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HWS Field Trips: Kingston

Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class research happening across our province, we took a field trip to historic Kingston, home to a highly innovative, interdisciplinary health research community.

We went behind-the-scenes at Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu Hospital, Providence Care, and Queens University, and were delighted to be joined by patients, research teams, hospital CEOs and local politicians MPP Sophie Kiwala and Mayor Bryan Paterson along the way.

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

Fast-track through our tour by clicking the links:

STOP 1: Kingston General Hospital (KGH)
STOP 2: Queens University
STOP 3: Hotel Dieu Hospital
STOP 4: Providence Care


The Kick-Off

Hospital CEOs, senior staff, researchers, donors, live-tweeters, and other health research champions came together to celebrate Kingston’s health research sector and kick off our tour. Interim CEO of Kingston General Hospital, Jim Flett, welcomed guests to share a few words about the role of health research in building a healthier, wealthier, smarter city.

We were honoured to be joined by Mayor Bryan Paterson, who remarked that Kingston’s vision to be a smart, livable city was well aligned with the healthier, wealthier, smarter campaign. Already our hashtag (#onHWS) was trending, and everyone was eager to get the tour started and see health research in action!

Kingston Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Tour Kick-off
Bottom Left to Right: Mayor Bryan Paterson, Elizabeth Bardon (Chief of Public Relations and Community Engagement, Hotel Dieu Hospital), Jim Flett (Interim CEO, Kingston General Hospital), Cathy Szabo (CEO, Providence Care),  and Dr. Roger Deely (Vice President of Health Sciences Research at Kingston General Hospital and Vice-Dean of Research in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s University).


STOP 1: Kingston General Hospital (KGH)

Preventing Heart Disease: Our first stop was the Maternal Health Clinic, one of the world’s first clinics targeting pregnancy and the postpartum period as a window of opportunity for disease prevention in women. Founded by Dr. Graeme Smith, the clinic screens women for heart disease risk factors and provides resources and tools for maternal and family health. These tools include a website and smart phone apps that women can use to track health indicators pre- and post-pregnancy such as blood pressure, weight changes and baby movements.

Dr Smith 1 Dr. Graeme Smith
“Pregnancy is a stress test, in that it can reveal underlying health issues in the mother that may indicate an increased risk of future heart disease,” says Dr. Graeme Smith, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Big Picture: About 20% of expectant mothers exhibit at least one of six indicators for heart disease during pregnancy. Dr. Smith is helping to set up clinics across Canada and the US to screen for these indicators, and hopefully prevent heart disease down the road.


Finding the Link Between Heart and Lungs: Drs. Alberto Neder and Dennis O’Donnell at LACEP (Laboratory of Clinical Exercise Physiology) study patients with both heart and lung disease, to see how one affects the other. They use the stress of physical exercise to simultaneously record cardiovascular, respiratory and circulatory systems and identify markers of disease and progression.

KGH Rick King KGH Trainee
Left to Right: Patient Rick King shares his experience participating in clinical research at the LACEP Lab. /// A visiting student from Brazil shares why he came to KGH to conduct his research, following in Dr. Alberto Neder’s footsteps, who came to KGH from Brazil in 2013.

Community Impact: Local clinical trial participants, like Rick King, have the benefit of receiving cutting-edge treatments from world-leading researchers while helping to improve care for tomorrow’s patients. “It’s neat to be involved in cutting-edge research that can help other people in the future,” said Rick on our visit to LACEP.


Other KGH Highlights:  We visited Dr. Anne Ellis and her team to learn about their research and validation of new treatments for hay fever and other allergies. Their Environmental Exposure Unit (EEU) lab provides a controlled atmosphere to produce and evaluate symptoms and is internationally recognized as the gold standard for testing airborne allergens.

Dr Ellis Environmental Exposure Unit
Dr. Anne Ellis explains how clinical trials in the EEU use fans to blow fresh pollen across the room. /// The spinning device on the right measures the amount of pollen in the air.  

Read more about health research at KGH in their Research Spotlight blog post, or on their research institute website.


STOP 2: Queen’s University

Cancer Control: Dr. David Berman, Director at the Cancer Research Institute, is working with a group of scientists and trainees to road-test new strategies for cancer control. Dr. David Langelaan, a postdoctoral fellow, explained his novel peptide-based drug that aims to inhibit the bond between the two proteins that cause leukemia.

Dr Berman Dr LeBrun
Left to Right: “We now think that every cancer that arises is a failure of the immune system,” says Dr. David Berman. /// Dr. David Lebrun explains advances being made in cancer research today.  

Big Picture: Scientists are developing ways to manufacture molecules targeted as blockers to cancer-causing protein bonds, preventing the spread of cancer.


Students at the PERK Lab: The Laboratory for Percutaneous Surgery (or PERK Lab) specializes in translational clinical engineering research in various clinical specialties including orthopedic surgery, surgical and radiation oncology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, and cardiology. We met a group of university students—and even a grade 10 high school student—working with Director, Dr. Gabor Fichtinger, to develop new surgical tools that will improve quality of care for the patient, and increase efficiency of the procedure.

Queen's PERK Lab Students
Top Left to Right: Grace Underwood (3rd y. UG), Zac Baum (3rd y UG), Vinyas Harish (3rd y UG), Rachael House (3rd y UG), Christina Yan (2rd y UG), Aidan Baksh (grade 10 High School). /// Bottom Left to Right: Zac Baum (3rd y UG) demonstrates surgical guidance with mobile image overlay; Christina Yan (2rd y UG) demonstrates ultrasound-based scoliosis measurement; Aidan Baksh (grade 10 High School) demonstrates ultrasound-based cardiocentesis guidance.

Key Takeaway: Ontario is in good hands! The next generation of health professionals is inventing the future of healthcare for our province.


Other Queen’s Highlights: We met Director Janet Dancey and researchers from the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), a cooperative oncology group that carries out international clinical trials in cancer therapy, supportive care and prevention. By collaborating with scientists around the world, the CCTG can leverage a large population pool and develop robust clinical trials to test new therapies for rarer cancers.

The CCTG network extends across 40 countries and their scope spans basic science, clinical knowledge, health policy and practice change.

For more on health research at Queens, click here.


STOP 3: Hotel Dieu Hospital

Real-Time Navigation for Breast Cancer Surgery: Joined by local MPP Sophie Kiwala, we kicked off day 2 of our tour at Hotel Dieu Hospital, where surgeon Dr. Jay Engel, along with Dr. Tamas Ungi and researchers from the Queen’s University PERK lab, are conducting clinical trials that literally map a new way to perform breast cancer surgery by using GPS-like technology to target tumours and allow for surgical excision with clear margins.

MPP Kiwala surgery Real Time Breast Surgery Navigation
Kingston MPP Sophie Kiwala (pictured left) and Executive Director of CAHO Karen Michell (pictured right) try their hands at real-time navigation surgery on synthetic breast tumours. If the knife hits the tumour, the device beeps to alert the surgeon – kind of like an innovative game of Operation.

Big Picture: The transformative surgical technique has the potential to increase the breast cancer cure rate by accurately removing all cancer-positive tissue around the tumour—the first time. The technique will also save dollars for the system by reducing the need for further surgery, conserving healthy breast tissue, and improving cosmetic results. Plus, this device can be commercialized. Read more about it here.


High-Tech and Low-Tech Eye Care Innovations: The Hotel Dieu Hospital Ophthalmology Department is home to creative, innovative young researchers. Ophthalmic surgeon Dr. Davin Johnson is developing a 3D-printed sutureless corneal prosthesis that will improve outcomes and reduce surgery times for corneal transplantation. Dr. Mark Xu developed an equally innovative, low-tech solution to test for blocked tear ducts. Instead of the expensive, invasive current standard of care, Dr. Xu is experimenting with the response of research subjects to the administration of bitter tasting eye drops. If the subjects can taste the drops, then doctors know the duct is open! Research into the promising “bitter taste test” continues.

Davin Johnson Hotel Dieu Hospital Ophthalmology Department
“Research is a huge component of the Ophthalmology program,” says Dr. Davin Johnson (pictured left). The simulation lab seen here is ground zero for training the next generation of eye specialists in Kingston. 

Key Takeaway: Health research generates both high-tech innovations and simple solutions that lead to improvements in care, cost savings, and a better overall experience for patients. You can’t help but be inspired by Kingston’s young researchers who are thinking outside the box!


Other Hotel Dieu Highlights: We visited the Human Mobility Research Lab with Drs. Kevin Deluzio and Mike Rainbow, where human movement is measured with 3-dimensional data through motion capture cameras, floor-embedded force sensors and video fluoroscopy. This data may impact the way we treat or detect musculoskeletal disease. The lab attracted Dr. Rainbow from Harvard and was the impetus for setting up his own High-Speed Skeletal Imaging Lab, slated for construction at Hotel Dieu in 2016. It will feature a motion capture system that can measure the human skeleton in motion—one of only a few labs of its kind in the world. 

HMRL 1 Human Mobility Research Lab
A researcher at the Human Mobility Research Lab wears motion capture gear to demonstrate how the team measures the nuts and bolts of human movement. The Holy Grail is to combine this biomechanics research with wearables so that everyone can access data and prevent things such as joint pain.

We also had the chance to meet researchers working to improve mental health services for military families, and visit the Neurosciences Clinical Research Labs, where scientists study and measure the behaviours of circuits in the brain to identify patients at risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

Read more about health research at Hotel Dieu Hospital in their Research Spotlight blog post, or on their Research Institute website.


STOP 4: Providence Care

KINARM: A Kingston Invention: The KINARM is the first system to assess sensory, motor and cognitive function by using robotics. It was developed by Dr. Stephen Scott and first trialed in a clinical research setting at Providence Care’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Hospital. By asking patients to perform a series of tests, the KINARM can pinpoint problems that are otherwise invisible to the physician’s eye, enabling accurate, personalized rehabilitation programs. KINARM is a great example of how researchers in Kingston are collaborating across institutes to improve clinical care. Hotel Dieu Hospital and Kingston General Hospital also have KINARM labs, and all three hospitals focus on different areas of brain research to meet the needs of their patient populations.

MPP Kiwala KINARM MPP Sophie Kiwala test KINARM
Left to Right: At Hotel Dieu, MPP Sophie Kiwala takes a seat in KINARM as Dr. Stephen Scott explains how gamified tests will measure cognitive behaviour. /// At Providence Care, the two blue arms on the monitor show the participant’s arm movements in KINARM’s game of “keep up”, testing rapid motor skills, spatial neglect and decision making.

Economic Impact: Support from Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Research Fund and others has helped Dr. Scott commercialize the KINARM through his company, BKIN Technologies. BKIN now employs 7 staff, and has sold roughly 60 KINARM machines worldwide.


Alzheimer’s Research: We met recent grad, Roxanne Leung, who is working with Dr. Dallas Seitz on an Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment study, as part of the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative (ONDRI – a cross-provincial study funded by the Ontario Brain Institute). Participants undergo evaluations across multiple research platforms: neurological assessment, neuropsychological assessment, gait and ocular assessments, genomics, and neuroimaging testing.

Clive ONDRI Ontario Brain Institute Study at Providence Care
Left to Right: Roxanne shows participant (and fellow researcher, Clive Velkers) a series of images and asks him to draw them, testing memory and visual/spatial skills. /// “I wanted to do dementia research, work with Dr. Seitz, my former professor at Queen’s, and work with patients. The ONDRI study at Providence Care offered all of that,” says Roxanne.

Big Picture: This research will help with the development of standardized assessment protocols to allow for comparisons across disease states. By identifying the common and unique features of Alzheimer’s, researchers can develop better, more targeted therapeutic approaches.


Other Providence Care Highlights: Our tour concluded with a visit to the Providence Care Hospital construction site. Not only will the new facility have 10,000 square feet dedicated to cutting-edge research, it is designed to improve the patient experience. Once open, researchers at Providence Care will study whether the space itself has had an impact on patient outcomes.

Providence New Hospital
“When we’re on one site, there will be all sorts of opportunities for collaboration,” said Dr. John Puxty, Director of the Centre for Studies in Aging and Health. /// Providence Care’s new hospital is expected to open later in 2016.

For more on research at Providence Care, click here.


After two full days of inspiring research, we came away with an important learning: collaboration is central to creativity and innovation. In the words of Providence Care CEO, Cathy Szabo, Kingston may be a small city but its health research sector is mighty, and it’s supported by the city’s strong collaborative environment.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to our Kingston hosts for touring us through their research institutes. We would also like to thank MPP Kiwala and Mayor Paterson for joining us along the way, as well as the donors, CEOs and other health research champions who came out for the tour kick-off.

Our hashtag, #onHWS, had nearly 150 voices engaging with the tour, contributing over 900 tweets, making over 2 million impressions. Thanks to everyone who followed along, and we encourage you to continue telling us why health research matters to you.

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. Discover more health research and patient stories by signing up for our monthly newsletter, or joining the #onHWS conversation on Twitter.