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SRI scientists top the national average in successful CIHR project grants

By Matthew Pariselli  •  June 2, 2017

Many called it a “bloodbath,” but amid heated contest for funds through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fall 2016 Project Grant competition, several Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) scientists emerged with support to either continue or commence their work.

Sixteen projects involving scientists at SRI were given a total of $7.8 million with grants varying in duration from one to five years. Of these, 11 were project grants and five were bridge grants. The national average success rate for project grants was 16.5%, with SRI comfortably exceeding that at 25%.

Dr. David Andrews, director of Biological Sciences at SRI and member of the College of Reviewers Chairs for CIHR, said the institute’s scientists did “extremely well.” Speaking specifically about the platform he’s most familiar with, he said, “I think that in Biological Sciences the highly collaborative nature of our research environment contributed positively to our success. All four successful proposals involve significant collaborations within the institute. Most proposals also incorporate both discovery and translational research synergistically.”

Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook, was eager to champion those who were awarded funding. He said, “Congratulations to all the applicants who received good news regarding their research, and special congratulations to the group of scientists at SRI who’ve been provided the necessary means to pursue their work.”

Julius, however, didn’t hesitate to discuss the dire state of funding in Canada. “It’s important to remember, though, how many scientists—and not just those at SRI—are without the support needed to do their vital work. It’s tougher than ever to secure funding, and we must continue advocating for investment in fundamental science, which benefits the entire country,” he said.

Addressing what he deems to be a necessary next step, Andrews said, “An immediate cash infusion is essential to prevent the collapse of research programs across the country. Once that is done we need to think carefully about how we are going to invest in the future for Canadians.”

Among SRI’s contingent of scientists to secure funds are Drs. JoAnne McLaurin and Bojana Stefanovic, senior scientists in the Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences platforms, respectively. Along with colleagues at the University of Toronto, they were awarded $1,002,150 over five years to investigate the contributions of mid-life comorbidities to Alzheimer’s disease in preclinical models. Specifically, McLaurin noted the project will examine the spatiotemporal evolution of brain vascular network changes in cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) alone and in CSVD within an AD-susceptible environment. “We will assess the effects of the CSVD-induced brain vascular impairment on neuronal function, and determine the lasting detrimental effects on neuronal and brain vascular function leading to cognitive decline,” she said.

Dr. Michele Anderson, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, was also successful. She is set to receive $860,625 for a five-year period to study transcriptional regulation of gamma delta T-cell development and functional diversification. Anderson’s application received the highest final rating of the SRI submissions.

An associate scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences (ECS), Dr. Elizabeth Asztalos was awarded $1,185,750 over five years to conduct a clinical trial to explore whether bovine lactoferrin improves morbidity-free survival and severe retinopathy in extremely low birth weight infants.

Thirteen other grants submitted by scientists at SRI were also awarded funding in the Project Grant competition:

  • Dr. Clare Atzema, a scientist in ECS, will receive $348,074 over three years for research looking at prospective validation of clinical decision instruments to identify atrial fibrillation in the emergency room.
  • Drs. Sandra Black, Rick Swartz, and Mario Masellis, scientists in ECS, were awarded one-year bridge funding worth $100,000 to put toward their project that seeks to understand the interplay among neurodegeneration, venules, amyloid imaging and leukoaraiosis.
  • Dr. Chuck Cunningham, a senior scientist in Physical Sciences, will receive $726,752 over four years to analyze hyperpolarized 13C MRI for the management of heart failure.
  • Dr. Brian Cuthbertson, a senior scientist in ECS, was awarded one-year bridge funding worth $100,000 for the SuDDICU study, which investigates the impact of preventive antibiotics on patient outcome and antibiotic resistance in the intensive care unit’s critically ill population.
  • Dr. Nick Daneman, a scientist in ECS, will receive $489,601 over three years to determine the best way to deliver feedback to prescribers of antibiotics to long-term care patients, toward reducing inappropriate prescriptions.
  • Dr. Ben Goldstein, a senior scientist in ECS, was awarded one-year bridge funding worth $100,000 to study microvascular pathology as multisystemic phenotype underlying early atherosclerosis risk and neurocognition in bipolar disorder.
  • Dr. Paul Karanicolas, a scientist in ECS, was awarded one-year bridge funding worth $100,000 for the HeLiX Trial, a randomized controlled trial of tranexamic acid versus placebo to reduce perioperative blood transfusion in patients undergoing liver resection.
  • Dr. Dennis Ko, a scientist in ECS, was awarded $517,141 over three years to study and improve the quality of care and outcomes of atrial fibrillation patients in Canada.
  • Drs. Krista Lanctôt and Nathan Herrmann, senior scientist and associate scientist, respectively, in ECS, were awarded $673,200 over five years to study the efficacy and safety of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in patients with mild vascular cognitive impairment.
  • Drs. Mihaela Pop and Graham Wright, a senior scientist in Physical Sciences, will receive $378,675 over three years to study personalized MRI-based predictive models to guide ventricular tachycardia therapy.
  • Dr. David Spaner, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, was awarded $459,000 over four years to target interferon-beta in leukemia immunotherapy.
  • Dr. Karen Tu, an associate scientist in ECS, was awarded one-year bridge funding worth $100,000 to leverage electronic medical records and health administrative data to assess patient care and outcomes in osteoarthritis.
  • Dr. Burton Yang, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, was awarded $695,770 over five years to test the role of circ-DNMT1 in cardiac remodelling and senescence.

The results of CIHR’s latest allocation of funds were released Monday, May 15. Over 2,800 applications were submitted. When the final decisions had been made, about $359 million had been distributed across 475 approved project grants and 121 bridge grants. The average grant is roughly $729,467 over nearly a four and half-year period.

It should be noted that due to the delay in the Spring 2017 competition, an extra $100 million was invested in the Fall 2016 competition.

According to the CIHR website, the Project Grant program “is designed to capture ideas with the greatest potential to advance health-related fundamental or applied knowledge, health research, health care, health systems, and/or health outcomes.” Additionally, it “supports projects with a specific purpose and a defined endpoint.”