Government of Canada invests in innovative health research

- July 17, 2018

Ten researchers affiliated with Dalhousie University, the IWK and the Nova Scotia Health Authority have received $7.2 million in funding from the Government of Canada.

The funding is provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant Program, which is one of CIHR’s flagship funding programs. These multi-year grants 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 topics. Recipients are leaders in their fields and their projects tackle pressing health issues that matter to Canadians.

Highlights of successfully funded researchers

These world-leading researchers will be studying a wide range of topics, including: the experiences of minorities in the health professions; how to enhance collaborative practice; the views of First Nations peoples towards biological health research; and the issue of chronic sleep loss.

Brenda Beagan, School of Occupational Therapy

The everyday experiences of minorities in the health professions: “Strange faces in the hallways”

Researchers, educators and professional bodies have argued that we need greater presence of underrepresented ‘minority’ groups (with ‘minority’ including race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, social class, disability and LGBTQ+ identity) in the health professions to meet the needs of changing populations.

Evidence shows that minority health care professionals are more likely to work with marginalized populations, and minority patients are more likely to seek care from them and be satisfied with that care. Little is known about the day-to-day experiences of minority individuals who do enter the health professions, experiences which may shape where and how they practice, how long they stay in the profession, and the extent to which they may be able to fulfill the potential for reducing health inequities.

In her study, Dr. Beagan and her team (including Anna MacLeod from the Faculty of Medicine and  Debbie Martin from the Faculty of Health) will ask “how do members of minority groups experience working within the health professions in Canada?” The findings will ultimately help ensure that efforts to diversify health care reach their full potential.

Amy Bombay, School of Nursing

First Nations views towards biological health research: Before and after participation in a two-eyed seeing curriculum

Over the past two years, a team made up of First Nations knowledge holders and researchers in Canada have been coming together to discuss advances in biological health research and how they may be relevant to First Nations health. In order to address some of the barriers to First Nations-led biological health research, the team is developing an educational curriculum to provide communities with an opportunity to learn about how biological health research can help address their health priorities.

It is expected that this curriculum can serve as a tool that can be used in the initial stages of First Nations led research projects to build Ethical Space for culturally safe knowledge exchange between First Nations communities and researchers that is beneficial for everyone involved.   

Dr. Bombay’s research will assess the expectations that participation in the curriculum will result in a number of positive outcomes related to support for First Nations-led biological research and in relation to certain aspects of well-being and capacity building.

Balwantray Chauhan, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Novel Imaging Targets for Detecting Early Progression of Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an age-related visual disorder that affects the lives of two per cent of the population aged over 40 years and up to five per cent of those aged over 70 years. It places a large burden both on the health care system with increasing treatment costs and on care-givers (physicians and family members), significantly diminishing the patient’s quality of life.

Successful treatment outcomes depend primarily on early detection of the disease and its progression. Dr. Chauhan and his team will be looking at strategies to help detect early disease progression and their transition into clinical practice to ensure not only success in stalling the biological progression of the disease, but in maintaining good quality of life. They will track the progress of patients with glaucoma and develop analytical techniques to translate the findings into clinical practice. If they are able to demonstrate that they can detect progression of the disease earlier, they may be able to identify individuals that need different intervention in their management that will provide a better prognosis.

Janet Curran, School of Nursing

Co-designing discharge communication interventions for pediatric emergency care

Discharge communication in a pediatric emergency department can be a challenging time for parents, youth and clinicians. Most discharge communication interventions that have been evaluated in the literature target parents, but few consider how the chaotic nature of an emergency department might impact communication. Inadequate discharge communication can lead to poor health outcomes and can result in unnecessary return visits to the emergency department.

Dr. Curran and her team aim to evaluate a strategy for partnering with parents, youth and emergency department clinicians to co-design discharge communication interventions for asthma and minor head injury.

James Fawcett, Departments of Pharmacology and Surgery

Role of cerebellar glial cells in walking

Our ability to walk is dependent on sensory input from our environment. A region in the brain known as the cerebellum integrates this sensory information to allow for coordinated movement, and is essential to maintain important functions when walking (such as balance). Defects in the cerebellum can lead to changes in coordinated gait and put people at an increased risk of falling.
Dr. Fawcett and his team have identified a complex of proteins found in cell type known as Glia in the cerebellum. Their research will characterize the role this protein complex has in regulating glial cell development to control cerebellar circuits necessary for walking. Interestingly, one of the proteins they have identified has also been implicated in patients with schizophrenia.
Dr. Fawcett’s work will contribute to our understanding of the role cerebellar glial cells play in movement, and provide a unique understanding of the function of the cerebellum in schizophrenia.

John Hanly, Division of Rheumatology

Characterization of brain dysfunction with multi-modal functional neuroimaging in patients with SLE and cognitive impairment

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and damage to any part of the body. It affects 1 in 2000 people, women nine times more frequently than men, usually during the most productive time of their lives. Involvement of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) by SLE results in a variety of neurological and psychiatric problems. Frequently, there is disturbance of normal cognitive function (e.g. the ability to think clearly, remember recent and past events and organize everyday tasks), which is called cognitive dysfunction ("lupus fog"). It is one of the least understood features of the illness despite its negative impact on daily function and quality of life.

Dr. Hanly, who has conducted several research projects in this area, plans a study with experts in neuropsychology and neuroimaging to learn more about why lupus patients suffer from cognitive dysfunction. The results should lead to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of this distressing condition.

Ratika Parkash, Division of Cardiology

Reversal of atrial substrate to prevent atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal heart rhythm that comes from the upper chambers of the heart. It causes the main pumping chambers of the heart to beat in an irregular and sometimes very rapid fashion. Some people with atrial fibrillation feel completely well. Others feel unwell, with palpitations, a feeling of shortness of breath, reduced exercise ability, light-headedness or chest pain.

If atrial fibrillation causes significant symptoms, catheter ablation is often used to try to prevent it from coming back. Catheter ablation involves putting special wires up through the veins of the legs to record the electrical signals of the heart and to cauterize the areas of the heart that cause this abnormal rhythm. The cure rate is between 50 and 70 per cent.

Dr. Parkash and her team are hoping to determine if a combined home-based exercise and risk factor treatment reduces the recurrence of atrial fibrillation after a catheter ablation procedure for atrial fibrillation. This will be the first trial to study the effects of exercise in combination with risk factor treatment on atrial fibrillation in a randomized fashion.

Sheri Price, School of Nursing

Health Professionals Learning About, From and With Each Other to Enhance Collaborative Practice

Effective teamwork and collaboration among health professionals is a well-recognized strategy toward enhancing care delivery and patient outcomes. However, there are many challenges in creating collaborative teams, including overlapping scopes of practice and health professionals’ lack of understanding of each other’s roles. Interprofessional education, where health professionals learn about, from, and with each other, is a key strategy towards ensuring collaborative teams.

Building upon a current CIHR study, Dr. Price’s research will undertake a longitudinal and qualitative exploration of professional socialization among students in dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and physiotherapy programs. Her findings will be used to enhance interprofessional socialization and prepare future health professionals to identify as strong team players and ultimately improve health care delivery and patient outcomes.

Kazue Semba, Department of Medical Neuroscience

Chronic sleep loss and microglia

Chronically insufficient sleep is common in our society and is increasingly recognized as a cause of health and safety problems with significant economic costs. Currently, we only have a limited understanding of the mechanisms underlying the health and cognitive impairments associated with chronic sleep loss.

Dr. Semba’s research demonstrates that four days of insufficient sleep activates microglia (immune cells in the brain) and this activation persists for at least one week following sleep loss in rats. Her team will use this model to examine the mechanisms underlying the effects of chronic sleep loss, with a focus on what role, if any, microglia plays.

The findings from this study could have significant health and economic impacts since sleep is so important, yet so often sacrificed for other activities. Ultimately, it will help develop innovative strategies for coping with the negative impacts of reduced sleep and help reduce the adverse impacts of chronic sleep loss on the health of both men and women.

Dr. Semba also received a Project Grant Bridge Grant for her work on the “Role of star-shaped ‘housekeeping’ brain cells in regulating sleep.” This research will help provide a better understanding of how the brain monitors sleep need and tries to promote sleep when necessary.

Jun Wang, Department of Microbiology & Immunology

Investigating the role of repeated low-dose infections in Chlamydia pathogenesis

Chlamydia is the leading cause of sexually transmitted bacterial infections and the most common cause of infectious blindness worldwide. Rates of Chlamydia infection are increasing steadily worldwide, including in Canada and the US. Despite this demonstrated and growing impact on human health, there is currently no vaccine against Chlamydia.

A key component of vaccine research is to have reliable animal models that can mimic closely human infection and disease processes. The symptoms of Chlamydia infection are often subtle or absent. As most people are unaware of their infection until they are tested or develop complications such as infertility, Chlamydia infections are commonly transmitted between sex partners in a series of repeated low-dose infections (RLDIs). However, conventional mouse models use a single high-dose of infection. Importantly, Chlamydia infection in mice, but not humans, protects against reinfection, raising a question as to whether we are using an appropriate animal model for studying Chlamydia and for vaccine research.

Dr. Wang’s laboratory has recently developed a new mouse model of RLDIs to mimic closely the nature of infections in humans. They have acquired multiple lines of evidence to show that a single high-dose infection and RLDIs induce different types of immune responses and degrees of tissue damage, with the most severe tissue damage occurring with RLDIs.

The results of this research will advance greatly the understanding of the Chlamydia-induced disease process and the development of Chlamydia vaccine.

More information about the Project Grant program can be found on the CIHR website.


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