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Researchers awarded five CIHR Foundation Grants

From developing state-of-the-art techniques to image bones and joints while in motion, to helping more people receive a kidney transplant, researchers at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry have been awarded close to $30 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

More than half of that funding was awarded to five projects through CIHR’s new foundation grants designed to provide long-term support for the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research programs.

Dynamic Imaging of the Musculoskeletal System ($3.2 million)

$3.2 million in funding will support work led by David Holdsworth, PhD, and his research team at Robarts Research Institute and Western’s Bone & Joint Institute to allow them to develop new types of biomedical imaging systems to monitor the musculoskeletal system and all of its intricately connected parts during activity.

The goal of this work is to improve our understanding of the way skeletal tissues respond to mechanical loading and the conditions that lead to joint failure and degradation. Using state-of-the-art technologies, the team is working to gather new information about the skeletal system with the goal of improving the understanding of the initiation and progression of bone and joint conditions.

“We already have several techniques to look at bones and joints, but typically only when they are stationary.  This is a limitation because many problems with joints occur only when they are in motion,” Holdsworth said. “We hope that our research will lead to better understanding of the processes behind musculoskeletal disease progression, leading to more effective treatments.”

Living Kidney Donation: Improving safety, access and outcomes ($5.3 million)

A team led by Schulich Medicine & Dentistry professor Dr. Amit Garg who is also Director of Living Kidney Donation at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), Director of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences' satellite site at Western (ICES Western), Lead of the Provincial ICES Kidney, Dialysis and Transplantation Program and a Lawson researcher has been awarded $5.3 million. The grant will be used over seven years to investigate identified barriers to living donor kidney transplantation in order to create real-world solutions that will improve the experiences and outcomes of donors and their recipients.

“Working with more than 13 partnering organizations, this program’s impact has the potential to extend beyond Canada to improve the experiences of 260,000 living donor candidates and recipients who are evaluated worldwide each year,” said Dr. Garg. “By addressing key barriers to living kidney donation and informing new programs and policies, the outputs of this program are designed to help increase the rate of living kidney transplants in Canada by 25 per cent, which could save our health care system $75 million in averted dialysis costs in the subsequent decade.”

Ultra-high field Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Brain Structure and Function in Multiple Sclerosis ($2.5 million)

Ravi Menon, PhD, and his team at Robarts Research Institute and Western’s Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping, will be working to develop and use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods to inform decisions about drug timing and dosage for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients by measuring biomarkers of the disease. The hope is to characterize MS in patients on a microscopic scale which could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease, and therefore the ability to intervene sooner with drug treatments leading to better patient outcomes and lower treatment costs.

“The lifetime cost of these drugs for a single MS patient is about $1 million. If we could come up with a way to decide when, and what dose of drug to deliver to each patient, we could save the health care system billions of dollars,” said Menon.

Muscarinic cholinergic modulation of cognition in primates ($2.5 million)

Stefan Everling, PhD, and his team are investigating the changes in normal cognition in schizophrenia and testing new drug treatments that may improve these cognitive changes. These problems can be seen in a reduced attention span, difficulties to memorize things, poor judgment skills, and in difficulties to plan and prioritize everyday life. The cognitive deficits are likely the most important factor for poor outcome in schizophrenia. Although current drugs are quite successful in treating hallucinations and delusions, they largely fail in treating these cognitive deficits.

The goal is to understand how brain areas interact and how certain drugs can improve cognitive processes to identify drugs that will improve the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia.

“My goal is to understand the role of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in cognition from the level of single brain cells to the communication in the entire brain,” said Everling. “By understanding how brain areas interact and how certain drugs can improve cognitive processes, we hope to identify drugs that will improve the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia.”

Feature extraction in the tactile periphery: from basic neural mechanisms to better treatments for nerve injury ($1.3 million)

Andrew Pruszynski, PhD, and his team are working to improve the lives of people with sensorimotor dysfunction by transforming our basic understanding of the role the peripheral nervous system plays in sensorimotor processing.

For tens of thousands of Canadians, the simple act of lifting a cup is an incredible challenge. For countless more, impaired sensation and movement makes a preferred job or beloved hobby impossible. By focusing on the fact that sensory perception and motor behaviour are not just products of the brain; rather, that sophisticated sensorimotor processing occurs even in the most distal parts of the peripheral nervous system, the team hopes to motivate new rehabilitation protocols and surgical interventions.

“Our hope is that in the long-term, our novel perspective and approach will yield better surgical approaches and rehabilitation schemes for treating peripheral nerve injury, reducing health care costs and improving quality-of-life for tens of thousands of Canadians,” said Pruszynski

A full listing of all the funded projects can be found at: www.schulich.uwo.ca/about/news/2016/july/researchers_awarded_millions_in_cihr_funding.html