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Canadian and World Firsts at Sunnybrook Research Institute

Countless lives have been transformed or are poised to be transformed by the internationally relevant advances in medical science that Sunnybrook researchers have made. Download PDF version


The world's first Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics opens at SRI on November 2, 2012. Governor General David Johnston opens the centre at the official launch.

Devise a novel cancer treatment that uses microbubbles (tiny lipid-coated spheres of gas that can safely pass through the circulation) that are burst by ultrasound to weaken tumour blood vessels, thereby making tumours more sensitive to radiation. This promising approach lowers the amount of X-rays required for treatment, thus minimizing harmful side effects.

Complete the world's first clinical trial of a new treatment for patients with blocked coronary arteries, and show the enzyme is safe and has promising success rates in terms of enabling angioplasty and restoring blood flow. The enzyme was developed and commercialized by an SRI scientist.


Burn careShow that the ideal blood sugar range for burn patients is 130 to 140 milligrams per deciliter of blood. The finding guides clinicians in the treatment of severe burns, helping them to avoid adverse outcomes such as infection, organ failure and death.

Launch the first Canadian clinical trials assessing magnetic resonance imaging-guided focused ultrasound as a therapy for brain tumours and essential tremor.

Pioneer a pain relief technique for patients undergoing orthopaedic surgery. The technique, used clinically worldwide, uses ultrasound imaging to guide the administration of a low volume of local anesthetic to reduce post-surgery pain and improve joint mobility.

Lead the first study comparing blood vessel functioning of teens with bipolar disorder and healthy teens, to understand better the link between bipolar disorder and heart disease.

Develop, in collaboration with the University of Toronto, the first prostate cancer screening device that uses nanotechnology and prostate cancer-specific biomarkers to identify and distinguish between slow-growing and aggressive cancers. 


Show that the benefit of mammograms outweighs the risk of radiation exposure. An SRI scientist has shown that odds are almost 50 times greater of a life saved through earlier detection through screening, over a life lost due to radiation-induced breast cancer.

With Baycrest, invent an MRI-compatible tablet that pinpoints the origin of brain functions at their source, in the brain itself, while cognitive tasks are performed—thereby confirming or correcting results from writing-based tests of cognition.

Show that focused ultrasound, coupled with anti-amyloid antibodies, can halt Alzheimer's disease in preclinical models.

Invent a catheter-based technology that can be turned off and on, overcoming an obstacle to MRI-guided vascular procedures: the tendency of the imaging marker in the catheter tip to obscure the area that needs to be seen.

Ultrasound surgeryLaunch the world's first dual-site focused ultrasound surgery centre and test clinically the "scalpel-less" ablation of uterine fibroids through high-intensity ultrasound, guided by MRI. Researchers in the centre will apply the technology, invented and commercialized by an SRI scientist, to patients with breast, bone, head and neck, and rectal cancer.

Show that diffuse optical spectroscopy can determine within four weeks which patients are responding well to neoadjuvant chemotherapy for locally advanced breast cancer. Enables oncologists to optimize treatments months earlier than possible with conventional imaging.

Dr. JuurlinkFind that a commonly prescribed antidepressant—paroxetine—interferes with tamoxifen therapy in women with breast cancer, and that other antidepressants of the same class do not produce this drug-drug interaction. 


Provide the first evidence to detail what the H1N1 virus looks like; find it hits younger and healthier people harder. Enables hospitals in Canada and around the world to prepare for and treat "high-risk" patients effectively.

Show that rushing acute stroke patients to Sunnybrook Regional Stroke Centre to receive tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) therapy—which if quickly administered reverses the signs and symptoms of stroke—works. Four times as many patients are treated with tPA after the protocol is implemented.
Invent and commercialize an ultrasound imaging catheter that can see inside heart chambers in 3-D in real time during heart procedures. It is the first such device that can look ahead of the tip of the catheter, not only to the side.

Engineer and commercialize a peptide that speeds wound-healing by 30% to 40% in mice with diabetes. It also dramatically improves the quality of wound closure.

Discover that stimulating an area of the human brain responsible for P waves increases dreaming sleep. This finding will advance research using deep-brain recordings and stimulation to understand sleep, cognition and neurodegenerative disorders better.

Develop a unique model that is the first to track the path of a single-strand microRNA for longer-term in vitro and in vivo studies of specific microRNAs, which are regulatory ribonucleic acids that play an important role in aging, self-renewal and tumour angiogenesis. The model, published in Nature Cell Biology, may also serve as a new way to study gene regulation by microRNAs in gene therapy development. Read more.

Discover that enriching a certain class of blood stem cells inhibits the growth of a rare but aggressive form of leukemia in preclinical models. The finding offers further evidence that the cellular microenvironment around tumours influences gene expression and cancer cell growth. Read more.

Engineer human progenitor T cells from stem cells in the lab, which give rise to fully functional immune T cells when implanted in mice. This advance opens a door to translational studies of treatments for immune-compromised patients, including children born with little or no immune system and people who have had chemotherapy. Read more.

Lead the Canadian Drug Safety and Effectiveness Research Network (CDSERN), an innovative new research network formed to speed the evaluation of recently approved medications by linking the health care data of large patient groups across four provinces. The network will allow researchers to catch emerging drug safety concerns at the earliest possible time and generate practice-changing studies more quickly. Read more.


Show that magnetic resonance imaging of plaque hemorrhage (MRIPH), a three-dimensional MRI technique, may prove to be a useful screening tool to prevent stroke and heart attack by providing radiologists with a more detailed look into diseased arteries.

Launch the Imaging for Cardiovascular Therapeutics consortium, among the largest coordinated efforts anywhere focused on the development of image-guided therapeutics. Promised are what could be world firsts for translating new treatment strategies into patient studies. Notably, efforts are underway for the world's first study of modified stem cells for the treatment of heart disease, and for the world's first study of a method to open blocked blood vessels by dissolving components of the blockage. The Ontario government gives over $14 million to launch this program.

Establish the Focused Ultrasound Devices consortium, the first and only such focused ultrasound technology research initiative. Nothing else like it exists in the world. It brings together many companies and academic partners, whose collaboration on this leading-edge technology—which can be delivered with image guidance to precise regions of the body for a number of medical applications, like drug delivery and noninvasive surgery—promises to lead to discoveries that will transform health care. The Ontario government gives over $8 million to establish this program.


Provide evidence of a unique molecular interaction in immunity to infection that suggests longer-term clinical implications for treatment of cytomegaloviruses, a family of herpes viruses causing chronic and sometimes fatal infections.

Are the first in the world to find and identify the fundamental waveform of dreaming sleep, providing possible links to learning and memory, potentially important for conditions such as stroke.

Lead an international study that shows magnetic resonance imaging can improve the detection of hidden cancers in the opposite breast of women diagnosed with unilateral breast cancer.

Find that expression of a prostate-specific hybrid gene predicts those prostate cancer patients at highest risk of disease progression, allowing doctors to identify patients most likely to benefit from treatment.


Uncover a key relationship between the purple sea urchin's immune system and ours. Understanding the sea urchin model may shed light on human immunity.

Launch the Imaging Research Centre for Cardiac Intervention, which is uniquely designed to combine multiple medical imaging modalities such as x-ray, ultrasound and magnetic resonance to improve the detection of cardiac disease and the outcomes of interventional procedures for patients.

Find that bone-marrow-derived circulating endothelial progenitor cells are rapidly mobilized in tumour-bearing preclinical models after a vascular disrupting agent is administered, contributing to angiogenesis and subsequent tumour growth. Blocking this mobilization results in marked reductions in tumour size and blood flow.

Find that premenopausal women with HER2-positive breast cancer have better survival and lower recurrence rates when treated with anthracycline-based chemotherapy.

Show that bright artificial light therapy is as effective as, and works faster and produces less agitation than, antidepressant medication in the treatment of winter depression.

Conduct a study, with British and other Canadian researchers, that suggests a new drug, Flurizan, has the potential to modify and slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease in its early stages.

Lead a trial suggesting post-trauma administration of hypertonic saline can regulate the immune system's inflammatory response, thereby limiting multiple organ failure and improving long-term survival.


Participate as the only Canadian site in DMIST, an international study comparing digital mammography (DM) with film mammography. DMIST finds that DM detects more cancers than does film mammography in certain groups of women.

Show that early surgical removal of the spleen combined with antiangiogenic therapy, which arrests the growth of tumour-feeding blood vessels, may stop the progression of leukemia.

Validate a novel diagnostic imaging technology, an angiography device called the SPY system, that for the first time will provide cardiac surgeons with a clinical quality control tool for bypass grafts in the operating room.

Report that patients treated with high-dose radiation for head and neck cancer in the morning have a lower risk of developing mucositis, which damages the mouth and throat, than do patients who are treated in the afternoon, the first study to show a link between circadian rhythms and mucositis due to radiotherapy.

Find that measuring peripheral blood cells that circulate in the blood and contribute to tumour growth may provide a way to measure and monitor the effectiveness of antiangiogenic therapies.

Predict with neuropsychological testing for the first time which study participants will develop Alzheimer's disease within five and 10 years.


Show magnetic resonance imaging detects more breast cancer tumours, earlier, compared with mammography, ultrasound or clinical examination in women with the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes.

Complete the first breast cancer treatment in the world that implants small beads of palladium, a low-dose radioactive material, in patients in a one-day outpatient technique.

Find evidence, in the first large multicentre clinical trial of its kind, to suggest that artery grafts from the forearm should be used in place of vein grafts from the leg for heart bypass surgery.


Perform the first minimally invasive thoracoscopic modified Maze procedure in Canada to treat atrial fibrillation without stopping the heart.

Use the first worldwide application of a large database time-series analysis to examine causes of emergency department overcrowding in Canada.

Discover a molecular marker to diagnose hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer.

Co-lead the practice-changing letrozole trial of postmenopausal women with breast cancer, which finds that this drug reduces the risk of recurrence of breast cancer by over 40% for women who had taken the drug tamoxifen for five years.

Use intravenous contrast material in digital mammography (DM) research, the world's first to do so. Results suggest that contrast-enhanced DM may be a new strategy to identify lesions dense breasts.

Find motor-vehicle fatalities in the US jump 41% after a Super Bowl telecast, compared with the number of fatalities for a typical Sunday night.

Install a positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT) simulator, a single device with an integrated control panel that allows for combined scanning of PET and CT images, the first hospital in Canada to do so.


Create the world's first system to generate T cells, a vital component of the immune system, in a Petri dish.

Perform the first spine surgery using a prosthetic disc nucleus as part of a multicentre Canadian trial.

Demonstrate that a cell population of unknown function, present in the gut of normal individuals, plays a key role in preventing the development of ulcerative colitis.


Discover, with collaborators at the University Health Network and Osaka University in Japan, a protein in human breast milk that stimulates the immune system of newborns.


Lead the first, international multicentre clinical trial to evaluate risks and benefits of caesarean and vaginal birth for breech pregnancies. The practice-changing results show C-sections for breech pregnancies offer benefits for mother and child.

Show that much lower doses of chemotherapy combined with antiangiogenic drugs significantly delay tumour growth in animal models.


Develop the world's first method to image blood flowing in the microscopic vessels in the muscle of the heart in real time, a technique now used internationally.


Provide the first proof that using a cell phone while driving increases the risk of a motor vehicle collision fourfold.


Introduce new internal fixation techniques for C-spine fractures, the first hospital in Canada to do so.


Form the first international digital mammography development group, led by Sunnybrook scientists. The group will later lead dramatic advances in developing new technology to detect breast cancer.


Invent the world's first high-frequency ultrasound microimaging scanner for preclinical imaging, which is now used worldwide for research and for clinical imaging of the eye to detect glaucoma and anterior segment tumours.