Honouring our top researchers of 2022

November 9, 2022

Each year, The Ottawa Hospital and its Research Institute honour a small number of outstanding researchers for discoveries that are having an impact around the world. This year’s honourees have led game-changing discoveries and clinical trials in areas such as COVID-19, cancer, stroke, newborn health and kidney disease.

Meet them here:

Fireflies help researcher shine a light on COVID-19

Dr. Taha AzadAs a child watching fireflies in northern Iran, Dr. Taha Azad never dreamed he would someday use the secret behind their glow to help fight cancer and a global pandemic. But with a strong sense of curiosity, collaboration and hard work, he is now receiving the Worton Researcher in Training Award for making major contributions to both cancer and COVID-19. As a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. John Bell, Dr. Azad used the firefly protein luciferase to develop biosensors to help create better cancer-killing viruses. When the pandemic hit, Dr. Azad and his colleagues applied their research to COVID-19, developing new technologies that are now used around the world. In addition to his groundbreaking research and numerous awards and publications, Dr. Azad is known for his inspiring teaching and mentorship. During his bachelor and master’s degrees in Iran, he flew to a different city every weekend to teach high school biology. Learn more about Dr. Azad in this story and Q&A and don’t miss his special presentation at OHRI Research Day next week.

Neurologist blazes new trails in stroke research

Dr. Ronda LunFor a neurology resident who spent the last five years sleeping in hospitals and saving lives, Dr. Ronda Lun’s research accomplishments are nothing short of incredible. In her short career she has published 32 papers, presented at multiple international conferences, and been awarded the highest honour for emerging researchers from the American Academy of Neurology. Her latest award is an Honourable Mention for the Worton Researcher in Training Award. “From the beginning of my residency I wanted to learn why neurologists do things the way we do,” remembers Dr. Lun. “Why do some people recover from strokes while others don’t? Why do we treat some patients with one medication and not another?” With Dr. Dar Dowlatshahi as a mentor, Dr. Lun has begun to answer these kinds of questions and has made many important contributions. Her research has improved prediction tools for intracerebral hemorrhage and she is now exploring the connection between stroke and cancer. Learn more about Dr. Lun in this story and Q&A.

Huge hope for our smallest patients

Dr. Bernard ThebaudDr. Bernard Thébaud clearly remembers the day he decided to become a doctor—his dad had suggested the soccer-loving teen become a sports physician. But from the first day of his pediatric surgery rotation, Dr. Thébaud knew he wanted to help the hospital’s youngest patients. “I had great teachers who taught me about the beauty of newborn care — about not just accepting the status quo and applying protocols, but thinking every day about how you can improve things and make them a little bit better,” he remembers. By combining rigorous lab work with clinical inspiration, Dr. Thébaud discovered that cells from the umbilical cord, called mesenchymal stromal cells or MSCs, could prevent a common kind of lung damage in premature newborn rodents (called bronchopulmonary dysplasia or BPD). Another one of his studies showed that tiny particles released by these MSCs, called extra-cellular vesicles (EVs), are just as good at preventing BPD, and can also prevent injury to the brain. This study played a major role in him receiving the Chrétien Researcher of the Year Award. Dr. Thébaud is actively translating his research into clinical trials, working closely with the Ottawa Methods Centre and the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre. Learn more about Dr. Thébaud in this story and Q&A.

Revving Canada’s kidney research engine

Dr. Kevin BurnsMost treatments for kidney disease haven’t changed in 30 years, but there is new hope on the horizon thanks to the research and leadership of Dr. Kevin Burns. Dr. Burns and his team were the first to discover that tiny bits of cell called exosomes released by human umbilical cord blood cells can protect the kidney from acute injury. The healing power in these exosomes comes from a tiny piece of RNA called micro-RNA-486-5p. Injecting this microRNA into mice can completely prevent kidney injury, a therapy that Dr. Burns and his team hope to soon test in human trials. Dr. Burns’ research has also played a major role in understanding how the renin-angiotensin aldosterone system (RAAS) contributes to kidney and cardiovascular disease. He has also been instrumental in growing and supporting Canada’s kidney research community, as founder of the Kidney Research Centre at TOH/uOttawa and the national Kidney Research Scientist Core Education and National Training (KRESCENT) program. For all these outstanding contributions, Dr. Burns is receiving the Grimes Career Achievement Award. Learn more about Dr. Burns in this story and Q&A.