On September 12, 2019, the research and education communities celebrated the launch of The Institute for Education Research (TIER) at UHN.
TIER is UHN’s seventh research institute, and it will focus on research with a significant impact on health science professions. Led by Institute Director Dr. Brian Hodges, Applied Research Director Dr. Ann Russell and Scientific Director Dr. Nikki Woods, TIER’s faculty will focus on three main themes: 1) Technology, Innovation and Simulation; 2) Societies, Systems and Structures; 3) and Teaching, Learning and Practice.
“We’re excited about the expansion of UHN Research with TIER and the unique focus on education research” says Dr. Brad Wouters, Executive Vice President, Science and Research. “It brings a new focus to our research ecosystem, while complementing our existing strengths. It sits at the intersection of care, education and research—the convergence of which are key elements to UHN’s corporate, research and education strategic plans.”
Dr. Hodges, who is also UHN’s Executive Vice President, Education, adds, “UHN is the ideal environment in which to develop new models of learning for health care through research and innovation. I can’t wait to hear more about the tremendous collaborative opportunities across UHN and the new research culture that will inspire the next generation of researchers, educators and care givers.”
TIER will focus on education research, with emphasis on the relation between quality education and quality care. Its future-oriented vision, and its integrated and inclusive approach to fostering collaboration will be key factors in its success.
During the launch event, Dr. Russell commented, “Achieving our vision of leading the world in transforming health care education through experimentation, creativity and curiosity will take time and an unwavering commitment.” But this is a commitment the co-directors are prepared—and eager—to make. Dr. Woods agreed, “There are incredible ideas across the education research community and TIER will give us a chance to bring them to life. Education research plays an important role within the complex structures of our health care system and the care providers of tomorrow are counting on us to deliver meaningful changes to the way we educate.”
For more information about TIER, visit TIERatUHN.ca.
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Senior Scientist Dr. Daniel De Carvalho has recently accepted membership in the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.
Known for his revolutionary work in epigenetics, Dr. De Carvalho’s research focuses on developing new methods to detect and treat cancer.
His key research contributions include the discovery of a gene signature associated with cancer immunotherapy response and the creation of a new method to detect and classify cancer—both of which have been published in the prominent journal Nature. The latter of these studies describes an innovative approach to identify methylation patterns in circulating cancer DNA that can be found in the blood, and lays the foundation for the creation of a non-invasive blood test for cancer. This high profile study received international acclaim and was selected as one of the “Top 10 Cancer Research Publications” by the European Society of Cancer Research earlier this year.
This new method has since been published in Nature Protocols and will enable researchers to apply the approach to other clinical areas, such as prenatal diagnostics and cardiology.
The College was established in 2014 to recognize intellectual leaders across multiple disciplines who have sustained a high level of achievement early in their career. Dr. De Carvalho will officially become a Member of the College at RSC’s presentation ceremony in November.
On December 6, 2018, UHN announced the creation of the McEwen Stem Cell Institute (McEwen). With a focus on stem cell research, regenerative medicine and cell therapies, it became UHN’s sixth research institute.
The evolution of this institute, which was formerly known as the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine, signals the progress of the research since the Centre was first eastablished in 2007. In collaboration with research institutions, industry, clinical programs and supporters from around the globe, McEwen investigators will harness stem cell biology to develop treatments for blood cell diseases, diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.
The institute is led by Dr. Gordon Keller and will focus on four areas that have the most potential to benefit patients:
BLOOD Replacing damaged cells in the blood and creating immune-based therapies for cancer (Dr. Keller)
DIABETES Developing ways to regenerate beta cells to treat diabetes and eliminate the need for insulin injections (Dr. Cristina Nostro)
HEART Developing ways to remuscularize and repair the heart (Dr. Michael Laflamme); and creating biological pacemakers to eliminate the need for electronic pacemakers (Dr. Stephanie Protze)
LIVER Creating new liver tissue to repair damaged livers and reduce the need for transplants (Dr. Keller)
“The launch of the McEwen Stem Cell Institute builds on our legacy of innovation in stem cell and regenerative medicine research,” says Dr. Brad Wouters, the Executive Vice President of Science and Research. “The institute will help to usher in entirely new forms of cell-based therapies to tackle some of the most devastating human diseases. It is intensively focused on the creation of new therapies and will become an integral part of the life sciences hub in Toronto.”
PARTNERSHIPS ARE KEY TO RESEARCH INNOVATION
In tandem with the McEwen launch, the cell therapy company BlueRock Therapeutics announced that it is strengthening ongoing strategic collaborations with McEwen researchers.
There are many ways to stand out in a crowd—one way is to look different from those around you.
As cancer progresses, tumour cells develop a number of changes in their DNA that enable them to be more easily detected. One particular type of change to DNA is known as an epigenetic change. Rather than changing the genetic code, epigenetic modifications control how the code is read.
“A major challenge in treating cancer is detecting it early. Finding rare cancer-specific mutations in the blood, especially at earlier stages is difficult,” says Dr. Daniel De Carvalho. “Epigenetic changes, which do not alter the underlying DNA sequence, are not similarly constrained and could provide a new way to detect cancer.”
Dr. De Carvalho and his team took advantage of this phenomenon to develop a blood test that can detect and classify cancer at its earliest stages.
His team profiled thousands of epigenetic changes in multiple cancer types and used the data to predict the presence of cancer DNA in the blood.
They found that epigenetic changes in blood DNA could be used to accurately detect and classify tumours. They have since expanded this research and successfully matched more than 700 tumour and blood samples for a variety of cancer types.
Next steps include testing this method in large studies where blood samples are collected months to years before cancer diagnosis. These studies will help to determine whether the test can be used in the clinic to screen for cancer.
OF FLOWERS AND CANCERS
In nature, the colours that are displayed on flowers’ petals provide an example of epigenetics in action. Despite having the same DNA, epigenetic changes explain why one species of flower can display a variety of different petal colours. Similarly for cancer, epigenetic changes contribute to the characteristics that differentiate tumour cells from normal cells.
Researchers have created a map of the cells in the human liver, revealing the most comprehensive inventory of the different cells that are present in the liver to date.
For the past 20 years, scientists have studied the liver as a mixture of cells. This has made it difficult to fully understand the functions of these cells. To address this issue, Dr. Sonya MacParland and her team used state-of-the-art genetic approaches and software engineering to map out the cells that are present in the liver.
After examining the gene expression profiles of these cells, the team found 20 distinct cell populations, including hepatocytes, endothelial cells, cholangiocytes and various immune cells such as B cells, T cells and natural killer cells. They also discovered two new populations of macrophages.
Dr. Ian McGilvray, a lead scientist in the study explains that, “Until this study, very little was known about the liver macrophage—the ‘tank’ of the immune system that destroys foreign substances and co-ordinates the immune response. We found that there are two distinct populations of macrophages in the human liver, one increases inflammation while the other decreases it. This type of insight has only been made possible by recent transformative advances in experimental and computational methods.”
This map is just the beginning. The team plans to undertake future studies to compare data from healthy liver cells to diseased liver cells, providing further insight into liver biology and disease.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET A CLEAR PICTURE OF THE LIVER?
From the ancient maps that depicted the continents to the maps that we now use to navigate through traffic, humans have used cartography to define their environments for centuries.
This project advanced the art of mapmaking by providing a detailed map of each cell type present in the liver. It examined over 8,000 individual cells and involved over 30 multidisciplinary experts, including transplant surgeons, immunologists, hepatologists, regenerative medicine scientists, computer scientists and genomics researchers.
These comprehensive results will form part of a larger project known as the Human Cell Atlas, which was created with the aim of defining every type of cell in the human body.
MacParland SA, et al. Nat Commun. 2018 Oct 22;9(1):4383. Supported by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (Medicine by Design), UHN’s Transplant Program and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation. G Keller holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Embryonic Stem Cell Biology; JE Fish holds a Tier 2 CRC in Vascular Cell and Molecular Biology; and MD Wilson holds a Tier 2 CRC in Comparative Genomics.
Most people breathe spontaneously, without difficulty or concern. However, for those with a traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), it can be a constant struggle.
Traumatic SCI occurs when the nerve tissue in the spine is damaged by a severe blow to the back or neck, which is most commonly sustained during a motor vehicle accident or a fall. If the damage occurs in the neck area, it can impair the function of—even paralyze—the muscles that control breathing.
As a consequence of their dysfunctional breathing, many patients with SCI in the neck area must be intubated and placed on a ventilator within the first five days after their injury. Breathing-related complications such as lung infections and lung failure account for 80% of deaths associated with SCI in the neck area.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Michael Fehlings has made a discovery that inspires new hope for SCI patients with dysfunctional breathing.
The researchers identified a distinct type of cell in the spinal cord that, when stimulated, increases breathing. These cells are known as cervical excitatory neurons and do not appear to be required for normal breathing.
Importantly, the researchers also showed that stimulating these cells can promote breathing immediately after SCI, when the risk of death is the highest. “Our results have created a lot of excitement in the field,” says Dr. Fehlings. “They are enabling us to develop strategies that could help keep individuals alive by promoting their breathing after spinal cord injury.”
GREAT PLACES ATTRACT GREAT PEOPLE
Talented students and fellows come to UHN to further their research training. Afterwards, many go on to lead their own research groups and make new discoveries. This holds true for the two trainees who led Dr. Fehlings’s study.
Dr. Gordon Keller has been selected to receive the 2019 Ogawa-Yamanaka Stem Cell Prize for his research on pluripotent stem cells.
He has been instrumental in developing ways to coax these cells to differentiate into therapeutically relevant cells, such as cardiomyocytes, hematopoietic cells and liver cells. He has also leveraged this work to develop new applications for regenerative therapeutics, drug testing and disease modelling.
“It is a privilege and honor to receive the distinguished Ogawa-Yamanaka prize for my work on the directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells,” said Dr. Keller.
“I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in the field of stem cell biology for most of my career and to contribute to the translation of this science to the development of new therapies to treat human disease.”
Dr. Keller was selected from a pool of highly competitive international candidates by a committee of leading stem cell experts. The award and prize valued at $150,000 will be presented to him at a ceremony in November 2019 at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California. As part of the event, he will present a lecture, which will be streamed live. To register to watch, click here.
Dr. Keller is the director of University Health Network’s McEwen Stem Cell Institute and a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. He is also a professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto and scientific co-founder of BlueRock Therapeutics Inc.
Congratulations Dr. Keller!
Source: Gladstone News
Research conducted at UHN's research institutes spans the full spectrum of diseases and disciplines, including cancer, cardiovascular sciences, transplantation, neural and sensory sciences, musculoskeletal health, rehabilitation sciences, and community and population health.
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