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Spring's Fortunes

July 9, 2012

By Alisa Kim

Four Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) scientists were awarded operating grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in its March 2012 competition. The total investment in SRI scientists is over $1.9 million in this funding round.

"I congratulate all of the awardees on their success in this competition. Receiving a grant in an arena where four out of five applications are not approved speaks to the excellence of these scientists' work," said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Marc Jeschke, a scientist in the Trauma, Emergency & Critical Care Research Program and director of the Ross Tilley Burn Centre at Sunnybrook, was awarded a grant worth $851,939 over five years. He will use the funds to study how catecholamines (stress hormones such as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine) contribute to hypermetabolism following a severe burn. Hypermetabolism, which is characterized by increased energy expenditure and body temperature, puts burn patients at greater risk of infection and muscle wasting.

"We hypothesize that catecholamines, which increase 10- to 40-fold post-burn, are the central mediators inducing post-burn hypermetabolism, resulting in detrimental outcomes," says Jeschke, who oversees the care of 250 burn patients annually.

He will evaluate the use of a drug that blocks overproduction of these "fight-or-flight" response hormones to see if it corrects some of the burn-induced changes to metabolism in patients.

While Jeschke does basic science, the goal of his research is not only to further knowledge in his field, but also to translate those results into better care. "Our aim is to determine the fundamental mechanisms leading to hypermetabolism in severely burned patients and use a clinically effective intervention that is readily available and safe, with the hope of improving patient outcomes."

Other SRI faculty awarded funding in the competition are as follows.

Dr. Natalie Coburn, a scientist in the Odette Cancer Research Program, was awarded $288,133 over three years to do a province-wide study comparing the cost and outcomes of treatments for stomach cancer. The aim of the study is to help doctors determine which treatments work best and are most cost-effective.

Dr. Harindra Wijeysundera, a scientist in the Schulich Heart Research Program, was awarded $221,999 over three years to compare differences in the treatment of heart disease patients in Ontario in terms of health care costs, quality of life and survival. The goal of the study is to understand the causes of variation in practice to improve delivery of care and maximize the use of health care resources.

Dr. Bojana Stefanovic, a scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program, was awarded $621,248 over five years to study changes that occur in the neurons and blood vessels in the brain that are affected by loss of blood supply following a stroke. Her aim is to understand the mechanisms by which changes in the neurons and blood vessels support rehabilitation to help guide the development of new treatments for stroke. 

In addition, Dr. Cari Whyne, director of the Holland Musculoskeletal Research Program, was awarded a one-year bridge funding grant worth $100,000 to examine changes to the properties of bone caused by cancer that has spread to the spine. She will use state-of-the-art medical imaging and computational methods to understand the effect of tumour on bone, and develop imaging methods that depict initial bone damage, fracture progression and bone failure.

In total, 2,284 applications were submitted to the agency in this competition. Of these, 460 were approved, for an overall success rate of 20%. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the Government of Canada's medical research funding agency. Its mandate is to fund research that improves the health of Canadians and the health care system.

Dr. Marc Jeschke