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Dal Engineering Professors Awarded CIHR Project Grant Funding

Posted by Michelle Charlton & Engineering Communications on February 10, 2020 in News

Two professors from Dalhousie’s Faculty of Engineering are the newest recipients of funding from the Government of Canada for their innovative health research.

Dr. Noreen Kamal from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Dr. Paul Gratzer from the School of Biomedical Engineering have been awarded funding by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grants.

The funding helps researchers gather the kind of information they need to make real improvements to clinical practice, health service delivery, and public health policy.

The Project Grant competition is one of CIHR’s flagship funding programs. They are multi-year grants that are designed to support researchers at various stages in their careers as they conduct health research and knowledge translation projects that cover the full range of health research topic. Project grant recipients are leaders in their fields and their projects tackle pressing health issues that matter to Canadians.

“CIHR funding is extremely competitive requiring that the team submit a proposal with excellent researchers, compelling research impact and an outstanding training program for students,” says Dr. John Newhook, Dean of Engineering. “We are very pleased to see two of our faculty members lead successful teams in this round of competition.”
While many people are familiar with some of the health research projects that come out of the School of Biomedical Engineering, similar types of research are often less commonly associated with Industrial Engineering.

“Noreen is a new faculty member and having early opportunities to build a strong research program is very important,” says Dr. Newhook. “This is the first tri-agency health research funding (outside of the School of Biomedical Engineering) received in our Faculty. It is a recognition of the ongoing importance of engineering input and solution in the delivery of health care and an endorsement of the quality of our researchers.”

Highlights of Successfully Funded Projects

Noreen Kamal, Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial EngineeringProject: Atlantic Canada Together Enhancing Acute Stroke Treatment (ACTEAST): Improving Access and Efficiency of Treatment

Stroke is a devastating disease, and the leading cause of severe physical disability. Ischemic stroke is the most common form of stroke; and is treatable with medical treatment and a new minimally invasive surgical procedure. These treatments can transform lives, but minutes matter for improving outcomes.

Dr. Noreen Kamal’s research is focused on increasing the proportion of ischemic stroke patients receiving treatment, and improving the efficiency of treatment. Her team will carry out this work across all of the Atlantic provinces, and employ an Improvement Collaborative intervention. This intervention uses the Model for Improvement adopted from Industrial Engineering, which employs alternating face-to-face workshops and action periods to test and implement changes at local hospitals. The workshops involve sharing information with hospital teams and facilitation of cross-site learning.

It is anticipated that the potential benefit for patients experiencing ischemic stroke is profound. It is anticipated that 10-20% of ischemic stroke patients will have improved outcomes, which means that up to 550 more patients each year in Atlantic Canada can return to their homes with no or little disability, and use much less rehabilitation and long-term care services.

“This funding means so much because ACTEAST is incredibly important to me for a number of reasons,” says Dr. Kamal. “The first reason is for the patients of course, who deserve the best possible outcomes that medical evidence has to offer.  This brings me to my second reason, this is a cluster trial using a novel design to rigorously study the impact of an implementation, which will show its impact on being able to mobilize knowledge obtained from randomized clinical trial into practice.  Finally, I have fallen in love with this region and its people; I look forward to working with the people from Atlantic Canada across four provinces and multiple health authorities to make it one of the best performing acute stroke systems in the world.”

Paul Gratzer, Associate Professor, Department of Process Engineering and Applied Science, School of Biomedical Engineering
Project: Application of Advanced Wound Care Products and Techniques in the Northern Ontario First Nations Community

First Nations people living in Canada are among the highest risk population for diabetes and related complications. Community-based and culturally appropriate prevention strategies and monitoring of indications of diabetes among this high-risk population are essential to reducing health disparities.

With diabetes, minor abrasions and cuts on the feet can become chronic, infected wounds. Once the infection reaches the bone, amputation often becomes necessary. Canada currently spends $1.5 billion on direct costs for diabetic amputations, and in Ontario’s North West Local Health Integration Network area alone, there were more than 100 amputations last year, which cost up to $43 million.

Paul Gratzer who has developed a new tissue engineered would care product called DermGEN™, is working with Joanne Ogden, an award winning wound care nurse who has created a Wound Care Centre of Excellence in the Fort Frances area with a focus on limb preservation. DermGEN™ was created through research at Dalhousie and will be applied in a clinical study to assess the efficacy of this product in treating diabetic ulcers in the First Nations Communities of Northwest Ontario. DermGEN™ is unique in that it can be stored at room temperature, is easily transportable,  and requires simple wound preparation and aftercare treatment which can be managed by patients at home.

"I am very excited to receive this funding as it enables my research to be used in helping a population who experience the highest rates in Canada of diabetic complications that lead to limb amputations,” says Prof Gratzer. “In partnership with the local First Nations communities, their Chiefs and Elders, and local wound care clinicians, we will bring advanced wound care technology directly to diabetic ulcer patients enabling them to heal faster and potentially eliminate the need for amputations.”

Prof. Gratzer’s hope is that this research will significantly improve wound care in the First Nations communities at a lower cost.

For more information about the CIHR’s Project Grant program can be found on the CIHR website.