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National agency recognizes scientific excellence at Sunnybrook Research Institute

Oct 13, 2015

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Scientists score high with multimillion-dollar funding investment

By Eleni Kanavas

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awarded 19 scientists from all three research platforms at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) grants worth a total of $15.4 million through its latest rounds of competitions, including in the new Foundation Scheme.

“These two competitions were, if possible, even more challenging than previous rounds. The investment from CIHR thus attests to the strength of our researchers’ scientific acumen,” said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Fourteen SRI scientists secured a total of $7.7 million in operating funding in the March 2015 competition.

Dr. Clare Atzema, a scientist in the Trauma, Emergency & Critical Care (TECC) Research Program, will receive $69,506 over one year. The funds will support her research on follow-up care after a patient’s visit to the emergency department (ED) to determine whether the system of care between the ED and family physicians is adequate.

Dr. Sandra Black, director of the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program, and Dr. Mario Masellis, an associate scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, will receive $919,405 over four years. Their focus is on neurodegenerative disorders, with the aims of evaluating the effects of genetic variation and small vessel disease on clinical progression rates, neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognition.

Dr. Curtis Caldwell, an affiliate scientist in the Odette Cancer Research Program, will receive $433,320 over four years to personalize radionuclide therapy of neuroendocrine tumours, which are commonly found in the digestive tract and lungs. He will use imaging techniques to determine the distribution of the radioactive drug through the body of the patient receiving therapy.

Dr. James Carlyle, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, will receive $672,628 over five years to study molecular mechanisms of natural killer and innate lymphoid cell development and function in health and disease.

Dr. Nick Daneman and Dr. Robert Fowler, scientists in the TECC Research Program, were awarded a one-year bridge grant worth $100,000 to conduct a randomized controlled trial of the length of antibiotic therapy needed to treat bloodstream infections. The aim is to determine whether seven days will produce survival rates comparable to 14 days of treatment. If so, then the shorter treatment would maximize the clinical cure of patients, while minimizing the risk of adverse effects, Clostridium difficile infection and antibiotic resistance.

In addition, Fowler will receive $46,415 over two years to study the regional and temporal variations in incidence, prevalence and outcomes of critical illness among pregnant and postpartum women and newborns in Canada.

Dr. Jorge Filmus, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, will receive $700,525 over five years to study the role of glypican-6 in recessive omodysplasia, a genetic disease characterized by severe short stature, shortened limbs and facial dysmorphism.

Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, director of Physical Sciences, will receive $722,716 over five years to test the feasibility of using image-guided focused ultrasound to open blood clots that are blocking deep veins.

Dr. Jacques Lee, a scientist in the TECC Research Program, will receive $561,326 over four years. He is studying the use of ultrasound to locate and “freeze” specific nerves to stop hip fracture pain and to help reduce delirium in patients. He wants to determine whether training ED physicians on how to use the nerve-freezing technique will reduce the number of patients who develop delirium after a hip fracture.

Dr. Neil Rector, a senior scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program, and Dr. Peggy Richter, an associate scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, were awarded $1,005,787 over four years. They were ranked first in their panel. Their research will bring together experts in maternal mental health, mood and anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder to study women through pregnancy and into the postpartum period. The goal is to have a better understanding of the frequency and causes of mental health conditions, which in turn could lead to advances in prenatal detection of at-risk individuals and early intervention.

Dr. Damon Scales, a scientist in the TECC Research Program, will receive $880,404 over five years to conduct a randomized controlled trial that will evaluate whether removing the temporary breathing tube after a patient passes a spontaneous breathing test leads to better patient outcomes compared to performing a tracheostomy, in which a tube is directly inserted into the trachea replacing a temporary breathing tube. Scales was awarded another grant worth $900,554 over five years. He will use the funds to evaluate whether prompt recognition of sepsis followed by early antibiotics and intravenous fluids delivered by paramedics upon first response leads to improved survival compared to patients who are transported to the hospital with severe sepsis.

Dr. Robert Screaton, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, will receive $734,129 over five years to study novel regulators of mitochondrial dynamics. He aims to provide a new list of targets for therapeutic intervention with the goal of prolonging pancreatic beta cell and neuronal survival to improve patient survival and quality of life.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research received 2,682 applications and approved 383 of these, for a funding rate of 14% and a total investment of $251.3 million.

New CIHR Program: Foundation Scheme

Congratulations goes to three scientists who were awarded Foundation Scheme live pilot grants from CIHR. New from the national agency, the Foundation Scheme aims to provide scientists with longer-term support for innovative and high-impact research. There is a separate stream for early and mid-stage career investigators, wherein they can receive five-year grants, versus seven years of funding for established health research leaders. Combined with the Project Scheme program, it replaces the existing Open suite of operating grants. The program has three stages of evaluation.

Dr. David Andrews, director of Biological Sciences, will receive close to $2.7 million over seven years to study the assembly of apoptotic and protein complexes on sub-cellular membranes.

Dr. Thérèse Stukel, a scientist in the Schulich Heart Research Program, will receive more than $1.8 million over seven years to measure and evaluate the performance of integrated health systems for patients with complex chronic disease.

Dr. Jack Tu, a senior scientist in the Schulich Heart Research Program, ranked sixth in the group of 150 finalists. He will receive almost $2.2 million over seven years to further his work on the CANHEART study. He aims to use health care data to transform the prevention and management of cardiovascular diseases.

At stage one CIHR received 1,375 applications. In the end, it funded 11% of these, 150, for a total investment of $408.9 million over seven years.

More CIHR Funding

Fowler and Dr. Neill Adhikari, scientists in the TECC Research Program, will receive a one-year grant worth $249,973 through a program dedicated to funding Ebola research. The funds will enable them to establish a simulated Ebola treatment centre to provide critical care for patients with the virus disease.

From the same program, Fowler received a one-year grant of $250,000. He and his team of co-investigators, including Adhikari, will conduct a cohort study to characterize the health effects of post-Ebola syndrome on survivors of the viral disease in West Africa.

Dr. Sara McEwen, a scientist in the St. John’s Rehab Research Program, was awarded a CIHR Partnerships for Health System Improvement grant. The funds, worth $400,000 over three years, will further her work on evidence-based knowledge translation to support patients who have had a stroke and are cognitively impaired.

Dr. Peggy Richter