Helping bright ideas in the lab become realities in patient care delivery

Funding from University Hospital Foundation Medical Research Competition helps solve clinical problems.

Shelby Soke - 19 April 2017

Research and innovation are critical to improving our health care system. Good ideas are often abundant, but without partners like the University Hospital Foundation (UHF), making them a reality is nearly impossible. In December 2016, 14 clinical research projects received $480,000 in funding from the University Hospital Foundation Medical Research Competition (UHFMRC). These grants will have a real impact on improving clinical care.

Ngan Lam - Caring for those who care for others

"Giving your kidney to a loved one, or in some cases a stranger, is a selfless act to save the life of another person," says Ngan Lam. "We should make sure that we're taking care of the people who give so much to help others."

Lam will be studying how frequently living kidney donors are receiving follow-up care, and how they access these services. Understanding the care living kidney donors receive will help identify ways to improve and evaluate the impact follow-up makes on overall health.

Currently very little research has been done in this area. The funding from UHF will help get this work done quickly to inform key stakeholders. Having this information is important, as Alberta has one of the lowest number of living donor kidney transplants in Canada.

"I'm so grateful for this funding," says Lam. "We want to make sure we are taking care of these amazing people, and if we can show that as a community we are, hopefully more people will consider donating a kidney."

Haili Wang - Improving surgical recovery for all

The standard notion that patients should not eat or drink anything before surgery has been called into question recently. Alberta implemented Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) for colorectal surgeries in 2013. The goal of ERAS is to improve the patient's overall experience, decrease time spent in hospital and reduce complications and readmission rates. This is achieved through changes to nutrition inducing consuming carbohydrates before surgery, mobilization, anesthesia, and pain management.

However, patients with diabetes have not been able to benefit from the improved recovery for colorectal surgery as it is unknown if carbohydrate loading before surgery is safe. A significant number of people are missing out, as 15 per cent of colorectal surgery patients have diabetes. Haili Wang and co-investigators Ronald Brisebois and Peter Senior will be studying if carbohydrate loading before surgery is safe for these patients.

"Carbohydrate loading before surgery gives patients an extra boost before the stress of surgery on the body, but practices for patients with diabetes haven't been consistent," says Wang. "This study will give us some much needed clarity."

The study wouldn't be possible without the UHFMRC funding and the collaboration of many partners from the Department of Surgery, Department of Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology and Alberta Health Services.

Ian Winship - Using new imaging techniques to see solutions for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious disease that requires a lifetime of medication and is associated with other serious complications.

Ian Winship and co-principal investigator Christopher Power will be using advanced imaging techniques to study brain dysfunction in models of schizophrenia.

Evidence from brain tissue from individuals with schizophrenia suggests that a loss of extracellular matrix structures in the brain may contribute to symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Supporting this, Winship found that the extracellular matrix is degraded in models of schizophrenia. Winship will now use advanced imaging techniques, originally used in his lab to study the effect of strokes on brain activity, to link brain dysfunction in schizophrenia to a loss of extracellular matrix structures. Once they are able to clearly link the loss of these structures to brain dysfunction and symptoms of schizophrenia, they can develop new treatments and interventions to prevent these devastating symptoms.

"If you want to move closer to a cure for a complex disease like schizophrenia, you need new ideas," says Winship. "Without the opportunity to explore novel approaches to treatment, new drugs are generally slightly improved derivatives of existing drugs."

"This is some of the research I'm most excited about," says Winship. "It's very hard to get funding to study a new area. The grant from UHF allowed me to take the research in my lab in a whole new direction."

Information about the 11 other awardees can be found here.

Meet our partner in innovation

Community support of the University Hospital Foundation's Medical Research Competition (MRC) has contributed more than $5.5 million in seed grants to some 250 peer-reviewed research projects at the University of Alberta Hospital, the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Kaye Edmonton Clinic over the past 10 years. By providing critical funding at the earliest stage, the UHFMRC has given researchers critical support when they need it most-before they begin.

This is just part of the $16 million the Foundation has invested in the creation of new knowledge since 2004. With this support, robust research initiatives can collect important data that is used in applications to larger national and international research councils. And eventually leads to unprecedented discoveries that advance knowledge, and transform patient care.