Making a global impact

It is a technology that is bettering the lives of stroke patients around the world every single day. And when the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) were looking for success stories to show the immense impact funding for medical research has on human health, they found an amazing example in CT perfusion technology developed by Ting-Yim Lee, PhD.

This past year, Lee, was highlighted in a report by CIHR and CFI as an example of how Canada is a research leader in medical imaging but also to show how innovation in medical imaging is transforming health care.

“We are very proud of Lee’s accomplishments,” said Aaron Fenster, PhD, director of the Imaging Group at Robarts. “His work has demonstrated how our inventions are translated into clinical practice and are used to improve the health of patients world wide.”

Lee’s technology uses readily available CT scanners to measure blood flow in specific areas of the body. Using this method, emergency room physicians can quickly and easily image blood flow in the brain in the precious hours following a stroke, helping to determine which areas are at risk for cell death and which areas are already damaged.  

The license for the technology was sold to GE Healthcare and is now in use in hospitals in North America, Asia, Europe and Australia. “CT perfusion is used all over the world,” Lee said. “So this is truly international, and if you take into account the entire world, you would see an even larger scale of the benefit to patients.”

The report, released in January, demonstrates that Lee’s technology has a benefit to cost ratio of 2:1 in Canada alone – for every dollar that CFI and CIHR invested in Lee’s research, there is a $1.50 - $2.30 value directly accrued to stroke patients, with a net benefit to Canadians of between $42 million and $86 million.

Lee says it is extremely satisfying to see the results of his work quantified in this way. “It confirms what I initially thought when first I arrived in London back in 1988 when I first started this project,” he said.

Lee began work on CT perfusion following eight years of wandering in what he calls the “research wilderness.” When he returned to research, he was set on doing something that would be immediately clinically applicable and would have a direct impact on patients.   

That was more than two and half decades ago, and today, he says that the technology still has more potential he and his team continue to uncover. Most recently, they have been working on applications to use the technology to benefit liver cancer and heart attack patients.

Lee says the technology, which is currently in clinical trials, could have major implications for treatment of liver cancer and heart attack by helping to distinguish which patients will benefit from certain procedures and which will not.

“Without the continuous funding of CFI and CIHR for the past 20 years this would never have happened,” he said. “We were able to draw on support of public funding and that has been extremely important.”

Related News: read the Western News story on Lee's work