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Competition spurs high scores

Jul 25, 2013

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Scientists secure funding with federal agency

By Eleni Kanavas

A dozen scientists at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) were successful in the latest round of competitions held by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) across five funding program areas.

Seven SRI researchers were awarded operating grants totaling $2.6 million over the next five years. The federal funding agency received 2,253 applications through the March 2013 competition and approved 453 of these, for a 20% funding rate and a total investment of $238.4 million.

"In such a competitive funding climate, our scientists are exemplary, and I congratulate each one of them for their excellence and hard work," said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, was awarded $769,770 over five years to continue his research on T cell development in the thymus, an organ where white blood cells from bone marrow-derived stem cells mature, multiply and become T cells. Capable of recognizing foreign antigens and pathogens, T cells also help the immune system fight infection.

Zúñiga-Pflücker will study the key signalling pathways occurring at a critical checkpoint in T cell development. He will examine the molecular cues that distinguish one type of T cell from another and how they function and are generated. "This is fundamental, basic research, and it's terrific news to be awarded funds that will enable further research in this area," Zúñiga-Pflücker said.

Different types of cells that are made have properties that are able to target cancers and transform cells, he noted. "It is critically important because at that moment in time, any errors in this process lead to leukemia," he said.

Dr. Richard Aviv, a radiologist and affiliate scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program, was awarded a one-year grant worth $77,402. Using a new magnetic resonance imaging technique, Aviv will study the relationship between cortical disease and cognitive impairment among people with multiple sclerosis. The aim of the study is to help doctors monitor disease activity and assess the efficacy of new drugs.

Dr. Brian Cuthbertson, a senior scientist in the Trauma, Emergency & Critical Care Research Program, was awarded $84,627 over 18 months. The award will support his work on understanding and improving early physical rehabilitation in patients on life support in the intensive care unit.

Dr. Gregory Czarnota, director of the Odette Cancer Research Program at SRI, was awarded $706,608 over five years to investigate and optimize the use of microbubbles to enhance the effects of radiation in preclinical tumour models.

Dr. Liisa Jaakkimainen, an associate scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, was awarded $448,802 over three years to measure wait times in primary care and community-based services. The aim of the study is to help health planners in their decision-making about providing additional health resources and services to patients in these areas.

Dr. Jeffrey Kwong, an associate scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, was awarded $228,197 over two years. Using data from the laboratories of Public Health Ontario and hospital health records, he aims to determine how well influenza vaccines work to protect people from being hospitalized or dying from flu.

Dr. David Spaner, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences, was awarded $377,124 over three years to determine the most effective ways to improve the results of steroid therapy for the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. 

Saluting new investigators

In addition, CIHR awarded Drs. Benjamin Goldstein and Harindra Wijeysundera each a new investigator salary award worth $300,000 over five years.

Goldstein, a scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program, will investigate whether specific markers in the blood can help doctors understand better the course of symptoms and the increased risk of heart disease in adolescents and adults with bipolar disorder.

Wijeysundera, a scientist in the Schulich Heart Research Program, will study why patients with stable heart disease are sometimes treated with only medications, and in other situations undergo procedures such as angioplasty or open-heart surgery. The aim of the research is to understand the causes of this variation and the impact on health care costs, quality of life and survival.

SRI researchers funded through other CIHR competitions

Dr. Sophie Grigoriadis, a scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program, was awarded a Knowledge to Action operating grant worth $170,467 over 20 months. The award will support her work on developing a physician reference guide for the treatment of depression in pregnancy with antidepressant medication.

Dr. Mark Rapoport, an associate scientist in the Brain Sciences Research Program, was awarded a Knowledge to Action operating grant worth $174,841 over two years. The funds will enable him to evaluate a tool to help physicians decide when a patient with mild dementia should be reported to transportation authorities because their dementia has made them unsafe drivers. Rapoport also received a one-year planning grant worth $24,999 to improve Canadian guidelines for determining medical fitness to operate motor vehicles.

Dr. Jill Tinmouth, a scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, was awarded $558,290 over three years through the Partnerships for Health System Improvement program. She will use the funds to improve cancer screening among First Nations and Métis communities in Canada.