Physicians and researchers partnering to improve care in Northern Ontario

Health Sciences North Research in Sudbury and Northern Ontario

Physicians and researchers partnering to improve care in Northern Ontario

Dr. Robert Ohle, Emergency Physician with Health Sciences North, also conducts research at Health Sciences North Research Institute 

Physicians at Health Sciences North (HSN) are collaborating with researchers at the Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI) to improve care for patients and families in Northern Ontario and across the province.

With new funding from the Northern Ontario Academic Medical Association (NOAMA), more than 14 physicians are working with 10 researchers on a number of new projects that include supporting Indigenous families in end of life care, developing a pre-habilitation program for colon surgery patients, and measuring the outcomes of comprehensive palliative care in Northeastern Ontario.

Dr. Robert Ohle, an Emergency Physician with HSN, is one of many physicians who conducts research at HSNRI and who received funding from NOAMA this year. He is adapting and improving current national guidelines for Acute Aortic Dissection (AAD), a rare, but life-threatening condition that results from a tear in the inner wall of the aorta, the body’s main blood vessel. AAD can present with a variety of symptoms that makes it difficult to diagnose. There are no widely accepted guidelines that are both safe and efficient to help guide physicians.

“We expect that an evidence-based clinical practice guideline for ADD will reduce practice variation, improve efficiency of advanced imaging, lead to a reduction in missed cases and ultimately improve patient care,” said Dr. Ohle. “We plan to use a multidisciplinary collaborative process to adapt and improve the current guidelines. It’s important that the unique practice environment of Northern Ontario is represented in any national guideline. We will include remote rural physicians, surgeons and patients from both Northern Ontario and across Canada.”

Dr. Janet McElhaney, Vice President and Scientific Director of HSNRI, also received a NOAMA grant to support her work collaborating with Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario to improve health care. “This year’s NOAMA grants are enabling physicians to begin new research projects and investigate health outcomes for patients in Northern Ontario. It is providing an opportunity for collaboration between researchers and physicians,” says Dr. Janet McElhaney, Vice President and Scientific Director, HSNRI. “As a NOAMA recipient, these grants are crucial to assist physician researchers such as myself to help improve patient care.”

Physicians and researchers from HSN and HSNRI received more than than $700,000 from two NOAMA grants, the Alternative Funding Plan Innovation Fund and Clinical Innovation Opportunities Fund. These grants support the development of new and innovative approaches in health care delivery and enable clinician scientists to develop and implement of new evidence-based enhancements within their clinical practices.

Health Sciences North is one of Ontario’s 23 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.

Research Spotlight: Health Sciences North

Research Spotlight: Health Sciences North

Dr. Janet McElhaney and her team at Health Sciences North Research Institute (HSNRI) are working with Indigenous communities to promote healthy aging of Indigenous People in Canada.

On December 4th, 2017, MP Paul Lefebvre announced on behalf of Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and CIHR-IAPH, a $1.4 million funding investment for improving the health of Indigenous seniors.

This funding will support a project titled “Aging in Place: Promoting Healthy Aging for Indigenous People with Multiple Chronic Conditions”, led by HSNRI’S Dr. Janet McElhaney, Vice President of Research & Scientific Director and Dr. Jennifer Walker, Canada Research Chair of Indigenous Health at Laurentian University. Using Indigenous research methods, the project will explore caregiving experiences and patterns to better understand how communities can support Indigenous families living with multiple chronic conditions.

“The funding from CIHR will provide an opportunity for collaborative community-based research that will identify the needs of Indigenous older persons and develop interventions to address the health issues and barriers to care for older adults. It will allow us to work with communities and find innovative solutions while working to develop the next generation of researchers,” says Dr. Janet McElhaney, HSNRI’s Vice President of Research and Scientific Director.

This project is funded in partnership with First Nation communities in Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan to identify the needs of Indigenous older persons living with multi-morbidity; develop interventions to address health issues and barriers to caring for older adults; and evaluate the effectiveness of community-specific interventions to enhance “holistic health”.

The goal is to create a legacy of sustained partnerships that promote true reconciliation and together cultivate a way forward from colonization and intergenerational trauma to healthier aging.


Related Stories

Health Sciences North is one of Ontario’s 23 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.




HWS Field Trips: Sudbury

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

Patients + Research is a platform for patients to discuss their relationship and experience with the research that leads to new cures, cares and treatments.

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.

Health and Community Leaders Talk: Debbi M Nicholson

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

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,



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.


RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Health Sciences North

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Health Sciences North

Promising Early Results for AMRIC Flu Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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