.

Measuring fetal health: Dr. Barbra deVrijer, who came to London from the Netherlands, is studying whether our measures for normal fetal metabolism are still appropriate for babies today, given potential differences among pregnant women such as lifestyle, weight, or stress. Her challenge was to find an innovative method of examining the fetus against past evidence-based measures for health – without causing harm to baby or mom.

Like much of the research on our London tour, her solution came through a collaboration with another researcher. Dr. Charles McKenzie developed novel techniques that use an MRI to monitor fat development, track rate of blood flow through the placenta, measure oxygenation and more. In fact, his team is the first in the world to use imaging to measure placenta metabolism.

Dr. Charles McKenzie explains how he is able to measure fat development without causing harm to fetus or mom. /// 3D image of a fetus demonstrates the types of images the team is able to get using their technology.

Read more about children’s health research at Lawson.


Health research in action: After a full day of inspiring people and incredible research, it’s clear that London is a powerhouse with expertise in a diversity of fields. Regardless of the many research areas, all teams are working together to discover new ways of providing better care.

“Research collaborations happening across the city are providing immense value for our patients and the health care system,” said Murry Glendining, President & CEO of London Health Sciences Centre.

“Over time, new questions capture the minds of our researchers – and so the cycle continues,” added President & CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care London, Dr. Gillian Kernaghan.

We look forward to seeing how curiosity and health research leadership will continue to drive discovery in London, and we want to extend our sincere thanks to our hosts at the Lawson Health Research Institute, London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care. We would also like to thank Councillor Usher, MPP Yurek, MP Vecchio for joining us, as well as the health research champions who came out for the tour kick-off and followed along on Twitter. Finally, we want to thank Wayne Kristoff and Michael Allan for sharing their lived experience with us, and reminding us of the value and need for health research in Ontario.


Why does health research matter to us? We know that it generates new discoveries, better care, and greater efficiency all while contributing to our knowledge-based economy. That’s how it makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter today. Investing in research hospitals will help us continue to build a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario tomorrow. Discover more health research and patient stories by signing up for our monthly newsletter or joining the #onHWS conversation on Twitter.

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SickKids researchers sequence genome of Canadian beaver

They were diligent, methodical, meticulous. They overcame obstacles large and small and applied available resources to try to achieve an ambitious goal. When they needed to move beyond existing resources, they pushed the limits and modified them. Channelling some of the most distinctive traits of the quintessentially Canadian symbol they were studying, a team of Canadian scientists has made an indelible mark on the history of this country – and beyond – just in time to kick off the country’s 150th anniversary.

A team of researchers from The Centre for Applied Genomics (TCAG) at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) has successfully sequenced the genome of Castor canadensis – the Canadian beaver. In fact, the beaver in question is none other than Ward, a 10-year-old resident of the Toronto Zoo.  The research, published in the January 16 online edition of G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics, is a partnership with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the University of Toronto and the Toronto Zoo.

Video and feature photo courtesy of SickKids 

Interview with the Researchers

Lead authors, Drs. Stephen Scherer and Si Lok, shed s ome light on why their world-leading research team undertook this unusual project, and how understanding the fundamentals of what makes Ward, Ward, could help scientists advance research into human conditions like autism.

Why did you choose to study the beaver?

S.S.: We could have done this genome research project using DNA from any human or from someone with one of the conditions we study like autism – but by going this route there was even more potential for broader impact! We started exploring our options and realized that our national symbol, the beaver, had not been sequenced yet. This is the most important animal in Canadian history, so to know about its genome allows us to better understand how it all came about: its history, how it relates to its environment. The genome is a starting point.

TCAG sequences about 10,000 genomes a year. One of the areas of focus is how genes play a role in the development of autism in humans. What’s the connection between sequencing a beaver’s genome and helping families understand why autism may affect one child in the family, but not another?

S.S.: There are some families who we know have autism or some other developmental disorder because of the genetics, but we haven’t found the genetic alteration yet. The novel genome-assembly approach that we’ve developed for the beaver project will provide another vantage point.

S.L.: The Human Genome Project led many people to think genetic sequencing is a done deal, but it’s really not. What’s typically done is genome ‘re-sequencing’. The genomes of only a small number of people are actually fully sequenced – less than a dozen in the world. For all the others, to make it cost-effective, we quickly sequence billions of fragments but align them by comparison to a reference genome. It’s really a comparative approach analogous to tracing a picture. But ultimately, we can’t just look at the tracings. We need to see all the underlying unique pieces too, and there are lots of them.

The sequencing of Ward’s genome was done the way we’d eventually like to do everyone’s – it’s called de novo sequencing. It’s a completely original process, which allowed us to build Ward’s unique genome from the ground up, so we would not use any preconception of another genome.

S.S.: Our new genome-assembly technique allows us to find new types of genetic variations we haven’t seen before using the current technologies, so we think our yield in explaining autism will go up. We are already applying the technique in our human sequencing projects, as well as for other animals. It’s very exciting.

Why is the method so important?

S.S.: At TCAG, we’re generating a genome product that is really, really good, but it’s not perfect. To find all the genetic variants we need to fully understand things like cancer or autism, we needed a much better approach.

We were able to take samples from the beaver, find the DNA and put it into the latest genome sequencing machines, which generated the three billion chemical letters of information that comprise the beaver genome. What’s unique about the project is we had to develop some new methods to actually stitch together all of those three billion chemical letters of information into a complete ‘jigsaw puzzle’. At the end of the day, we were able to generate the complete genome sequence of what we believe is the most important animal in Canada.

With new technologies and new sets of analytical experiments we’ve developed here, we can now apply what we learned in the beaver sequencing project to those human sequencing projects we are doing here at the same time.

What does this study show us about the beaver?

S.S.: What we found is that the beaver genome is roughly the same size as the human genome, maybe a little smaller. That’s not really surprising to us; if you look at any mammalian genome sequence – mouse, rat, chimpanzee – and compare it to humans, they’re roughly the same size.

We were able to clearly describe the genes that are important to rodents, and most importantly to the beaver. We identified the genes involved in dentition and enamel deposition, a defining characteristic of rodents, and particularly of beavers. Rodents are classified by their teeth structure, and beavers seem to take this to the extreme because their teeth continuously grow so they can chop down trees. They incorporate a special kind of enamel to strengthen the teeth, and iron, to sharpen them. The mechanism resembles a self-sharpening ice skate, which gets sharper as you skate.

This is really about the power of genetics. We’ve never sequenced any genomes with the quality that we’ve had with the beaver. It’s exciting because it allows us to see some things for the very first time.

Why did you do it now?

S.S.: Dr. Lok and I went to graduate school and did our PhDs at SickKids under Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, the world-famous Canadian geneticist who discovered the cystic fibrosis gene in 1989. As Canadians, we wanted to give back in some way, above and beyond our typical research. Last year we recognized that the coming sesquicentennial of Canada, new technologies, and our ideas provided the ‘perfect storm’ for us to make a lasting contribution to the scientific world, to our future research, and to the sense of Canadian characteristics of hard work, loyalty, and pride in our heritage. Buy-in from our TCAG team and other Canadian scientists was instantaneous.

Scherer is Director of TCAG and Senior Scientist at SickKids. He is also Director of the McLaughlin Centre and Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.

Lok is Senior Project Manager and Lead in Technology Development at TCAG.

This study was supported by Genome Canada, Ontario Genomics, Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Ontario, the Lau Family Endowment and SickKids Foundation.


Related Stories

Read more Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter site and share your insights on Twitter with the hashtag, #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter, check out our website and our other blog posts and videos.

Health & Community Leaders Talk: Paul Kurdyak

By Dr. Paul Kurdyak, Director, Health Outcomes for the Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA); Medical Director, Performance Improvement at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

What does health research mean to you?

Health research is a very broad topic, but to me, it means research aimed at finding ways to improve the health and well-being of individuals suffering from medical conditions, including mental illnesses and addictions. The burden of mental illness is high. Patients who are dealing with a physical health issue on top of their mental illness experience greater impact on their ability to function and on their quality of life. In Ontario, we spend billions of dollars on individuals living with combined mental and physical illness, but are not seeing great quality of care or outcomes. This is the worst case scenario – spending a lot of money to achieve poor health outcomes.

We know what needs to be done based on existing evidence, but we fall short on delivering evidence-based care. For example, we know that getting adequate and timely care for young Ontarians being diagnosed for the first time with schizophrenia is critical to achieve good outcomes. Our research shows that many of these young Ontarians are not receiving adequate physician follow-up. Patients with schizophrenia have double the amount of health care costs compared to those who don’t have this condition – and the costs are related to their physical health care in addition to their mental health. Despite these high health care costs, these patients have a shorter life expectancy – by up to 20 years — compared to individuals who don’t have a severe mental illness. This is unacceptable.

The Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA) was established in January 2014 with a six-year mandate, to kick start a transformation in Ontario that will help increase access to quality, integrated mental and physical health care. The MPA is the first of its kind in Canada with this urgent mandate. It is a unique collaboration between The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, The Hospital for Sick Children, Trillium Health Partners and the University of Toronto. Currently, the MPA is systematically generating evidence for the best models of integrated care in which to treat Ontarians, which we hope will reduce the burden of cost for patients and for the health system overall.


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

The best health care policy is based on sound evidence. The MPA is leading the analysis of the impact of integrated care on patient outcomes, with an emphasis on rigorous research methods to determine system-level impact using data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. I am the Director of Health Outcomes for this arm of research under the MPA’s mandate.

Recently, our research discovered that treating psychotic illnesses cost the province of Ontario just under $2.1 billion in 2012, which was about four per cent of the total provincial health budget. We already knew costs for treating psychotic illnesses were high, but what our research now shows is how early patients start incurring long-term care and medical care costs. Patients with psychotic illnesses as young as 46 are in long-term care facilities and are generating high medical care costs, which is about 20 years earlier than the general population. The needs of patients with chronic psychotic illnesses change over time, and those needs become more complex as people age.

The MPA’s new models of clinical care, currently rolling out as pilot initiatives at CAMH, SickKids and Trillium Health Partners, hope to better serve the needs of these patients. These new models of care are backed by innovative new education programs spearheaded by U of T, to train learners and healthcare providers and equip them with the training and tools they need to better care for patients with complex needs.

If we are successful in increasing access to integrated health services for those with severe mental illness, we will be helping Ontarians live longer and healthier lives, with improved quality of life. Moreover, we have demonstrated that we are not getting very good outcomes despite very high costs. We hope to show that providing integrated, high quality health care for individuals with mental illnesses and addictions will improve health outcomes, quality of life, and reduce costs.


Related Stories:


Read more Health and Community Leaders Talk blog posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter site and share your insights on Twitter with the hashtag, #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter, check out our website and our other blog posts and videos.

Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Health Research Showcase

“Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter. These are important words…”

Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, Reza Moridi, addressed a room of over 90 people, including CEOs, Vice Presidents of Research, health researchers, post-doctoral students and trainees from across Ontario’s 24 Research Hospitals, as well as fellow MPPs and Government Officials at our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Health Research showcase at Queen’s Park on December 6, 2016.

“The reality is that the quality of our life has been increased quite dramatically as a result of research,” the Minister said, describing how made-in-Ontario health discoveries and innovations continue making our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter.

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Research Hospitals discover new cures and treatments for patients and families, they help to draw investment into the province (exemplified by the recent $225M investment by Bayer and Versant Ventures in a new stem cell research company) and attract, train and retain some of best scientific minds here at home and from around the world. In the words of Minister Moridi, this helps us “make Ontario the Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter global leader”.

Click for more on how Ontario Research Hospitals make our province Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter

To demonstrate the breadth, depth, and impact of the health research being conducted across Ontario’s Research Hospitals, we hosted a showcase featuring the latest research in a wide variety of areas, from mental health to rehabilitation therapy to regenerative medicine.

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Both the room and our #onHWS hashtag were buzzing with excitement about the research on display.

In the Room: Over 30 Ministers, Members of Provincial Parliament, and Government Officials had the opportunity to see incredible science up close and learn about the difference it’s making for patients and the economic well-being of the province.

On #onHWS: We were joined by over 230 voices and #onHWS trended at #3 in Canada! Thanks to all who tuned in.

“Investing in research means investing in progress and in families…”

As a mother of three, including two boys with Autism, Susan Cosgrove has a deep understanding of the value of health research. Susan joined us at the Showcase to share her lived experience and highlight the importance of health research for all Ontarians.

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Susan, also a family leader on the Research Family Engagement Committee at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, told those gathered at the showcase, “Today you will see at every table from every hospital, exactly how that translates into real-life, real-impact change for families.”

We’ve included just a few photographic highlights below. Want the full impact?

  • PHOTOS: Browse through photos from the Showcase

  • LIVE TWEET: Scroll through the #onHWS Live Tweet summary

  • RESEARCH: Read through a summary of all the research on display


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Related Stories

Stay tuned to #onHWS for more research and patient stories from across Ontario – and join the conversation! To learn more about why health research matters for Ontario and how you can support it, check out the rest of our website, including our other blog posts and videos.


RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Institut de recherche de l’Hôpital Montfort

(Version française originale ci-dessous)

Under the theme “Body and Mind”, the Institut de recherche de l’Hôpital Montfort (IRHM) takes an integrated approach to physical and mental health. The IRHM’s mission is to improve public health, especially among Francophone communities, by conducting collaborative research programs on the health care and service needs of patients and participants (families, natural helpers, health professionals, administrators, policy planners and decision-makers).

Montfort is currently conducting several research projects, with a special emphasis on health challenges created by the language barrier for Francophone minority community members.

Access to psychiatrists in Ontario’s hospitals: A challenge for Francophone patients

French-speaking Ontarians are three times less likely to have daily contact with psychiatrists in the first three days of admission to mental health facilities in Ontario than their English-speaking counterparts.

This finding is based on a study by Dr. Raymond Tempier (IRHM), El Mostafa Bouattane (Hôpital Montfort) and John P. Hirdes (University of Waterloo), published in the Healthcare Management Forum scientific journal.

The study examined close to 270,000 admission assessments concerning mental health care in Ontario between 2005 and 2013, shows that Francophones face a major language barrier when it comes to obtaining specific and highly specialized mental health care services in Ontario – a language barrier that cannot be explained by regional differences.

The article is available online at the Healthcare Management Forum website.  

Objectivation of language barrier impacts on health care quality and safety for Francophones in minority situations

Access to service, and the quality and safety of health care provided to Francophone minority communities entail major issues. While it seems obvious that a language barrier between a patient and a clinician would affect the quality and safety of health care, few scientific studies have endeavoured to prove this assumption among members of Francophone minority communities.

On March 22 and 23, 2016, the IRHM, in cooperation with the Consortium national de formation en santé, organized a meeting in Ottawa for researchers from different disciplines and professions related to the health of Francophones living in minority situations, as well as experts from the methodology field, especially literacy and communications. The purpose of their working sessions was to discuss how to develop a relevant methodology and research program. Partner patients were also invited to the event to share their experiences as health service users.

The main recommendation put forward by the participants was to continue our exploration of the factors that might influence the level of bilingualism among Franco-Ontarians in medical settings, with the objective of developing a language skills assessment tool for patients and health care professionals in clinical settings.

These are just a few examples of researches taking place at the IRHM to improve access and quality of health care for francophone communities in a minority setting. The IRHM relies on its areas of expertise in

  • information and data on the health of Francophones,
  • health innovation and technologies,
  • training and knowledge transfer,
  • collaborative research approach and
  • clinical research.

In addition, the IRHM will soon launch a research program to improve the care of multimorbidity patients, which will be connected to the development of a clinical centre of excellence in multimorbidity at Hôpital Montfort.

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Hôpital Montfort 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.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Institut de recherche de l’Hôpital Montfort

Sous le thème « Corps et esprit », l’Institut de recherche de l’Hôpital Montfort (IRHM) vise une approche intégrée de la santé physique et mentale. L’IRHM a pour mission d’améliorer la santé de la population, particulièrement des communautés francophones, en menant des programmes de recherche collaboratifs axés sur les besoins des patients et des participants aux soins et aux services de santé (familles, aidants, professionnels de la santé, administrateurs, planificateurs de politiques et décideurs). Plusieurs projets sont en cours à Montfort concernant les défis de la barrière linguistique sur la santé des francophones vivant en situation minoritaire.

L’accès à des psychiatres dans les hôpitaux ontariens : un défi pour les patients francophones

Un patient franco-ontarien a trois fois moins de chance qu’un patient anglophone d’avoir un contact quotidien avec un psychiatre pendant les trois premiers jours de son admission dans un service psychiatrique en Ontario.

C’est la conclusion d’une étude menée par Dr Raymond Tempier (IRHM), El Mostafa Bouattane (Hôpital Montfort) et John P. Hirdes (Université de Waterloo), publiée dans la revue scientifique Healthcare Management Forum.

L’étude, qui s’est penchée sur près de 270 000 évaluations d’admission pour des soins de santé mentale en Ontario entre 2005 et 2013, démontre qu’il existe pour les Francophones une importante barrière linguistique à l’obtention de services spécifiques et hautement spécialisés en santé mentale en Ontario – une barrière qui ne s’explique pas par des différences régionales.

L’article est disponible en ligne, sur le site de Healthcare Management Forum :

Objectivation des impacts de la barrière linguistique sur la qualité et la sécurité des soins de santé des francophones vivant en situation minoritaire

Il existe des enjeux importants concernant l’accès aux services, la qualité et la sécurité des soins de santé destinés aux communautés francophones vivant en situation minoritaire. Bien qu’il semble évident qu’une barrière linguistique entre le patient et son clinicien puisse affecter la qualité et la sécurité des soins de santé, peu d’études scientifiques se sont attardées à en faire la démonstration au sein des francophones vivant en situation minoritaire. Le but de la session de travail était de discuter comment on peut développer une méthodologie et un programme de recherche sur cette thématique.

Les 22 et 23 mars 2016, l’IRHM en collaboration avec le Consortium national de formation en santé ont tenu une rencontre à Ottawa regroupant des chercheurs de différentes disciplines et professions dans le domaine de la santé des francophones vivant en situation minoritaire, de même que des experts du domaine de la méthodologie, en particulier en littératie et en communication. De plus, des patients partenaires ont été invités à cet événement afin de partager leur expérience en tant qu’utilisateurs des services de santé.

La principale recommandation des participants a été de poursuivre nos travaux pour identifier les facteurs qui peuvent influencer le niveau de bilinguisme chez les Franco-ontariens dans un contexte médical avec l’objectif de développer un outil d’évaluation des compétences linguistiques du patient et des professionnels de la santé dans un contexte clinique.

Voici quelques exemples de recherches menées par l’IRHM afin d’améliorer l’accès et la qualité des soins de santé aux communautés francophones en situation minoritaire. L’IRHM s’appuie sur ses plateformes d’expertises portant sur :

  • l’information et les données sur la santé des francophones,
  • les innovations et technologies de la santé,
  • la formation et le transfert des connaissances,
  • l’approche de recherche collaborative et
  • la recherche clinique.

De plus, l’IRHM va initier sous peu un programme de recherche pour améliorer la prise en charge des patients avec multi-morbidité en lien avec le développement d’un centre d’excellence clinique en multi-morbidité à l’Hôpital Montfort.

Hôpital Montfort est l’un des 24 hôpitaux de recherche qui contribuent à faire de l’Ontario une province plus saine, plus riche et plus informée. Vous pouvez lire d’autres articles (en anglais) sur la recherche dans notre blogue Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter.