Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Awardees

Spring 2019 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awardees

Spring 2019 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) awardees

From top left: Drs Mohammed Almekhlafi, Darren Brenner, Gabriel Fabreau, Robert J. Hilsden, Kerry McBrien, Dana Olsta, Abdel Aziz Shaheen, Leslie Skeith.

Awarded Projects

Dr. Mohammed Almekhlafi

Aspirin in Unruptured Intracranial Aneurysms

It is estimated that about 2 to 3 per cent of the middle-aged population (165 million globally) harbour a brain aneurysm, and up to 20 per cent of those have more than one. A new trial by Dr. Mohammed Almekhlafi, MD, aims to determine the efficacy of Aspirin compared to placebo in reducing the incidence of stroke post treatment of unruptured brain aneurysms.

Dr. Darren Brenner

Predicting the Risk of Advanced Colorectal Polyps with Circulating Biomarkers

The second most common cancer in Canada can be prevented with screening. While this may seem like good news, colorectal cancer screening uptake in Alberta remains at just 50 per cent. Reasons for this low rate are not well understood, but a team of researchers, led by Dr. Darren Brenner, PhD, are developing new prediction models they hope will more accurately predict those who would most benefit from early screening using combinations of information about individual patients and circulating biological markers. 

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau

Characterizing Canada's Refugee Healthcare Delivery System

Once in Canada, refugees often have complicated medical issues and social needs caused by poor pre-migration access to food, housing, medical care, or because of traumatic experiences before and during their migration to Canada. To address these barriers, many Canadian jurisdictions developed specialized refugee health clinics that provide healthcare and coordinate public health services for newly arrived refugees and asylum claimants.

A new project led by Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, MD, is surveying data from health clinics, public health offices and resettlement services providers from 168 refugee-receiving jurisdictions across Canada to create a comprehensive description of the country’s refugee health delivery system. He hopes to paint a picture of Canada’s health system structure amidst a large influx of refugees and asylum claimants. This project will expand knowledge of Canada’s refugee health system and inform national and international stakeholders and policy-makers to best manage health responses to future humanitarian crises.

Dr. Kirsten Fiest

Partnering with Patients and Family Members to Improve Care and Health when Leaving the ICU

The top ranked project in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Team Grant in Transitions in Care 2019 competition

Patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) are very sick. Moving from the ICU to other parts of the hospital can be confusing and stressful for these patients and their families because there will be new doctors and nurses and it will look and work differently than the ICU. A new tool being developed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Kirsten Fiest, PhD, and in partnership with critically ill patients and their family caregivers, will make the transition out of the ICU a bit easier on those involved. The tool will be made with and used by patients, families, doctors and nurses — providing users with information about the care received while in the ICU, the care required after leaving the ICU, and any medical issues that remain. The goal is to transform transitions in care for patients recovering from critical illness by educating, empowering and engaging patients and their family caregivers as informed stewards of the care journey.

Dr. Robert J. Hilsden

Fecal Immunochemical Test to Reduce Unnecessary Endoscopy: FIT2RUN Study

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada. Removal of colorectal polyps (growths that appear on the surface of the colon) is an important way to reduce risk of colorectal cancer, and it is recommended that individuals with a history of polyps undergo regular colonoscopies to monitor for new growths. While effective, colonoscopies are also an invasive and costly procedure that can result in serious complications. Fecal Immunochemical Tests (FIT) are a simple, non-invasive, low cost stool test completed at home. A project led by Dr. Robert Hilsden, MD, PhD, will follow 1500 Albertans as they are screened, and potentially treated, for colorectal cancer in a bid to determine if FIT could be an effective alternative to surveillance colonoscopies of patients following removal of polyps.

Dr. Kerry McBrien

Evaluation of a novel community outreach program for socially vulnerable patients with complex needs

Socially vulnerable individuals, especially those with unstable housing, often have complex health problems and are more likely to use emergency medical resources and die early compared with the general population. The Connect 2 Care (C2C) program is a mobile outreach team that combines intensive case management with patient navigation, addressing both medical and social needs. In 2016, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Health Services awarded a $1.8M innovation grant to fund ongoing implementation and expansion of C2C, with a small percentage of the funds supporting an evaluation of the program. Recently awarded CIHR funds will extend this evaluation — enabling a thorough review of the structure, process and outcomes of the program, which the research team (led by Dr. Kerry McBrien, MD) hopes can become a model for other cities in Canada.

Dr. Kirsten Fiest, PhD, with her top five tips for a successful funding application

Awarded Projects

Dr. Dana Olstad

Protecting children from unhealthy food and brand marketing in the digital age: A novel artificial intelligence system to assess food and brand marketing on digital media

What does artificial intelligence (AI) have to do with marketing aimed at kids? Well, more than you might think. In the digital age, marketers are increasingly leveraging the combined power of AI and digital media to market unhealthy foods to children, but a team of researchers including Dr. Dana Olstad, PhD, and Dr. Joon Lee, PhD, are hoping to use that same technology to keep marketers in check. They are working with a team of researchers to develop the first AI system capable of comprehensively assessing the extent and nature of digital marketing. The AI system could be used, in part, to monitor adherence to policy regarding marketing to children.

Dr. Hude Quan

Paving the Way for ICD-11 Adoption to Advance Health Information

A prestigious Foundation Scheme award from the program's final competition 

The World Health Organization (WHO) routinely collects and catalogues global information on causes of death and diseases using a system called the International Classification of Disease (ICD). This catalogue is now in the process of transitioning to its eleventh revision, ICD-11, which was released in June 2018 and is revolutionizing disease classification for the digital age. Dr. Hude Quan, PhD, was warded $2.3 million over seven years to ensure this transition goes as smoothly as possible. He and his team are working to develop and test optimal methods for ICD-11 implementation. A smooth transition to the new system will lead to better patient care, better evidence-based decision-making and better health system performance measurement in countries around the world.

Dr. Abdel Aziz Shaheen

Developing and validating NAFLD advanced fibrosis diagnostic prediction model in primary care

It is estimated that up to 24 per cent of Canadians have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), commonly called fatty liver, the leading cause of chronic liver disease in North America. The severity of NAFLD depends on the stage of liver scarring, known as fibrosis. In Calgary, a team of researchers led by Dr. Abdel Aziz Shaheen, MD, is working to develop clinical decision support tools, in the form of a smartphone app, website, and a paper-based risk calculator, to help primary care physicians identify NAFLD patients with advanced liver fibrosis, who will require specialized care.

Dr. Leslie Skeith

Pilot PARTUM Trial: Postpartum Aspirin to Reduce Thromboembolism Undue Morbidity

Pulmonary embolism, a sudden blockage of a blood vessel in the lung (typically caused by a blood clot) is the leading cause of maternal mortality in the developed world, and venous thromboembolism (VTE), a blood clot that starts in a vein, is also a significant risk. But what if a common medicine cabinet staple could reduce this risk? Dr. Leslie Skeith, MD, is in the preliminary stages of trying to answer that question. Her project, PARTUM, a pilot randomized control trial, will administer low dose aspirin to women at risk of VTE for six weeks after they give birth, to determine if it lowers the occurrence of developing VTE versus a placebo. If study recruitment is successful, Skeith hopes to take the trial wider – to 50 sites across the globe.