Kudos March-April 2016

Publications and Quality

Fraser Scott and his team recently published in Diabetes. Their new research, suggests a completely new and unexpected role for an antibacterial protein called CAMP. They found that CAMP helps the pancreas regenerate and produce insulin. The discovery opens up an entirely new direction for diabetes research and could eventually lead to new treatments.

Isabelle Bence-Bruckler recently published in The Lancet about a study that shows that a new treatment for an aggressive form of blood cancer can significantly extend patients’ lifespans after relapse. This international randomized phase 3 clinical trial of 280 patients, co-authored by Dr. Bence-Bruckler, is the first to compare the two targeted treatments for mantle-cell lymphoma (MCL) in cases where the cancer relapses after standard chemotherapy treatments. This study found that patients taking the newer treatment called ibrutinib had significantly better survival (14.6 months) compared with those taking intravenous temsirolimus (6.2 months). While both treatments had side effects, patients taking ibrutinib were less likely to stop the treatment because of them. Ibrutinib is approved in Canada for certain uses, but public funding for mantle cell lymphoma is yet to be secured.

Guy Trudel – A new video from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) features European Space Agency Astronaut Tim Peake explaining the MARROW study aboard the International Space Station. The video gives a unique glance into research led by Dr. Guy Trudel, whose team is studying the bone marrow health of 10 astronauts over the course of their six-month missions, as well as the year after they return. The goal of the study is to gain better understanding of the effects of extended space travel on bone marrow health and blood cell metabolism. These findings could also be applied to patients on Earth who are bedridden for long periods of time and need rehabilitation. Co-investigators: Ramsay, T …

Sue Dent recently published in Supportive Care in Cancer. In 2009, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre implemented an electronic tool to prompt physicians to prescribe medication to prevent infections in patients receiving a certain kind of chemotherapy. Dr. Dent and her colleagues recently combed through the medical records of 207 early-stage breast cancer patients receiving this chemotherapy looking for signs of infections. They found that before the tool was implemented, 20 percent of patients experienced signs of infection (fever with low white blood cell levels) whereas after the tool was implemented, the rate dropped to just 5 percent. Authors: Sulpher J, Dent S…

Luc Sabourin and his team recently published in Breast Cancer Research about some unexpected results they found while studying a protein called periostin. Previous studies suggested this protein had a role in supporting tumour progression in a breast cancer model, so Dr. Sabourin and his team considered that if they removed this protein from their animal models that breast cancer growth would be suppressed. However, their study shows that the absence of this protein found the cancer was potentially more likely to be an aggressive form of the HER2-positive subtype. This subtype tends to grow faster and is more likely to spread. Dr. Sabourin and his team are not sure if it will behave the same way in their animal model so they are currently performing follow-up studies on the effect of this change of subtype and why periostin causes it.


Gonzalo Alvarez – People in Iqaluit and Ottawa will soon have access to a new drug combination called 3HP that can treat latent tuberculosis (TB) in just 12 weeks compared to the current drug that requires nine months. This could have a big impact in preventing the spread of TB, as many people with latent TB do not complete the current therapy, leaving them vulnerable to developing active TB. 3HP will be available through a feasibility study led by Dr. Gonzalo Alvarez and funded by Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ottawa Department of Medicine. The study was announced today on World TB Day. See media release, Ottawa Citizen or CBC Iqaluit for details or tune in to CBC Radio Ottawa today at 3:45. Co-investigators: Aaron, S, Cameron B, Grimshaw J…

Duncan Stewart and Lauralyn McIntyre are conducting a clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital to test the idea that certain stem cells may be able to help control the body’s immune system to reduce injury and promote healing, while improving its ability to fight infection. Charles Berniqué, 73, recently survived a deadly infection requiring prolonged intensive care and returned to his family and work after participating in this world-first trial. Called Cellular Immunotherapy for Septic Shock (CISS), the trial is the results of many years of research led by Drs. Duncan Stewart and Lauralyn McIntyre. “We don’t know whether the cell therapy played any role in Mr. Berniqué’s remarkable recovery, but the cells were very well tolerated and we are excited to continue to study this promising therapy in more patients,” said Dr. McIntyre. See media release, Toronto Star, CTV Ottawa, Radio-Canada, CBC Ottawa, and Le Droit for details, and stay tuned for upcoming coverage from the Ottawa Citizen and CTV National. Local co-investigators and coordinators: Dean Fergusson, David Courtman…

Guy Trudel was interviewed by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, about his research on bone marrow health of astronauts in space and how the findings might be applied to rehabilitation patients.

Lisa Duffett was interviewed by CTV National News about the benefits and risks of controversial filters that can be implanted into the veins to catch blood clots.

Harold Atkins and his colleagues recently published in JAMA Neurology that stem cell therapy may work in severe myasthenia gravis. Some patients with myasthenia gravis (MG) do not respond to conventional treatment and have severe or life-threatening symptoms. Alternate and emerging therapies have not yet proved consistently or durably effective. Autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) has been effective in treating other severe autoimmune neurologic conditions and may have similar application in MG. The that all seven patients in their study achieved complete, durable, stable remission after autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). The patients had no further MG symptoms and did not require ongoing therapy over a period of 2.5 years to almost 13 years following high-dose chemotherapy, antithymocyte globulin, and CD34-selected HSCT, they reported.


Dar Dowlatshahi is leading an international team in developing a mathematical algorithm to determine which patients could potentially be helped by experimental drugs that promote blood clotting. Intracerebral hemorrhages, or bleeding strokes, kill approximately 500 people in Ontario each year. One in three victims are still bleeding when they arrive at the hospital and could potentially be helped by experimental drugs that promote blood clotting. However, if the bleeding has already stopped, these drugs can do more harm than good. Dr. Dowlatshahi and his team are developing a mathematical algorithm to determine which patients are likely still bleeding. This stems from his recent paper, published in Stroke, which found that CT scanning alone is not accurate enough. The group is now looking at combining CT scan results with other tests and patient characteristics to come up with a risk score that can better identify bleeding patients.

Jeffrey Dilworth and his team recently discovered that an epigenetic protein called UTX has long been proposed to function in erasing “cellular memory” so that a cell can reformat its hard drive and become a different cell type. Research has shown that when mutations prevent UTX from erasing cellular memory, cancer is often the result. However, the normal context in which UTX would reformat a cell’s hard-drive had been a mystery, until now. The team has found that UTX is used to erase the cellular memory of adult muscle stem cells, allowing them to be reformatted as healthy new muscle fibers. In fact, without this protein muscles cannot repair themselves at all. This research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, has the potential to one day help patients with muscular dystrophy, and to reduce muscle loss during aging. Co-authors: Marjorie Brand…

Jeremy Grimshaw and his team were awarded a $2.1M Foundation grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop better strategies for applying research findings to health care, a process called knowledge translation or KT. His team will develop general principles as well as practical tools to help health-care systems design and implement their own strategies. As an example, they are currently working to develop a KT strategy to improve organ donation after cardiac death. If successful, this strategy could increase the number of annual organ donations in Canada by 15 percent. Local Collaborators: Shawn Aaron, Angel Arnaout, Lise Bjerre, Sylvain Boet, Jaime Brehaut, Chis Cameron, Dean Fergusson, Ian Graham, Simon Kitto, Greg Knoll, Clare Liddy, David Moher, Justin Presseau, Janet Squires, Dawn Stacey, Ian Stiell, Kathryn Suh, Monica Taljaard, Kednapa Thavorn, Peter Tugwell, Christian Vaillancourt, Brenda Wilson, Paul Hendry, Justine Baron, Kristin Danko, Janet Jull, Larissa Shamseer, Janet Yamada.

Weekly Research News

From The Ottawa Hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa

Jeremy Grimshaw and David Moher recently made the list of the world’s top 3,000 researchers. This puts them in the top 0.03 percent, as it is estimated that there are more than 9 million researchers worldwide. The list of the “world’s most influential scientific minds” is compiled by Thompson Reuters, a major international multimedia company. Researchers are included based on the number of times their scientific publications are referenced by other researchers. Drs. Grimshaw and Moher are both world-renowned experts in the field of systematic reviews – combining the results of many different studies to solve medical controversies.

Susan Dent is leading the Ottawa site of an international clinical trial of a new targeted therapy for breast cancer. Taken as a daily pill, the therapy targets a genetic mutation present in 30 percent of breast tumours, but not in normal cells. It is hoped that the pill, called taselisib, will prolong survival in women who have developed resistance to other therapies. The Ottawa Hospital has enrolled 19 patients in the trial so far – more than any of the other 300 participating centres in 22 countries. “I want to thank all the patients who are participating in this trial, as well as my colleagues and our support staff for helping us get this trial up and running quickly,” said Dr. Dent. “Clinical trials provide our patients with the opportunity to try new therapies, and are essential for improving care on a global level.”

Guy Ungerechts has been awarded $450,000 from the Terry Fox Research Institute, through their New Investigator program. Dr. Ungerechts is working closely with Dr. John Bell to develop viruses that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer, as well as killing cancer cells directly and is also working towards the development of a novel combination therapy using two replicating viruses (Maraba and Measles), genetically modified to express various “immunomodulatory payloads”. See media release or Ottawa South News for details.

Ottawa researchers shine in SPOR funding announcement

Dr. Kevin Burns is a co-principal investigator for a chronic kidney disease network called Can-SOLVE CKD. In collaboration with Dr. Duncan Stewart and Dr. Richard Gilbert from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, he will lead a clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of progenitor cells (which have stem cell-like properties) for advanced diabetic kidney disease.

Dr. Burns will also join Dr. Dylan Burger as co-investigators on a study to find biomarkers to identify young people with this disease. Each network received a total of $25 million over five years.

Six translational cancer research teams share $240,000 from Joan Sealy Trust

Skin cancer, bone cancer, 3D printing, biomarkers and oncolytic viruses are just some of the research areas supported by recent grants from the University of Ottawa’s Joan Sealy Trust. The purpose of the Trust is to enhance the translation of discovery into improved clinical management of cancer patients. Nineteen applications were received and the following seven were funded:

  • Circulating miRNA a promising novel class of cancer biomarkers: application to early colorectal cancer screening ($40,000, Avijit Chatterjee, Derek Jonker, Theodore Perkins…)
  • Assessing the efficacy of Maraba MG1 oncolytic virus against Non-Melanoma Skin Cancers ($40,000, Drs. Ivan Litvinov, Jim Dimitroulakos, John Bell…)
  • Ottawa Tumour Tissue Resource Core Facility ($40,000, Drs. Jim Dimitroulakos, Patrick James Villeneuve, Michael Vickers, Ivan Litvinov…)
  • Targeting USPs to augment oncolytic measles virus replication ($40,000, Drs. Guy Ungerechts…)
  • Enhancing the services provided by The University of Ottawa Pathology Core Laboratory ($30,000, Drs. Ian Lorimer, John Veinot…)
  • Pilot Assessment of a Novel Gene Expression Profiling Platform to Predict Metastatic Spread for Sentinel-Lymph Node Negative Cutaneous Melanoma ($15,000, Drs. Michael Ong, Louis Weatherhead…)

Media roundup

Robin Parks was interviewed by CBC Radio’s Ontario Today program about his research on the Adenovirus, which causes a form of the common cold, and can be deadly in people with weak immune systems.

Jodi Warman Chardon and Pierre Bourque were interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen about a local “super advocate” for myotonic dystrophy. The 67-year-old Ottawa mother, Teresa Buffone, played a role in the creation of the Centre of Excellence in Neuromuscular Neurology, which is scheduled to open at The Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus later this year.