News at Medicine - May 2017 - Improving outcomes

Improving outcomes
May 26, 2017
Faculty of Medicine researchers garner $2.8 million in new federal funding.

By Jeff Green and Michelle Osmond
A federal investment of nearly $3 million will advance important health-related studies led by Faculty of Medicine researchers.

Six researchers are receiving a total of $2,858,375 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to enhance the research in areas including cancer therapies, genetics, Hepatitis B and rural health care.

Dr. Kensuke Hirasawa, professor of immunology in the Division of BioMedical Sciences, is receiving $573,750 over five years for a project focused on cancer therapy and antiviruses. He’s studying molecular mechanisms of viral oncolysis -- viruses that infect and destroy cancer cells. This research will improve efficacy and safety in treating cancer.

Dr. Michiru Hirasawa, professor of neurosciences, Division of BioMedical Sciences, is receiving $531,675 over five years to study obesity. She’s trying to figure out why high fat diets-induced inflammation of the hypothalamus can lead to obesity. The goal of her work is to discover novel therapeutic targets for obesity.

Dr. Thomas Michalak, University Research Professor and professor of molecular virology and medicine (hepatology), also from BioMedical Services, is receiving $761,175 over five years to further advance his research on Hepatitis B virus. He utilizes the woodchuck animal model for his research and has discovered the characterization of occult Hepatitis B viral persistence in people whose disease was thought to be resolved. As part of his new study, the CIHR funding will allow him to reactivate occult infection in woodchucks by commonly used drugs. By doing so, it’ll allow him to predict if reactivation may occur and what to do to prevent it.

Dr. Guangju Zhai, professor in the Discipline of Genetics, is receiving $791,775 over five years to study osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis which affects about 10 per cent of the world’s population aged 60 or older. They want to better understand if novel genetic and metabolic markers for osteoarthritis can be used to predict disease risk.

Meanwhile, Dr. Stephen Bornstein, professor in the Division of Community Health and Humanities as well as the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is a principal investigator on a project that’s receiving $100,000 for one year from the CIHR’s Bridge Grant Program. The funding is going toward an inter-provincial partnership examining ways to improve health systems in rural Canadian communities, including those with Francophone, First Nations, M├ętis, Innu and Inuit populations.

And, Dr. Maria Mathews, professor of health policy and health care delivery, Division of Community Health and Humanities, is principal investigator on a project that’s receiving $100,000 from the Bridge Grant Program for one year. Her project is examining the contributions of visa trainees and post-graduate medical fellows on the physician workforce in Canada.

“Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine plays a vital role in ensuring that we address the health of our people and communities,” noted Dean Margaret Steele. “Our researchers are dedicated to transforming health care for a healthier Newfoundland and Labrador through world-class research and the projects funded through these CIHR grants are a great example of that.”

“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is a strategic partner of our university,” said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, president and vice-chancellor.

“Through this significant federal investment, Memorial researchers will continue to lead ground-breaking innovative health studies, which will benefit all Canadians. I am grateful to the Government of Canada for its ongoing support of Memorial-led research studies.”

The CIHR announced the latest results of its Project Grant and Bridge Grant programs on May 16. The Project Grant Program supports researchers at any career stage to build and conduct health-related research and knowledge translation projects, and the Bridge Grant Program provides funding to researchers, enabling them to apply to subsequent competitions.