Ottawa medical researchers awarded close to $20M by CIHR

February 23, 2011

Researchers affiliated with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) and the CHEO Research Institute (CHEO RI) are about to embark on exciting new research projects that could lead to better therapies for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other medical conditions.

The projects have been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) through the agency’s most recent operating grant competition. A total of 33 research teams from the Faculty of Medicine and affiliated hospital-based research institutes have been awarded grants worth nearly $20M in the competition. Such success highlights both the high level of research intensity at uOttawa’s Faculty of Medicine and our institution’s leading position nationally.

Some of the projects being funded:
  • Drs. Ilias Cagiannos, Dean Fergusson and Rodney Breau (OHRI and uOttawa) will lead a clinical trial to determine if cooling the kidney area during the surgical removal of kidney tumours can improve the recovery of kidney function and reduce complications.

  • Dr. Darryl Davis (UOHI and uOttawa) will explore novel strategies to enhance the regenerative capacity and retention of cardiac progenitor cells.

  • Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis (uOttawa) will investigate how the immune system recognizes unhealthy cells that need to be destroyed. In particular, he will study how natural killer cells spot the Ly49 MHC protein receptor, a marker of cellular health that is lost when cells become cancerous or infected by viruses.

  • Dr. Robert Screaton (CHEO RI and uOttawa) will investigate a gene called Lkb1, which plays an important role in regulating insulin production in the pancreas. His research could lead to novel approaches for the prevention and treatment of diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.

  • Dr. Rhian Touyz (OHRI and uOttawa) will study how metabolic byproducts called free radicals possibly contribute to high blood pressure, kidney disease and cardiovascular problems. In particular, she will investigate how “Nox” proteins give rise to free radicals and how they can be harnessed for new therapies.

  • Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden (uOttawa and OHRI) will study the development of ovarian cancer and the role of reproductive factors, such as estrogen, in this process. A second project led by Dr. Vanderhyden will look at stem cells in the ovary and how they might contribute to cancer.

Full descriptions of the CIHR’s 2011 Decisions and Funded Projects are available at Lay descriptions of additional OHRI projects are provided below.

The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and its affiliated hospital-based research institutes (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Élisabeth-Bruyère Research Institute, Institut de recherche de l'Hôpital Montfort, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa Heart Institute and University of Ottawa Mental Health Research Institute), have a long history of conducting both basic and clinical research of the highest quality. The work performed by these institutions not only leads to biomedical discoveries that have a significant impact on the health of Canadians, but also trains the next generation of Canadian scientists.

  • Karine Proulx, University of Ottawa, 613- 562-5800, ext. 3149, cell 613-219-3058,
  • Jennifer Paterson, OHRI, 613-798-5555, ext. 73325,
  • Marlene Orton, UOHI, 613-761-4427, cell 613-899-6760,
  • Isabelle Mailloux, CHEO RI, 613-737-7600, ext. 3536,
  • David Coulombe, CIHR, 613-941-4563,


Additional OHRI Projects Funded

  • HIV: Dr. Jonathan Angel will investigate how HIV affects the immune system, and in particular, the role of a protein called sCD127, which may weaken the body’s ability to defend against HIV. Manipulating this molecular pathway could represent a novel approach for improving HIV therapy.

  • Knowledge translation: Dr. Jamie Brehaut will use psychological models to investigate how health professionals respond to feedback. Results will be used to develop more effective approaches for encouraging the use of best practices in health care.

  • Kidney disease: Dr. Kevin Burns will investigate a protein called ACE2, which may play a role in protecting the kidneys from damage. He will investigate this protein in experimental models and in patients, using the results to help develop new approaches to prevent, treat and detect kidney disease.

  • Biomedical ethics: Dr. Dean Fergusson will examine research methods and justifications used in pre-clinical drug development to try to understand why new therapies fail or succeed in human trials. This grant is jointly held with Dr. Jonathan Kimmelman at McGill University.

  • Patient safety: Dr. Alan Forster will expand the testing of a new patient safety surveillance system he developed. The system involves active surveillance for health care errors and adverse events combined with timely physician peer-review. It will be evaluated at three hospitals in two provinces.

  • Brain cancer: Dr. Ian Lorimer will study a protein called PKC iota, which may play a role in the growth and invasion of brain cancer cells. Dr. Lorimer will see if blocking this protein can improve survival in brain cancer models, and he will also investigate potential benefits of combining this approach with other cancer therapies.

  • Parkinson’s disease: Dr. Michael Schlossmacher will investigate a “molecular scissor” protein called Cathepsin D, which may be an important target for developing new therapies for Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Dr. Schlossmacher has previously shown that Cathepsin D can help brain cells eliminate a protein called alpha-synuclein, which promotes nerve cell damage in these diseases.

  • Emergency medicine: Dr. Ian Stiell will investigate a novel approach to improve how patients with breathing problems are triaged in the emergency department. Patients with breathing problems who have heart failure and COPD will be assigned to high, medium or low risk categories based on 10 clinical factors, so that emergency staff can objectively and efficiently prioritize care.

  • Binge eating disorder: Dr. Giorgio Tasca will investigate the roles of obesity, depression, adult attachment, and childhood adversity in women with binge eating disorder. Results will be used to help develop more rational and tailored treatment approaches.

“CIHR grants are the life-blood of our Institute, and I am very proud of the continued success of our scientists in obtaining these highly competitive awards," said Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO and Scientific Director of OHRI, Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa. "We are committed to giving back to Canadians by translating our research into benefits for patients and society at every possibly opportunity.”