2010-2011 Highlights

Research improving health today

  • Improving care for traumatic neck injuries: People who have been in car accidents or suffered other physical traumas are now receiving better care for neck injuries thanks to Dr. Ian Stiell’s Canadian C-Spine Rule. This rule helps emergency room physicians and nurses determine which patients require special care (i.e. immobilization and diagnostic imaging) for potential neck injuries. This ensures that all patients receive the most appropriate care promptly, which reduces emergency department wait times for everyone. After extensive research, the rule is now being implemented in 10 Ontario hospitals, thanks to a grant from the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario (CAHO). Please see CAHO for details.
  • Better screening for diabetes after pregnancy: Women who suffer from pregnancy-related diabetes are now receiving better follow-up care, thanks to research led by Dr. Erin Keely. Dr. Keely and her colleagues developed a reminder system that has resulted in twice as many women receiving the recommended diabetes screening six months after giving birth. The system, which has now been implemented at The Ottawa Hospital and the Queensway Carleton Hospital, is helping many women receive the counseling and treatment they need to manage their risk of diabetes. Please see Chronic Diseases in Canada for details.
  • Preventing dangerous infections in cystic fibrosis patients: People with the genetic lung disease cystic fibrosis are now being better protected from lung infections thanks to research led by Dr. Shawn Aaron. Dr. Aaron and his team discovered that a dangerous strain of bacteria is spreading between cystic fibrosis patients in Ontario, and this has already led to better infection control procedures for these patients. Please see the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) paper for details.
  • Preventing stroke: People who are treated for mini-strokes at The Ottawa Hospital have an excellent chance of avoiding a full-blown stroke thanks to a comprehensive research-based stroke prevention program. Developed by Dr. Mike Sharma, the program involves coordinated efforts between neurologists, emergency physicians and other health professionals, as well as a patient-centred approach for counseling about stroke risk factors. A recent study showed that mini-stroke patients who participated in this program had just a 3.2 per cent chance of suffering a full-blown stroke within three months, compared to a 10 per cent chance at other centres. Please see the American Heart Association’s Stroke journal for details.
  • Looking out for patient safety: Patients at The Ottawa Hospital are now receiving safer care thanks to a patient safety surveillance system developed by Dr. Alan Forster and colleagues. The system involves a nurse observer who regularly monitors units and records details about potential patient safety events in a novel web-based form. The system has been so successful that it is now being expanded to other hospitals in Ottawa and Montreal as part of a research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Please see British Medical Journal (BMJ) Quality & Safety for details.

Research providing hope for tomorrow

  • Breakthroughs in Parkinson’s: Diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease may one day be easier, thanks to new research led by Dr. Michael Schlossmacher. Dr. Schlossmacher and his team have developed an experimental approach to detect Parkinson’s earlier and more accurately by measuring the level of a protein called alpha-synuclein within the spinal fluid. They have also unraveled the biology behind a well-known link between Parkinson’s and Gaucher disease, and the results suggest that drugs that have already been developed for Gaucher may also be useful in people with Parkinson’s. Please see Lancet Neurology and Annals of Neurology for details.
  • Developing new stem cell therapies: New research led by Dr. Duncan Stewart suggests that a commonly used type of bone marrow stem cell may be able to help treat sepsis, a deadly condition that can occur when an infection spreads throughout the body. The study shows that mesenchymal stem cells can reduce organ damage, help clear infection and triple the overall survival rate in experimental models of sepsis. Please see the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine for details.
  • Cancer-fighting viruses: Dr. John Bell and his team have made exciting progress in the development of cancer-fighting viruses. They recently discovered that in addition to directly infecting and killing tumours, these viruses also indirectly kill tumours by infecting and destroying the blood vessels that feed them. This study was conducted in laboratory models, but a similar effect has also been observed in patients and the work is fuelling further innovative clinical trials. Please see Molecular Therapy for details.
  • Investigating novel anti-cholesterol therapies: Dr. Xiaohui Zha and her group have discovered a potential new strategy to reduce the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels. They found that a commercially available peptide called st-Ht31 changes the location of cholesterol-processing machinery within certain blood vessel cells, and this causes the cells to release large amounts of excess cholesterol. While this research is still at early stages, it provides hope that new strategies may be found reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Please see the Journal of Biological Chemistry for details.
  • Understanding gene regulation in stem cells: A new discovery led by Dr. Marjorie Brand provides crucial insight into the fundamental question of how one protein can have opposite effects inside different types of cells. Specifically, Dr. Brand and her group found that in blood stem cells, the TAL1 protein activates genes that promote the healthy development of red blood cells. However, when TAL1 is found in certain white blood cells, it activates a completely different set of genes and promotes the development of leukemia. This discovery, which involved a number of groups at OHRI, has important implications for the development of new therapies to regenerate blood and fight leukemia. Please see the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Journal for details.
  • Personalizing cancer treatment: Dr. Christina Addison and colleagues have found a potential new biomarker to help predict which lung cancer patients are likely to benefit from a new targeted anti-cancer therapy. After analyzing blood samples from more than 500 patients, they found that those who had low levels of a protein called Transforming Growth Factor alpha were more likely to benefit from the drug erlotinib. They also found another potential biomarker that could help predict overall survival. The findings provide an important contribution to the development of more personalized treatments for cancer. Please see the Journal of Clinical Oncology for details.
  • New insight into how HIV causes AIDS: New research by Dr. Jonathan Angel’s group is shedding light on the important question of how exactly HIV weakens the immune system. While is has been known for many years that HIV directly infects and kills T cells, Dr. Angel’s research shows for the first time that HIV also disrupts the IL-7 signalling pathway that is crucial for T cell development, function and survival. This research is important because it suggests that IL-7-based therapies for HIV (which are currently in clinical trials) may need to be augmented with therapies that restore the IL-7 signalling pathway. Please see the Journal of Leukocyte Biology for details.

Milestones and special recognition

  • Growth in funding: The OHRI has grown to become the fourth largest hospital-based research institute in the country in terms of funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Despite an increasingly competitive research environment, OHRI scientists have continued to rank well above the national average in CIHR grant competitions, and thanks to this success, OHRI is now one of the top research institutes in the country.
  • Our top researchers of the year: Three OHRI researchers were honoured for their outstanding work at The Ottawa Hospital’s 2010 Gala for Research. Graduate student Melissa Bowerman was recognized for her promising work in developing new treatments for Spinal muscular atrophy (under the supervision of Dr. Rashmi Kothary); Dr. Lynn Megeney was recognized for his groundbreaking work on stem cell development; and Dr. John Bell was recognized for his exceptional research career, including his leadership in developing of cancer-fighting viruses. Please see the news story for details.
  • Leadership in clinical research: Dr. Jeremy Grimshaw was elected Co-Chair of the Cochrane Collaboration, a highly prestigious international research network that helps people make informed health-care decisions. The Cochrane Collaboration is the world’s leading independent assessor of medical interventions and medical research, with more than 28,000 contributors from more than 100 countries. Please see the news story for details.
  • Leadership in kidney research: Dr. Kevin Burns was awarded the Kidney Foundation of Canada’s 2010 Medal for Research Excellence. Dr. Burns is recognized as a leader in translating kidney research into clinical practice and he has also made many contributions to the training of kidney researchers, including the development of the KRESCENT program. Please see the news story for details.
  • Building world-class research facilities: The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute recently completed construction of a new Centre for Innovative Cancer Research. The facility includes specialized manufacturing and testing laboratories that will reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to benefit patients. Researchers at the new centre are leading the world in developing biological therapies for cancer, such as cancer-fighting viruses. They are also working to develop more personalized therapies that are targeted to each patient’s unique type of cancer. This laboratory is one of several new research facilities that will be opening soon at OHRI, thanks to a prestigious grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and generous support from the community.