Research Spotlight: North York General Hospital

Research Chairs Poised to Ask the Right Questions 

As a leading community academic hospital, North York General Hospital (NYGH) is uniquely positioned to transform and enhance patient care through continuous evolution. In 2011, the hospital released Strategy 2015-2018, which envisioned the achievement of excellence in integrated patient-centred care through learning, innovation and partnership. To achieve this stratagem, research and innovation plays a central role assuring the necessary evolution contributing to quality, efficiency and excellence in patient-centred care. The creation of the first-ever research chairs was a key part of building on the academic foundation.

“We know the majority of hospital care in Canada is provided in community hospitals, so the scholarly work we do will make a difference well beyond our catchment areas,” says Dr. Donna McRitchie, Vice President, Medical & Academic Affairs. “Our strategy for research and innovation is built around our research chairs, who will explore new ways to improve processes for delivering care.”

To date, North York General has recruited four research chairs, beginning with the recruitment of the Gordon F. Cheesbrough Research Chair in Family and Community Medicine, named after one of North York General’s greatest leaders and champions, and the first of its kind in Canada. The Chair’s purpose is to drive interdisciplinary, interprofessional and crossinstitutional research investigations, with the goal of enhancing the quality and outcomes of care provided at the individual and system level. Until recently the position was held by Dr. Frank Sullivan. NYGH is currently recruiting for the role.

Dr. Monika Kastner NYGK

Monika Kastner joined NYGH in February 2016 as the Research Chair in Knowledge Translation and Implementation. Knowledge translation is regarded as a bridge between the creation and implementation of knowledge and as such, it is highly relevant to NYGH strategic objectives.

“There is so much important work in health care research that is underutilized simply because we do not have adequate processes and channels for implementation and dissemination,” Monika says. “I’m interested in bridging that gap to help enhance the uptake of services and products for patients and families.”

North York General Hospital (NYGH) recently welcomed Patricia Trbovich

Patricia Trbovich joined the hospital in August 2016 as the Badeau Family Research Chair in Patient Safety and Quality Improvement. In her role, she focuses on reducing preventable medical errors and creating innovative solutions in a community academic hospital setting to enhance patient safety and quality of care.

“We have to proactively identify risks and mitigate them before they cause harm, as opposed to solely reacting once adverse events have already occurred,” Patricia says. “We have to embrace complexity and figure out where it’s needed and where we can reduce it.”

As the newest member recruited in August 2017, Katie Dainty, PhD, is the hospital’s Research Chair in Patient-Centred Outcomes. Katie is interested in finding new ways to enhance this experience by applying an often-ignored lens: the patient’s perspective.

NYGH Katie Dainty

“It’s important to remember that even if the care was clinically perfect, a patient’s life may be changed dramatically and they have to deal with after effects, both physically and psychologically,” Katie says. “The question is: what can we do leading up to, during and after hospital care to ensure there is the best possible long-term outcome for the patient and their family?”

The appointment of hospital research chairs is part of NYGH’s overall strategy to transform care through applied research and innovation. The hospital is immensely grateful to the North York General Foundation for their support in establishing these Research Chairs.

North York General Hospital is one of Ontario’s 23 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Read more Research Spotlight posts and other patient and researcher stories on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.


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Moving Forward on Meaningful Patient Engagement in Research

When patients and families have a place at the table, Ontario research hospitals can do a better job making our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter. As we have heard from so many patients, families, and patient advocates in our Patients + Research blog series, the patient voice plays an invaluable role in supporting, improving and empowering health research.

As part of our strategic plan, CAHO and its members are committed to driving best practices in patient and public involvement, engagement and participation in health research. To move this forward, CAHO established a Community of Practice comprising patients, caregivers and hospital staff from across our member hospitals. Collectively, this group will drive meaningful patient engagement forward by championing and implementing best practices in their own communities, and across the province.

During our recent visit to Kingston Health Sciences Centre for the grand opening of the W.J. Henderson Centre for Patient-Oriented Research, we saw many examples of meaningful patient engagement. Dr. Amer Johri, a clinician-scientist at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre and a Queen’s University professor, is one such example. Through his work on metabolic syndrome – a complex condition that includes obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – with the CINQ lab (Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen’s), Dr. Johri is leading the way on involving patients in the research process.

Recently, Dr. Johri and his team invited Kingston community members living with metabolic syndrome to share their experiences and, more significantly, to suggest where future research efforts should be directed.

A focus group of Kingston community members living with metabolic syndrome share their suggestions for future research.

“Hearing the patient perspective is critical to advancing research and improving care. We can enable patients who live with this condition every day to guide future research, programs and care,” said Dr. Johri. “This focus group method has had a meaningful impact on our work. That’s not only exciting for how we conduct studies within our own lab, but hopefully it can inspire other research partners to involve patients in their process and improve the quality of their studies by making modifications based on patient feedback.”

Dr. Johri’s approach is one example of the work being done across CAHO hospitals to move forward on meaningful patient engagement in research. His focus group was a collaboration between the CINQ lab and Metabolic Syndrome Canada. The CINQ Lab is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Dr. Amer Johri metabolic research
Dr. Amer Johri shares his latest research on metabolic syndrome with local community members. 

Dr. Johri is one of many Kingston clinicians who will now be able to conduct research and meet with patients at the new W.J. Henderson Centre for Patient-Oriented Research, which opened on September 11, 2017. He hopes to host a yearly Metabolic Syndrome Day for Kingston community members at the new research facility.

“This new space gives us a place to host events, meet with patients and families, and talk about their experiences,” said Dr. Johri. “Patients now have a ‘home base’ for participating in research. A place that is familiar, welcoming and belongs just as much to them as it does to the researchers and hospital staff.”

Brand new space dedicated to patient-oriented research in Kingston /// Photo and feature photo: Matthew Manor, Kingston Health Sciences Centre

The new facility adds 10,000 square feet of dedicated research space to the Kingston General Health Research Institute, which is home to 700 active research projects, 273 active clinical trials, 250 researchers, 153 students and trainees, and 313 research staff.

By creating a space for partnership and collaboration among scientists, treatment teams, patients and families, this new facility will benefit the Kingston community today, while serving as a guidepost for Ontario health research tomorrow.


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Add Your Voice

Want to share your insights on why health research matters for Ontario? 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.

Patients + Research: Annette McKinnon

At 32 I was a mom to two boys and working part time. When I started to have problems with my hands, feet and overall exhaustion, of course I went to see my doctor. He kept telling me I was just a normal busy mom. This caused a delay of more than a year before I got a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. By then my joints had a lot of damage. It was hard for me and for my family to accept this new ‘normal’ in our lives.

Patient Advocate Annette McKinnonOften chronic disease makes people feel depressed and I was no exception, but between my determined physio and a clinical trial of a new drug that my doctor suggested, I was able to reach a turning point.  The positive feedback I got from one of the trial doctors made me realize that even with health problems I could change my life through my own actions.

That encouragement led me to try to find and use research papers from PubMed and to share what I learned about RA in private health groups and on Twitter.  A friend called it evidence-based tweeting.

Through these efforts I attended an IDEO design thinking workshop. Every patient was partnered with a group of Health Care Professionals and we spent a day of developing a prototype solution for a patient issue – mine was communication between doctor and patient. We created very effective solutions and I thought my team was brilliant. It wasn’t till the next day that I credited myself with having been a team member too.

Because of this conviction of the value of patient knowledge and the patient voice I have persisted in trying to be a patient who is involved in many aspects of the health system.

The first time I was involved in research, as a patient member on a research team, I thought I was helping out, and ended up as a co-author.

Since then I have been on research teams in Ontario applying for grants and also in doing the work after funding. It takes a lot of effort on both sides. The patient voice in research is especially necessary – I had found it shocking in the past to find doctors and researchers used to be the only ones who had input into which results were important to research, rather than finding out what was important to patients.

It has taken a long time for me to become a partner in research, rather than a subject who is being studied. This would have been impossible even ten years ago. I’m so pleased that at last the culture of health care is moving towards the inclusion of patients in meaningful ways.

Anyone who is an active patient will tell you that it is almost always done on a volunteer basis, but being involved has definitely made me healthier, and that’s worth more than money.


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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.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Hamilton Health Sciences

Hamilton researchers discover a simple blood test could save lives after surgery

Researchers at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and McMaster University have determined that a simple blood test can predict and possibly prevent many of the deaths that occur after surgery.

“If death after surgery within the first 30 days was made its own category of death, it would be in the top 5 leading causes of death within North America,” explained Dr. P.J. Devereaux, principal investigator for the “VISION” study.

The VISION study enrolled nearly 22,000 patients aged 45 years or older from 23 hospitals in 13 countries and found that approximately 18 per cent of them sustained heart damage within 30 days of non-cardiac surgery and that, without enhanced monitoring, the vast majority – as many as 93 per cent – of these complications will go undetected, potentially until it’s too late to intervene.

Putting pressure on the heart

“The effects of surgery anywhere in the body create a perfect milieu for damage to heart tissue, including bleeding, blood clot formation, and long periods of inflammation,” says Dr. Devereaux, scientific leader of perioperative medicine at PHRI, director, division of cardiology at McMaster University. “In most cases, this damage occurs within the first 24 to 36 hours after surgery when patients usually receive narcotic painkillers that can mask symptoms of cardiac distress.”

“These discoveries have the potential to save lives.”

After surgery, study patients had a blood test for a protein called high-sensitivity troponin T, which is released into the bloodstream when injury to the heart occurs. Devereaux and his team discovered that patients with troponin T levels beyond a certain threshold had increased risk of death within 30 days of having surgery.

Overall, the study found that 1.4 per cent of patients died within 30 days following non-cardiac surgery.

“One per cent seems like a small number, until you consider that about 200 million surgeries are performed each year around the world,” says Devereaux. “Where we’re letting patients down is in post-operative management. We now know that we need to become more involved in care and monitoring after surgery to ensure that patients at risk have the best chance for a good recovery. These discoveries have the potential to save lives.”

The results of the VISION study were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.


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Hamilton Health Sciences is one of Ontario’s 23 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.

Health and Community Leaders Talk: David Hill

By David Hill, Scientific Director, Lawson Health Research Institute and Integrated Vice President of Research for London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London

Dr David Hill Lawson Health Research Institute

What does health research mean to you?

Health research means delivering the best health care by pushing the boundaries of science. It’s about understanding the basis of wellness and the dysfunctions of the body and mind that result in disease. At Lawson, our research expands the full continuum of life and mirrors the clinical areas at London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London. We make it our mission to test and deliver health care innovations for the benefit of patients in our community, in Ontario and beyond.

Health research also drives the future of health care—looking not just at where we are now but where we could be in ten or fifteen years. Ontario’s research hospitals bridge the gap between today’s discoveries and the next generation of health service and delivery. Where we could be won’t happen by chance. It will be the result of hospital-based research.

Read more: Behind the scenes at Lawson

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

Healthier: Health research makes our patients healthier as the discovery of new treatments leads to improved health outcomes and a higher quality of life.  At Lawson, we take a “bedside to bench to bedside” approach. Our researchers focus their efforts on figuring out the clinical problem, and then take that back to the lab to develop new knowledge that can be translated directly to better patient care. At Lawson we built our strategic plan around precisely identified clinical problems and their resolution through inter-disciplinary research.

Wealthier: Health research is good for the economy as our researchers work to discover new ways to drive efficiency and reduce costs; find new methods of service delivery; improve procedures,; and create entirely new ones, like specialized molecular imaging techniques. We’re also commercializing our innovations through WORLDiscoveries®. Born out of a partnership between Lawson, Robarts Research Institute and Western University, WORLDiscoveries® is the business development arm of London’s extensive research network and the bridge between local invention and global industry.

Smarter: Health Research makes our communities smarter by attracting the best and brightest health care professionals. We’re seeing this at Lawson as we continue to grow our reputation as a leader in the life sciences sector, with over 1,500 principal investigators, research support staff, students and trainees. This growth feeds on itself, helping us to attract top talent to our city, like Dr. Chris McIntyre, a nephrology researcher who came to Lawson from the UK in 2014.

At Lawson, one thing we believe in strongly is that investment in health research is good for all of us – in London, across Ontario, and in Canada. In today’s tough funding landscape, we must ensure that health research remains a priority for health system leaders, and leaders in the broader community.


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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: Joan Baillie

Meet Joan

Three years ago, Joan Baillie was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (a condition that is likely to develop into dementia). She participated in a brain rehabilitation research study at Baycrest Health Sciences led by Rotman Research Institute senior scientist, Dr. Brian Levine, and learned strategies to improve focus and complete everyday tasks through his Goal Management Training intervention. Since her diagnosis, Joan continues to function well and enjoy life.

Joan Baillie Baycrest Research Toronto

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

More than 20 years ago, I had a mini stroke (also known as a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), a condition when the brain’s blood flow is temporarily blocked) and made a full recovery. After I left my car running with the keys inside for two hours, I visited my family doctor about memory concerns. My doctor diagnosed me with Mild Cognitive Impairment and while researching the condition, I read that it could lead to dementia.

A year after my diagnosis, I saw an advertisement about a research study taking place at Baycrest. They were looking for people who experienced a mini stroke or TIA and could benefit from cognitive rehabilitation. I was accepted into the study which would help doctors learn more about the brain and the cognitive changes that may occur with a stroke or mini strokes. The hope is that this will help doctors learn how to best treat those with cognitive problems. This research helped me better understand my memory problems and handle changes that are taking place in my brain.

Short-term memory loss always remains a concern and I am very aware of the signs of dementia.

Why does health research matter to you?

The more the doctors know, the more they can do for you. It’s important that doctors have more knowledge because we are an aging population that is living longer.

The brain scans taken at the start of the study showed that I might have experienced many mini strokes which potentially led to my memory loss. With Dr. Brian Levine’s Goal Management Training, I learned many strategies to help with focus and memory and these allow me to live my life more productively.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

I believe without health research we would still be contracting polio, dying from diabetes and not living our lives fully due to brain limitations. Every advance in medicine is the result of research. If research can help find a reliable treatment for those suffering from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, or even help everyone live their lives to the fullest, then it is absolutely necessary for this research to take place.

The knowledge that is gained from health research will contribute to the future care and treatment of patients with similar problems. It will help medical professionals look after their patients in more productive and understanding ways. It will ultimately save the government many dollars as they will better understand what is needed to serve people who live with dementia or similar conditions. We are approaching a crisis stage because hospitals, nursing homes and the general public are struggling to accommodate those who are living with these diseases.

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

The public should understand that it research is necessary if there is going to be any improvement in the care of people in the future. People should make themselves available for research in any area for which they are experiencing issues. It takes some of your time, but the results will benefit so many patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s. When I told people I was involved in a research study, they congratulated me for doing something positive. We can all do that by sharing our experiences and encouraging other people to become involved in research projects.


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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: Sudbury

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 Sudbury, where researchers at the Health Sciences North Research Institute are improving the health of northerners, growing the economy of Greater Sudbury, and cementing their reputation as an emerging centre of health care research.

This blog post features some of the highlights of our field trip – but we also live tweeted every minute! To take the full live-tweeted tour, scroll through our Storify story here.

STOP 1: Grand opening of the Walford research facility

Greater Sudbury is committed to health research, recognizing its value for the community and the local economy. This fact was underscored as we kicked off our HWS Field Trip at the grand opening of a new research laboratory, an expansion of Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI) current space.

A large crowd of more than 80 people came out to support and celebrate this milestone of Sudbury’s health research enterprise. The diverse audience included Mayor Brian Bigger, local MPs Marc Serre and Paul Lefebvre, local MPPs Glenn Thibeault and France Gelinas, members of the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, local business representatives, researchers, patients, community members, and local media outlets.

New Walford research site Health Sciences North Research Institute   Dr. Janet McElhaney Health Sciences North Sudbury
At the Health Sciences North Research Institute, “research is patient care”. /// Dr. Janet McElhaney, Scientific Director of HSNRI, leads a tour of the new Walford research facility.

The new Walford site – a repurposed, red-brick elementary school – has been transformed into a modern, state-of-the-art medical research facility for HSNRI. It will provide researchers with an additional 14,000 square feet of research and laboratory space, helping to attract more bright scientific minds to the area.

Health Research Champions in Sudbury at Health Sciences North
Research champions and guest speakers from the Walford site grand opening, (L-R): Dr. Janet McElhaney, Vice President of Research and Scientific Director, HSNRI, Nicole Everest, Board Chair, HSNRI, MP Marc Serré, MP Paul Lefebvre, Karen Michell, former Executive Director, CAHO, Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault, Paulette Lalancette, Co-Chair of Northeast Cancer Centre Patient & Family Advisory Committee, Mayor Brian Bigger, City of Greater Sudbury and Greater Sudbury Development Corporation, Dr. Denis Roy, former President and CEO, HSNRI

There were nine guest speakers at the facility’s grand opening, including outgoing CEO of Health Sciences North and HSNRI, Dr. Denis Roy.

“When I arrived here in 2010, I spoke of Sudbury and HSN having the potential to become the ‘Harvard of the North’ when it comes to the academic health sciences,” said Dr. Roy. “It’s already happening. Since the time HSNRI was established five years ago, it’s grown from a team of 36 people to 90. This new facility will help HSNRI to continue attracting world-class talent, who see Sudbury as a viable place to do leading-edge work.”

Vice President of Research and Scientific Director of HSNRI, Dr. Janet McElhaney, also highlighted some of the current research underway, including flu and nicotine vaccines, new models of care for frail seniors, and more. “This is research being done in the north, by northerners, for the people of the north, with world implications,” said Dr. McElhaney.

Dr. Denis Roy remarks on Health Sciences North as Harvard of the North   Paulette Lalancette
Research saves lives. Research makes life better” – Dr. Denis Roy /// “Health research allows patients to dream about the future.” – Paulette Lalancette.

Paulette Lalancette, Patient Advisor and co-chair of Northeast Cancer Centre Patient and Family Advisory Council, also shared her story. Paulette was diagnosed with stage 4 malignant melanoma in 2009, when her son was just four years old. With no further treatment options available to her, she was provided comfort measures. Now eleven years later with her cancer in remission, Paulette has become a strong cancer research champion in Ontario’s north, recognizing its value in bringing hope to families like hers. “Research is monumental and allows me to dream of the future,” said Paulette.

Read Paulette’s blog post about her experience and perspective on the value of research.

STOP 2: Labs at the Ramsey Lake Health Centre

After the Walford Site grand opening, we spent the afternoon meeting scientists and learning about how their research is making a difference for the community.

Viruses, Antimicrobial Resistance and Lessons from Nature

We met Dr. Reza Nokhbeh, who joined the Health Sciences North Research Institute in 2012. Dr. Nokhbeh’s research is focused on developing alternative treatments that use bacteriophages – a type of virus that infects and attacks other bacteria (in Greek, literally, to devour bacteria). Medicine is facing a growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics. On top of that, antibiotics typically act as a blanket treatment rather than a targeted treatment, attacking all of our bacteria, whether it’s good or bad for our immune systems. Dr. Nokhbeh’s big question is, how can we fight harmful bacteria while protecting our good bacteria?

Dr. Reza Nokhbeh (centre) and his members of his research team, Cassandra Norton (left) and Megan Ross (right).

“Nature knows much more than us,” explained Dr. Nokhbeh. “How can we learn from nature to improve care?” His team is working on developing therapies that use the “phage” viruses to target and infect only the harmful bacteria. The team is starting to see success in the treatment of acne and other bacterial infections such as C. difficile.

Real-Time Personalized Medicine for Chemotherapy Management

When Dr. Amadeo Parissenti first began conducting cancer research, he was surprised at the number of patients who were not benefitting from chemotherapy. “Getting treatment right is critical,” explained Dr. Parissenti. “The harsh conditions of chemotherapy can actually train a tumour to become resistant. That means that if the chemo isn’t working, the cancer can actually become harder to treat with other methods.”

Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter: Dr. Amadeo Parissenti (right) used his research evidence to create a smarter intervention for chemotherapy, and is bringing it to market with HSNRI spin-off company, Rna Diagnostics.  

He set out to develop a tool that could determine the effectiveness of chemotherapy for individual patients – in real time. Dr. Parissenti launched a spin-off company to bring his new tool, the Rna Distruption Assay™, to market. This tool provides physicians and patients a real-time evaluation of how patients are responding to chemotherapy. If it’s working, the physician and patient can continue with confidence. If it isn’t, they work together to consider alternate therapies. It’s marrying personalized medicine with chemotherapy management.

“For patients, this means avoiding harmful side effects of chemotherapy that isn’t treating the cancer,” said Dr. Parissenti. “It also means that patients have a new opportunity to improve outcomes earlier on by switching to a more effective treatment.”

The RDA™ tool is undergoing validation testing in a recently launched international clinical trial, involving more than 500 patients with invasive breast cancer, scheduled to receive neoadjuvant chemotherapy, in 40 centers across North America and Europe.

STOP 2: Labs at the Walford Research Facility

Marijuana Research: Generating Evidence for Regulations and Policy 

With marijuana legalization on the horizon in Canada, it is important to understand the potential impact of smoking marijuana, including lung cancer risk – the leading cause of cancer-related death in Canada. Dr. Leslie Sutherland is researching cannabis inhalation to see how it interacts with human lung cells and determine the level of harm.

Dr. Leslie Sutherland, Health Sciences North
Dr. Leslie Sutherland (left) is researching the link between cannabis inhalation and lung cancer, helping to drive evidence-based policy in Canada.

“We are comparing the early changes that occur in lung cells exposed to tobacco versus cannabis,” explained Dr. Sutherland. “Right now, evidence in the literature suggests that those who smoke both cannabis and tobacco are at a higher risk for lung cancer than those who smoke only tobacco. We are trying to identify the molecular changes that drive this correlation.” Depending on the research findings, Dr. Sutherland hopes that her cannabis smoke exposure research will help inform medicinal marijuana prescription guidelines for physicians.

These findings could have a big impact on marijuana policy decisions, and Dr. Sutherland expects to publish the results of her research later in 2017.

Understanding the Interaction of Traditional Medicine and Cancer Treatment

Many cancer patients in Northern Ontario take natural products as part of their effort to fight cancer. Having lived and worked in Sudbury for over 20 years, Dr. Robert Lafrenie’s research on natural or traditional therapies for cancer is informed by his experience working with the members of the Indigenous community.

Dr. Robert Lafranie
Dr. Robert Lafrenie and his team are improving care for the Greater Sudbury community by studying the interactions between traditional medicines and cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“A lot of patients are using natural products or traditional medicines to either bolster standard cancer treatments or to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” explained Dr. Lafrenie. “While this can be a benefit, it’s important to understand how those medicines might interaction with standard cancer treatment.”

Dr. Lafrenie’s team is investigating how compounds extracted from various plants used in traditional medicine might help treat cancer without producing unwanted side effects or negatively interact with other cancer therapies. With the findings from his research, Dr. Lafrenie hopes to build a guideline for patients and physicians, showing which natural medicines help or harm when interacting with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Research Supporting Regional Needs

At the grand opening of the Walford facility, Mayor Brian Bigger said: “By attracting and retaining top talent in Sudbury, we all benefit from health research discovery and innovation.”

The Sudbury community not only benefits from the research underway at HSNRI, it also informs the questions and supports the discoveries being made by the researchers. HSNRI’s research priorities have been strategically selected based on the health priorities of the region, and include Northern and Indigenous Health, Healthy Aging, Cancer Solutions, Infection and Immunity, and Personalized Medicine. We had the benefit of seeing the progress in these priority areas, and we want to thank our hosts at HSNRI for giving us the opportunity to see, first-hand, that research truly is patient care.

CAHO Field Trip Sudbury Health Sciences North
Research is patient care! Thanks to our hosts at HSNRI. We look forward to seeing how the new Walford research facility will help drive a healthier, wealthier, smarter 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.

Read our other HWS Field Trips here.

Patients + Research: Paulette Lalancette

Meet Paulette

As a Respiratory Therapist and Anesthesia Assistant, Paulette has experience with healthcare in Ontario. But her world changed when she was diagnosed with cancer. Now eleven years later with a bright and hopeful future ahead, Paulette has become a health research champion as the co-chair of the Northeast Cancer Centre Patient and Family Advisory Council at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.

Paulette Lalancette shares her struggle with cancer and the value of health research at Health Sciences North

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

I worked in the healthcare system every day. I was a Respiratory Therapist and Anesthesia Assistant living in Toronto. While working with a Plastic Surgeon at the hospital, my arm began to bleed out. It was decided that a closer look would be necessary. It was confirmed that I had stage 3c Malignant Melanoma. It wasn’t diagnosed early on because it wasn’t a typical melanoma. It was amelanotic, meaning it was white instead of the typical black spot.

Once it progressed to stage 4, I was sent to Roswell Park Cancer centre in Buffalo, NY for Interleukin (IL-2) therapy. The Oncologist there explained to me that he believed the future of fighting cancer didn’t necessitate finding a cure but finding treatment to help people to live with cancer as a chronic disease. Research was the key. After two rounds of treatment new tumors continued to appear. I was told the treatment wasn’t working. Back in 2009, there were no other treatment options and so the decision was made to provide comfort measures. I was told that there were new therapies in research trials but nothing would likely be available for me in time.

The following months were expected to be difficult, but for inexplicable reasons the tumours receded. By 2012 it was declared that there was no longer evidence of disease. There is no explanation as to why the melanoma disappeared. My Oncologist was not convinced that it is related to the Interleukin treatment but for whatever reasons it has been eleven years and I am still here to tell my story, leading a healthy lifestyle and able to enjoy the experience of my child growing up.

Why does health research matter to you?

Research is important to me because in the end it gives me hope that I will meet my grandchildren one day. My son was four years old when I was diagnosed with cancer and he is now fifteen. I live with the reality that my cancer will likely return one day. I am hopeful for the research advancements that have and will provide new treatment options with fewer side effects as the day comes that I may need them.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

I believe health research has a two-fold contribution.

First, it contributes to disease prevention and wellness promotion. Research helps understand what is causing diseases and ill health and what steps can be taken to avoid triggers. In general, people want to engage in activities that will prevent disease. Research provides the necessary evidence-based data to make concrete recommendations to help the population avoid ill health and achieve wellness without having to decipher fact from fiction on their own.

Second, if disease cannot be prevented, health research can help improve outcomes, safety and patient experience. Research allows us to move forward with the proper care based on carefully weighted evidence. Patients can be confident that leading edge health care is being provided across the province because of health research.

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

Adding the patient voice and a face to research can provide a sense of pride to the researcher and to its many supporters. Showing the human face of research gives all involved a motivation to continue the support needed to keep health research moving forward. Researchers do not always have the opportunity to see the monumental impact that some of the smallest advancements make. Also, patients do not always have the opportunity to say thank you to a research team for enhancing their daily lives. Continued health research gives me peace of mind for the future.


Related Stories


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.

Research Spotlight: Providence Care Hospital

What does the new Providence Care Hospital (PCH) in Kingston mean for health research in Ontario and the CAHO community?

Providence Care is a proud member of the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario, and our new space is an asset to the research community in southeastern Ontario. The PCH design provided dedicated space for health research in a prime location: Kingston is within easy distance of both Ottawa and Toronto, and our hospital itself overlooks local parks and Lake Ontario.

Researchers have open areas suitable for collaboration at PCH and just steps from our in-house Health Sciences Library, which is an academic library accessed by health care providers across the region. In addition, each of the nine inpatient units has space on the unit for researchers and care teams to work together with patients and families.

What is the focus of research at Providence Care?

The top three areas of focus for researchers at Providence Care align with our Mission to enhance the quality of life for the people we serve.  Working hand-in-hand with our health care partners, Providence Care offers programs and services in the areas of ‘Aging, Mental Health and Rehabilitative Care.’ Our research streams are aligned to these themes as well.

From a strategic perspective, our focus areas are also aligned to the Queen’s University Faculty of Health Services, and in particular they are supported by the Division of Geriatric Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Divisions of Geriatric and Forensic Psychiatry, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and the Schools of Rehabilitation Therapy and Nursing.

When you look at the full spectrum of research, from knowledge generation to translation and exchange, there is quite a lot going on at PCH.

First, with respect to knowledge generation, currently in Psychiatry and its subspecialties at PCH there are 37 active studies totaling $8.2 million. These include:

  • 3 CIHR studies (2.7m) – dementia, CT evaluation, drug efficacy in seniors
  • 6 OBI studies (2.2m) neurodegenerative disease and biomarkers in depression
  • 4 CAN-BIND studies (800K) biomarkers in depression
  • 11 pharma drug evaluation studies (600K)

When it comes to Knowledge Translation and Exchange, the Centre for Studies in Aging & Health at Providence Care focuses on education and training, capacity building, development of partnerships and linkages and the use of online education and information.

The Centre is supported by success in grant applications from agencies such as Health Force Ontario, The Ontario Research Coalition, and Ontario Senior’s Secretariat and the South East Local Health Integration Network.  Important current initiatives include continued involvement as one of three funded sites involved in the provincial Age Friendly Communities initiative and for the Ministry of Corrections, the development and dissemination of materials on Aging for the inmates and institutional care providers, staff and administration.

What’s next for research at Providence Care Hospital?

Looking ahead, since moving into the new hospital, we see health research activities growing in Southeastern Ontario.  This relates to the previously mentioned new space and expanded partnerships. These provide new opportunities for our research supporters to grow and develop on-site and with our acute care academic hospital partners contributing substantially to the development of an Integrated Research Institute comprised of the Queen’s University Faculty of Health Sciences, the Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Providence Care. We also are working hard to attract new researchers into contributing to developments  in care for seniors, people living with mental illness and people living with and/or recovering from illness or injury.  


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Providence Care Hospital is one of Ontario’s 23 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.


Patients + Research: Wayne Kristoff

I was diagnosed in June 2014 with Type 2 diabetes.  It was bothersome but not unexpected as I had been told by my family doctor that I was borderline diabetic for a while. My father was also Type 2 and my paternal grandmother had what was described as a “sugar problem” in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  From what has been discussed in our family, I believe that it would be called Type 2 today. At the time of my diagnosis, I was told that I would be on medication for the rest of my life.

Fast forward to mid-December 2015 and I was watching the news on CTV London when a story appeared on an upcoming Lawson Health Research Institute trial taking place at St. Joseph’s Health Care London to see if they could put Type 2 diabetes into remission for a period of time. I would do anything to make things better for my children and grandchildren and there was the possibility of managing my diabetes in another way. Also, with my background in education, I knew the value of research into finding better ways to do things.

Wayne Kristoff participated in a clinical trial at Lawson Health Research Institute for Type 2 diabetes remission

In early February 2016, I was asked to meet so that information could be gathered, expectations outlined, and generally discuss if the study was appropriate for me. Some of the expectations were that I would meet with a dietician, I would keep track of my weekly activity and steps, I would work at losing a minimum of 5% of my body weight, and I would follow the regimen to the best of my ability. I was quite eager to join the study so another appointment was established where I would have blood taken, have a check-up and be randomized, which was explained to me as whether I would be part of the control group or part of the test group.

At the next appointment, everything went well. For the next month I would have weekly visits to the clinic with telephone checks part way through the week. From late March until May, I would attend the clinic every two weeks with all the paper work completed such as a 3-day meal diary, food survey of things I ate over a year, steps, daily insulin dosage and blood testing. I have to say that the visits were a pleasure as they turned into both cheerleading and counselling.

When I went for the checkup in May, it was the end of the intensive drug therapy and I was told to start decreasing the dosage of insulin. Blood was taken for another A1C test and I was to receive a call when the results were back. I remember well where I was and what I was doing when I received the call on May 16 to tell me that the test was good and to stop all diabetic medication.

Wayne Kristoff participated in a clinical trial at Lawson Health Research Institute for Type 2 diabetes remission
Wayne shared his story at our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter London Field Trip

Whatever the outcome in the future, I have had much more time drug-free than I ever expected when I was first diagnosed. At the end of the trial, I am still not taking diabetic medication and my family doctor will continue to monitor my progress. I am now aware that there are several options for me if and when I need to take medications again. I also have to say that my quality of life is greatly improved.  I have so much more energy than I had before the trial. Not feeling well almost constantly puts a damper on things that you want to do. In the course of this trial I have met some great people that I know are there to support me.

Research such as this at our hospitals is so important because it advances treatment options for patients. It gives the public a chance to see where money goes rather than just in some lab out of sight.  It puts every day faces on research.

In summing up, I feel very privileged to be part of this trial. I would encourage anyone who sees a trial that is appropriate for them to become involved.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat and I will certainly be looking for other ways to stay involved.

Read more about Wayne Kristoff and the REMIT study at Lawson Health Research Institute


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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.