Healthy Aging: 100 Years of Research and Care at Baycrest

Healthy Aging: 100 Years of Research and Care at Baycrest

“I just plough through, that’s something I learned from my mom. Just plough through,” says Barbara Schechter, a young caregiver featured in CBC’s recent documentary, The Caregivers Club, which takes an intimate and compassionate look at the lives of four caregivers and their loved ones living with dementia. The families are also part of the Baycrest Health Sciences community in Toronto.

With three young children and a full time job, Barbara is also a caregiver for her mother. “The only thing that gets you through the day is how you’re going to manage and how you’re going to make your mom safe,” says Barbara in the documentary.

There are currently 564,000 Canadians living with dementia, and that number is expected to double by 2031. As Canada’s population ages, more and better care is needed.

Baycrest Health SciencesThat’s what drives the researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences.

Baycrest is ranked as one of the most research-intensive hospitals in Canada and is a member of the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario, which represents Ontario’s research hospitals. Research hospitals play a unique and vital role in Ontario’s health system, providing advanced patient care services, training the healthcare workforce, and conducting leading-edge research to discover tomorrow’s care today. They generate the expertise and evidence to drive change as system leaders, building a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario.

And Baycrest is doing just that. Its Rotman Research Institute is among the world’s top research institutes in cognitive neuroscience.  The Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, led by Baycrest Health Sciences, helps to accelerate brain health and aging solutions. Together, Baycrest is advancing dementia care for patients locally and globally, discovering better ways to diagnose, prevent and treat dementia and other brain disorders.

Research at Baycrest is part of a continuous cycle, where foundational brain research leads to clinical testing, which leads to innovations supporting healthy aging, which leads to more questions about the fundamental mechanisms of the brain.

Is my memory normal? At-home assessments and iPad apps  

Early detection and prevention of memory problems and cognitive impairment is a major area of focus at Baycrest. Cogniciti, a digital health company led by Baycrest researchers, is empowering adults to assess their memory in the comfort of their own homes. Free, private and clinically researched, the digital brain health assessment has helped more than 60,000 adults answer the question, “Is my memory normal or should I see my doctor?”

Test-takers age 40 and up solve a series of evidence-based puzzles, including shape matching, face and name matching, and a number-letter alternating test. Based on performance, they receive a memory report and may be advised to connect with their family doctor for next steps in care.  Through the brain health assessment, Cogniciti provides researchers access to a rich pool of interested volunteers to help advance memory research.

Another initiative accelerating research into Alzheimer’s and dementia treatments is Baycrest’s work with the Toronto Dementia Research Alliance (TDRA). The Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic at Baycrest is the initial pilot site for the newly developed Toronto Cognitive Assessment (TorCA), which utilizes an iPad to capture anonymous patient information and pools it onto a secure, research recruitment database that will be shared amongst TDRA memory clinics. This data will allow scientists to widen their pool of research subjects and easily identify and recruit consenting subjects who match the criteria for their dementia studies.

The TorCA is a sensitive tool that can identify patients at risk of dementia earlier. The assessment not only informs research on detection of memory-related conditions, it also saves costs for the health system and saves patients from having to pursue unnecessary cognitive tests.

Currently, Ontario patients concerned with cognitive impairment receive assessments from specialists. The TorCA iPad app is a game changer, allowing any health care professional to assess patients upfront and determine whether they need to pursue a more lengthy and resource intensive neuropsychology exam. The hope is that this tool will soon be clinically available across TDRA hospital sites within Toronto – and beyond— free of charge.

Getting a glimpse into a brain with dementia

What if you could detect the minute changes that occur in the brain Alzheimer's transcranial stimulationover the course of a person’s life? Researchers at Baycrest are getting the chance to do just that by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the aging brain, including brains with very early dementia.

Cognitive tests, similar to the Toronto Cognitive Assessment, led Dr. Rosanna Olsen and her team to wonder whether physical differences could be detected in the brains of healthy adults who scored poorly compared to those who scored well.

Her cross-sectional study found that people who scored lower on cognitive tests had a smaller “memory region” of the brain – the same region that is first affected in Alzheimer’s disease. This finding has allowed researchers to use both memory region brain measures and low cognitive test scores as biomarkers (a biological flag) for Alzheimer’s disease, which is a big step forward for the detection and prevention of dementia.

Innovative treatment for older adults with depression and Alzheimer’s disease

Up to 70% of people living with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from depression, which does not typically respond to standard antidepressant treatments. Dr. Linda Mah and Dr. Jed Meltzer are using a non-invasive procedure called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to reduce symptoms of depression in older adults with Alzheimer’s.

TMS uses magnetic fields to stimulate or inhibit neurons in the brain. Although TMS is approved as a treatment for depression, researchers are aiming to treat other neurologic and psychiatric conditions. Drs. Mah and Meltzer will evaluate the effects of TMS on both mood and memory in Alzheimer’s patients who also suffer from clinical depression. For Alzheimer’s patients, this could mean tapping into brain stimulation to treat their symptoms.

Patient and family care driving research

Research at Baycrest goes both ways. Not only is evidence informing how clinicians, occupational therapists, personal support workers and volunteers care for Baycrest clients, but researchers are also evaluating services to ensure high quality care and support.

Baycrest dementia arts therapyThe Road to Connection program is a great example of this. It’s an arts-based program that brings together caregivers and their partners with dementia for creative sessions and discussion. The program empowers dementia patients to tap into their creative skills while serving as a support group for caregivers.  On top of that, the program gives caregivers an opportunity to celebrate their partners through the art they have created and come away with a shared, meaningful experience.

“We could come back together at the end of the day with something for both of us,” said one caregiver participating in the program. “There aren’t many programs like this one that allow caregivers to meet and share without leaving loved ones behind.”

Baycrest researchers are evaluating the Road to Connection program with the hope of duplicating it across other sites within the Baycrest community and in Ontario.

Baycrest researchers have evaluated and helped redesign volunteer programs to improve resident engagement in Baycrest’s long-term care facility, the Apotex Centre. The Program for Leisure Engagement for Active and Spontaneous Experiences (PLEASE) is an evidence-based model that trains volunteers to work one-on-one and in small groups with residents, when they ask the simple question, “What do you want to do today?” The evaluation found that the PLEASE program enhanced the abilities and personhood of residents – more smiling, talking and engagement. Researchers are also exploring the use of volunteer visits to help older adults with dementia preserve or improve their thinking abilities.

This work helps long-term care homes incorporate cost-effective programs to improve care for residents with dementia and create new roles for volunteers working with older adults.

A century of excellence in complex care, research and training

The world’s population is aging rapidly, and Baycrest has the expertise to deliver proactive solutions. Now in its centennial year, Baycrest has spent 100 years pioneering the science of health and aging.

Baycrest provides compassionate, specialized care, conducts cutting-edge cognitive neuroscience research, commercializes innovative solutions, and trains the next generation of health care professionals with the skills needed to support and respond to the diverse and complex needs of older adults.

As a global leader, Baycrest’s work is contributing to a healthier, wealthier, and smarter future for Ontario and beyond.


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

Group feature photo was taken during CAHO’s Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Field Trip to Baycrest Health Sciences. Read our other Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter Field Trips here.


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.

HWS Field Trips: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Healthier Wealthier Smarter Ontario

HWS Field Trips: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

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 Holland Bloorview’s research institute, where researchers are creating a world of possibility for kids and youth with disability and their families.

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

Patient Engaged Research

We kicked off our tour by meeting with Suzanne Jorisch, a family leader on the hospital’s Research Family Engagement Committee (RFEC) who is also a long-time health research champion. Suzanne’s son Wesley first came to Holland Bloorview in 2010 with a brain injury. It wasn’t long before Suzanne and Wesley started getting involved in research projects underway at Holland Bloorview. “They started performing miracles,” said Suzanne, “and their research has given me tremendous hope that my son will have new opportunities for his future.”

Since then, Suzanne has become a strong voice for the value of paediatric research at Holland Bloorview’s research institute – and a champion for partnership with patients, families and caregivers. Together with hospital leaders like Lori Beesley, a family-centred care specialist, she is working to support standards and processes for meaningful family-researcher partnerships.

“Patient engagement isn’t something that can be done off the side of your desk,” said Lori. “We need to embed it into our research culture and process.” In her over 20 years of navigating the Canadian developmental and disability health sector, Lori has fostered numerous partnerships between clients, families, and staff, using the principles of client and family-centred care. She also cared for her son Mitchell who has Fragile X Syndrome. At Holland Bloorview, Lori leads both the Family Leadership Program and RFEC. “The Research Family Engagement Committee is not only leading patient and family engagement in research at Holland Bloorview, but it’s creating best practices for organizations around the world.”

Research Family Engagement Committee Holland Bloorview
 “At Holland Bloorview, they don’t look through you, they look with you,” said Suzanne Jorisch of her experience being involved in research at Holland Bloorview. L-R: Karen Michell, Executive Director, CAHO, Suzanne Jorisch, Family Leader, Lori Beesley, Family-Centred Care Specialist.


Making therapy fun: Our next stop focused on innovative solutions that improve mobility for kids with disabilities. We met Ajmal Khan and Alexander Hodge, two members of the PEARL (Possibility Engineering and Research lab) team who work with Dr. Elaine Biddiss to develop mixed reality therapy games and interactive play spaces that are accessible to young people of all abilities. Immersive and interactive mixed reality games like Botley’s Bootle Blast help to make reaching rehabilitation therapy goals fun. For example, one game might help to strengthen shoulder mobility, while another might focus on strengthening fine motor skills. And as a bonus, the games can be played at home with friends!

Botley's Bootle Blast at Holland Bloorview
L-R: Ajmal Khan, Research Manager, and Alexander Hodge, Game Developer, introduce Botley’s Bootle Blast, a mixed reality therapy game.

Ontario-grown innovation: Dr. Jan Andrysek and his team at the PROPEL lab (Paediatrics, Rehabilitation, Orthotics, Prosthetics, Engineering, Locomotion) developed and commercialized the All-Terrain Knee (AT-Knee). It’s a low-cost, high-functioning mechanical knee that’s already being sold in 21 countries by social enterprise, LegWorks. Post-doctoral student, Matt Leineweber explained that, compared to standard prosthetics, patients using the AT-Knee expend 40% less energy and have reported a reduced number of falls. The AT-Knee is a great example of how health research helps fuel our innovation economy and improve quality of life for patients in Ontario and beyond.

LegWorks AT-Knee demo at PROPEL lab at Holland Bloorview
L-R: Sam Shi, Masters Student, and Matt Leineweber, Postdoctoral Fellow, demo some of the innovations from the PROPEL lab

 STOP 2: ProFILE lab

Addressing weighty topics: Weight-related issues can be challenging for people to discuss openly with their doctors. It can be uncomfortable and emotional – especially when you’re managing other conditions. For children with disabilities, conversations about nutrition, physical activity and weight are important for maintaining a high quality of life. Interim vice president of research and scientist, Dr. Amy McPherson, and her team at the ProFILE lab (Promoting Fitness and Healthy Lifestyles for Everyone) are looking at how to better approach these tough conversations, so that kids, families and care providers can comfortably discuss how to best manage a healthy lifestyle.

Some evidence-based lessons gathered from the team’s research:

  • Start conversations early and discuss regularly
  • Include the right people in the conversation – kids, families or caregivers, care providers and others who may be relevant
  • Communicate trust and respect with active listening, open questions and a collaborative attitude

 Weight research at Holland BloorviewWeight research at Holland Bloorview 
L-R: Laura Hartman, Postdoctoral Fellow and Christine Provvidenza, Knowledge Translation Specialist, highlight their findings on fostering positive weight-related conversations between kids, families and care providers.

Read more from Dr. McPherson on healthy choices for kids with disabilities in Canadian Living.

STOP 3:  PRISM lab

A philosophy of strengths-based innovation: Researchers at the PRISM (Paediatric Rehabilitation Intelligent Systems Multidisciplinary) lab discover and evaluate innovative technology solutions that help kids with severe disabilities communicate and interact with the world around them. A guiding principle of their research is to let innovation start from a child’s strengths and asking how those strengths can be augmented to give the child a voice.

Fanny Hotze, Paediatric Assistive Technology Specialist, shows us how the Hummer works Alborz Rezazadeh and Rozhin Yousefi demonstrate EEG-based brain-computer interface technology.
L-R: Fanny Hotze, Paediatric Assistive Technology Specialist, shows us how the Hummer works /// PhD students Alborz Rezazadeh and Rozhin Yousefi demonstrate EEG-based brain-computer interface technology. 

The vocal cord vibration switch, also known as the Hummer, is a great example of this principle. It harnesses a non-verbal child’s ability to hum by translating vocal cord vibrations into binary control signals for computer-supported communication.

For other children, researchers are developing brain-computer interfaces that identify and communicate thoughts and intentions. PhD students Alborz Rezazadeh and Rozhin Yousef gave a live demonstration of how one such brain-computer interface can allow child with complex disabilities to interact with the world around them. By focusing his attention on a series of images on the computer screen, he gave commands that turned on lights, fans, music and more.

ScreenPlay Pit Stop!

In general, hospital waiting rooms can be a stressful experience for children and their families. Holland Bloorview has created the ScreenPlay – an interactive waiting room that is proven to reduce waiting room anxiety. Developed by scientist Dr. Elaine Biddiss and the PEARL lab team, ScreenPlay heralds the high-tech waiting room of the future.

Holland Bloorview’s President and CEO, Julia Hanigsberg, shows us how kids can generate, grow and shift colourful images on-screen when they step or wheel across the pressure-sensitive tiles.

STOP 4: Autism Research Centre

Self-managing anxiety: The Autism Research Centre (ARC) conducts research aimed at improving outcomes and quality of life for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. A highly diverse team (its expertise spans neurology, developmental pediatrics, psychology, psychometry, engineering, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, and nursing) focuses on understanding the biology and symptoms of autism, developing novel interventions and investigating service delivery models.

Now in early commercialization stages, the Anxiety Meter is one such intervention, developed by scientists Drs. Azadeh Kushki and Evdokia Anagnostou. The app is designed to help kids with ASD better manage their anxiety by measuring their heart rate and converting it into a visual representation on a tablet and/or watch through the Anxiety Meter app.

Dr. Kushki and Stephanie Chow, Research Assistant at Holland Bloorview Autism Research Centre
“Kids with autism often don’t realize that they’re anxious,” explains Dr. Azadeh Kushki, scientist at the Autism Research Centre. “By helping them identify their anxiety, we can help them manage it.” (L-R, Dr. Kushki and Stephanie Chow, Research Assistant)

The Holli glasses are another example of cutting-edge innovation. They glasses interact with Google Glass technology to provide prompts and cues during social interaction, like ordering food in a restaurant. It holds the potential to complement traditional therapy and provide coaching over the long term.

Holli Glasses at Holland Bloorview Autism Research CentreHolli Glasses at Holland Bloorview Autism Research Centre
Harnessing Google Glass technology, the wearer sees prompts and responses on a tiny screen in the right corner of the glasses that aim to reduce anxiety and provide coaching during social interactions.

Read more about the Anxiety Meter, Holli and autism research at the Bloorview Research Institute in Today’s Parent.

STOP 5: Evidence to Care

Putting knowledge into practice: Using evidence-informed care is an expectation of all health care professionals in leading academic health sciences centers around the world, but it isn’t always easy to ensure that knowledge translation happens consistently.

The Evidence to Care team at Holland Bloorview, led by Dr. Shauna Kingsnorth, promotes knowledge translation by identifying the best available research evidence and developing strategies to influence care.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Dr. Shauna Kingsnorth, Manager, Evidence to Care. Holland Bloorview
“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Dr. Shauna Kingsnorth, Manager, Evidence to Care. “We want to package the existing evidence in a way that makes it accessible for clinicians and families.”

Case Study: 1 in 4 children with cerebral palsy experience chronic pain. The Chronic Pain Toolbox, developed by the Evidence to Care team, is an evidence-based best practice product to assist clinicians in their efforts to accurately assess chronic pain in children with disabilities, especially those with cerebral palsy.

At Holland Bloorview, we translate research into real life impact for kids and their families
HWS Field Trippers end their tour inspired by the health research underway at Holland Bloorview’s research institute and the impact it will have on kids and families today and tomorrow; locally and globally.

“At Holland Bloorview, we translate research into real life impact for kids and their families,” said President and CEO, Julia Hanigsberg.

After a morning of meaningful research and imaginative, boundary-pushing innovation, it’s clear that Holland Bloorview is serious about its mission to create a world of possibility. We want to extend our sincere thanks to our hosts at Holland Bloorview’s research institute and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.


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.


HWS Field Trips: London

HWS Field Trips: London

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

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

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


The Kick-Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Kristoff /// Michael Allan

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


STOP 1: Personalized Medicine Program

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

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

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

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

Read more about personalized medicine research at Lawson.


STOP 2: Lawson Imaging

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about imaging research at Lawson.


STOP 3:  Parkwood Institute Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about Parkwood Institute Research.


STOP 4: Kidney and Cancer Research

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

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

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

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

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

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


STOP 5: Children’s Health Research Institute

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

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

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

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

Read more about children’s health research at Lawson.


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

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

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

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


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

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