Ten Dalhousie researchers will share close to $6 million in Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding designed to elevate ideas with the greatest potential to improve human health. The new research supported through the Project Grants Fall 2021 competition will focus on topics such as counteracting hearing and sight loss, exploring the causes of epilepsy and intellectual disability, incorporating Indigenous knowledge into medical practices, and creating a better understanding of what influences our mental health.
“Dalhousie research funded by CIHR promises to touch the lives of Canadians in extremely meaningful ways,” says Alice Aiken, Dalhousie’s vice president research and innovation. “It could eventually return sight and hearing to those who may have otherwise lived without them, it could help calm the tumult experienced by those with anxiety and bipolar disorders, and it will help us learn from the insights of our Indigenous peoples who can point us in innovative new directions.”
Dalhousie was especially successful in its grant applications in this competition, achieving a 35.7 per cent success rate for applications submitted by the university’s researchers via Dalhousie, Nova Scotia Health and IWK Health. This exceeds the national average of 20.7 per cent, indicating the high quality and potential of health research generated by the university.
Learn more about Dalhousie’s CIHR-funded projects:
Robert Adamson, Engineering
Making inner ear surgery possible with new imaging technology
Precise diagnosis of middle ear diseases can be difficult as physicians are unable to see beyond the eardrum to assess problems with structures behind it. Dr. Adamson has developed a new imaging technology that allows for a view through the eardrum and the ability to measure vibrations of middle ear structures. This innovation allows for higher resolution and higher contrast images than competing technologies. He and his team are now exploring how this new technology can be used to diagnose a variety of different middle ear diseases to help ear surgeons better plan surgeries and counsel patients.
Scott Kehler, Health
Exploring the connections between frailty and cardiovascular disease
Research shows that people with cardiovascular disease and high frailty levels are more likely to experience a poor quality of life, more hospital visits, and shorter lifespans than those with lower frailty levels. While frailty is common in cardiovascular disease, there is little research to determine if frailty is an important factor in developing the disease more quickly. It is also not known if frailty develops rapidly after people are diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease. Dr. Kehler and his team will explore connections between frailty and cardiovascular disease to develop new prevention strategies.
Margot Latimer, Health, and John Sylliboy
Translating Indigenous knowledge to health practice
Building on the agency and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, an evidence-based curriculum for health clinicians has been developed, pilot-tested and prepared for broader translation across Mi'kma'ki. The curriculum was informed by research led by several First Nations communities in Mi'kma'ki and a partnership with Tajkemik Mi'kmaq Health and Wellness, Dalhousie University and IWK Health Centre. Dr. Latimer along with Co-principal and Mi'kmaw researcher John R. Sylliboy and team will study the uptake of the knowledge provided through the curriculum and practice changes among a diverse group of health professionals from three healthcare settings in Mi'kma'ki.
Alon Friedman, Medicine
Paving the way toward a new epilepsy treatment
Approximately one third of individuals with epilepsy experience seizures despite taking appropriate medications. To better understand the disease, Dr. Friedman together with Dr. Whatley and their teams aim to investigate underpinnings of epileptic seizures and test a new treatment using a novel method of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). They will investigate the link between leaky micro-vessels in the brain and the number and severity of seizures experienced by patients. The findings of this project will advance the understanding of epilepsy and will offer new treatment options.
Tomas Hajek, Medicine
Exploring diabetes as a risk factor for brain and cognitive changes in bipolar disorders
Type 2 diabetes mellitus damages the brain, impairs memory, and frequently co-occurs with bipolar disorders. To test if diabetes contributes to future brain and cognitive changes in bipolar disorders, Dr. Hajek and his team will collect repeated brain scans, memory tests and blood samples from people with bipolar disorder and a control group. This will allow him to study if baseline diabetes accelerates changes in brain structure, chemical composition, memory function, and clinical outcomes over time and whether this impact is more pronounced in people with bipolar disorders.
James Kramer, Medicine
Investigating epigenetics in memory and brain disorders
Mutations in genes encoding epigenetic regulators are one of the most frequent causes of neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism and intellectual disability. We have very limited knowledge about how disrupted epigenetic regulation can impact brain function. Dr. Kramer and his team are studying epigenetic mechanisms that control cognitive function in the fruit fly, drosophila melanogaster. In particular, he is studying what goes wrong in the memory center of the fly brain when epigenetic regulators – which play a crucial role in activating and silencing gene expression – are disrupted. Understanding the basic functions of epigenetics in the fly brain has implications for better understanding and treating neurodevelopmental disorders caused by epigenetic defects.
Sandra Meier, Medicine
Using AI activity tracking to tackle youth anxiety disorder
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a leading treatment for anxiety, but clinicians often don’t fully understand its rate of success. New mobile sensing technology provides a promising way to objectively record patient receptiveness by monitoring behaviour. Dr. Meier and her team will test if mobile sensing data can detect daily anxiety symptoms with the goal of improving clinical treatment.
Understanding the role of genetics in youth anxiety
Recent studies have identified the role genetics play in adults who suffer from anxiety disorders. However, research on genetic factors among youth is more limited. Dr. Meier and her team will conduct the first large Canadian study to understand the impact of genetic predisposition to anxiety in young people.
Victor Rafuse, Medicine
Developing a new understanding of ALS
ALS is a nervous system disease that affects motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord causing loss of muscle control and death, often in elderly people. Most studies on ALS use animal models of the disease or human motor neurons that die relatively quickly in tissue culture. Dr. Rafuse’s team is developing, and using, an innovative method to study long-term changes in survival and function of human motor neurons derived from healthy people, and patients with ALS, so they can better understand how the disease progresses. They hope that this will ultimately lead to new strategies to treat the disease.
Kevin Duffy and Donald Mitchell, Science
Improving the treatment of blindness
Brain regions that support visual perception develop early in life and require normal visual experience. Disruption of clear and balanced vision can alter the development of neural circuitry and produce a visual impairment called amblyopia - the most common cause of childhood blindness. Drs. Duffy and Mitchell have developed a pharmacological treatment for amblyopia that temporarily inactivates retinal cells to produce a level of recovery superior to that of conventional treatments. This funding enables investigation of neural mechanisms underlying recovery, treatment efficacy across ages and depths of impairment, and will facilitate the possible application of this therapy in humans.
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