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HWS Field Trips: Ottawa

Touring Ottawas Research Hospitals

Research hospitals play a leading role in making Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter. To demonstrate the world-class research happening across our province, we kicked off our newest series, HWS Field Trips. Our first stop? The nation’s capital! We got a behind-the-scenes look at some of the research labs at the Bruyère Research Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, The Royal Ottawa, Montfort Hospital, and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

This blog post highlights only a fraction of the incredible research we learned about on our field trip. To take the full tour, scroll through our Storify story here, or check out the hashtag #onHWS from Nov. 17th to 18th where we live-tweeted every minute!

STOP 1: Bruyère Research Institute (BRI)

Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging:  We received a warm welcome from Dr. Vanessa Taler, the lead researcher working with a team of 13 on the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), a nation-wide research project based out of McMaster University. The CLSA has enrolled over 50,000 participants between ages 45 and 85—the largest study of its kind in Canada. 3170 participants are from the Ottawa area and BRI researchers will now follow them for the next 20 years, collecting physical, social, and cognitive data.

Big Picture: This substantial amount of data will give researchers, doctors and policy makers a clear picture of the process of aging, helping them zoom in on problem areas and see where more work needs to be done. Bonus: all of this data will be open-source.

Other highlights: Dr. Barbara Farrell is developing deprescribing guidelines to help taper or stop medications that may be causing harm and to monitor for adverse drug withdrawal reactions in elderly patients. Learn more on the BRI’s RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT blog post.

Bruyere Research Institute - HWS Field Trips Ottawa

For more on research at the BRI, click here.

STOP 2: The Ottawa Hospital

Oncolytic Virus Therapy: Dr. John Bell’s lab at The Ottawa Hospital has been the site of many game-changing breakthroughs, including a recent double virus cancer therapy, jointly discovered with researchers at CHEO and McMaster. It’s now in clinical trials across the country. Dr. Rozanne Arulanandam, who works in Dr. John Bell’s lab, recently discovered how cancer-fighting viruses infect tumour blood vessels, but not normal blood vessels. She’s now working with Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo to develop “viral sensitizers” that can ramp up virus replication by more than 1000 times.

Big Picture: By directing a virus to infect the tumour only, scientists can target therapies. And by adding viral sensitizers, those therapies will get a significant boost in cancer-fighting power.

Stem Cell Research: We also stopped by Dr. Bernard Thébaud’s lab in the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine. With help from postdoctoral fellow Dr. Jennifer Collins, Dr. Thébaud is working to repair lung damage in premature babies using stem cells from umbilical cord blood. Jointly appointed between The Ottawa Hospital and CHEO, Dr. Thébaud exemplifies the strong culture of collaboration within the Ottawa health research enterprise. Watch a video featuring Dr. Thébaud on our videos page.

Big Picture: Lung disease is one of the most common complications in premature babies, which can lead to long-lasting problems. Umbilical cord stem cells may be able to restore an already damaged lung and prevent later complications.

Other highlights: Dr. Marc Rodger explained how research and clinical trials are completely integrated into his blood disease clinic. Patients are asked upfront if they have interest in participating in research and staff review every record to match patients up with clinical trials. This simple process modification helps to streamline patient engagement in research.

The Ottawa Hospital - HWS Field Trips Ottawa

For more on research at The Ottawa Hospital, click here.

STOP 3: The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre

Sexual Behaviours Clinic: We sat down with Dr. Paul Fedoroff and his team to learn about efforts to prevent deviant sexual behaviours – i.e. sexual assault, pedophilia, use of child pornography. Through specialized testing, Dr. Fedoroff has shown that paraphilic sexual interest patterns are changeable and can be normalized. This past October, the Sexual Behaviours Clinic team was recognized with a Gold Achievement Award from the American Psychiatric Association.

Big Picture: Dr. Fedoroff’s team has shown that treatment can prevent sex crimes before they happen, encouraging self-referrals from clients who have never committed a sexual offence but are worried by their deviant sexual interests.

Depression and Ketamine: Up in the Mood Disorders Research Unit we met with Dr. Pierre Blier, whose ground-breaking preclinical experiments investigate the impact of the drug ketamine on patients experiencing severe depression and suicidal ideation.

Big Picture: Traditional antidepressants take weeks to take effect—too long for patients contemplating suicide. Ketamine works within hours and has a long lasting effect.

Other Highlights: Researchers at The Royal’s Sleep Lab are looking at the relationship between sleep and mental illness. For example, depression disrupts slow wave sleep while increasing REM cycle sleep. One of the key questions in the Sleep Lab is, why?

The Royal Ottawa - HWS Field Trips Ottawa

For more on research at The Royal, click here.

STOP 4: Hôpital Montfort

Collaborative Research & Integrated Care: Montfort’s Vice President of Research, Dr. Denis Prud’homme explained that the research institute’s mandate is to study the intersection of body and mind. Dr. Francois Chiocchio is moving this mandate forward by studying collaboration in a research context. He’s mapping what healthcare professionals need for better integrated care.

Big Picture: Better integrated care improves the research pathway from lab to clinic, and improves quality of care and patient safety. Dr. Chiocchio’s method for collaboration can be spread and scaled across the province.

Other Highlights: Patients with diabetes often have a misperception about the intensity of their physical exertion. While they may think they are exerting full strength, Dr. Natalie Chapados’s research shows that they aren’t. She’s investigating the reason for this misperception, as it presents a significant barrier to physical exercise, weight, and overall health.

Hopital Montfort - HWS Field Trips Ottawa

For more on research at Montfort, click here.

STOP 5: Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO)

Oncolytic Virus Therapy: Ottawa is truly a leader in oncolytic virus therapy and we got to experience it first hand in the Stojdl Lab, where Dr. Stojdl’s team walked us through part of the process of creating a cancer-fighting virus. A team of scientists re-engineer insect-derived viruses to better target certain types of cancer, then infuse the virus into cells to test its impact. Right now, the team is working on viruses to fight brain cancer. The Stojdl Lab works in collaboration with Dr. John Bell’s lab at The Ottawa Hospital and others in Ontario toward a single goal: to improve cancer treatment for patients.

Big Picture: Oncolytic viruses don’t attack the DNA in healthy parts of the body like chemo and radiation therapies. Instead, they target the cancer cells directly while leveraging the patient’s immune system to help attack the disease.

Rare Diseases: Dr. Alex MacKenzie welcomed us to the Care for Rare lab, specializing in rare disease research. Researchers perform full genetic exome sequencing to discover the underlying cause of a disease, and then develop new therapies. So far, the lab has identified over 85 genetic causes for rare disease—and that number continues to rise.

Big Picture: Collectively, rare disease is not that rare. Over 500,000 Canadian children are impacted by rare disease. Insufficient patient numbers per disease, however, preclude the classic clinical trial approach. The Care for Rare lab is exploring the regulatory and scientific issues associated with the introduction of new therapies for rare diseases into the clinic.

CHEO - HWS Field Trips Ottawa

For more on research at CHEO, click here.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to our Ottawa hosts for touring us—and our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter audience—through their research institutes.

Health research generates new discoveries, better care, greater efficiency, and a knowledge-based economy. That’s how it contributes to a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario. Discover more health research and patient stories by signing up for our monthly newsletter, or following #onHWS on Twitter. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, read our Policy Platform.