ELEVATE seed grants to help researchers at The Ottawa Hospital develop better treatments and improve patient care

Inaugural grants to advance research on stem cells, skin infections, kidney disease, stroke, cancer and surgery

February 1, 2023

ELEVATE seed grants were awarded to (clockwise from top left): Drs. Daniel Coutu, Krishan Yadav, Mark Canney, Deborah Siegal and Sameer ApteThe Ottawa Hospital’s Research Institute is awarding five ELEVATE seed grants to early-career researchers to spur the development of innovative treatments and better patient care. The five grants were selected after a rigorous review of 16 applications by a panel of internal and external researchers as well as patient partners.

The funded projects focus on:

  • Harnessing stem cells to regenerate bone after traumatic injuries ($50,000 awarded to Dr. Daniel Coutu)
  • Improving care for skin and soft issue infections in the emergency department ($48,402 awarded to Dr. Krishan Yadav)
  • Improving pain management in colorectal cancer patients through a novel surgical clinical trial platform ($38,000 awarded to Dr. Sameer Apte)
  • Detecting cancer in patients with unexplained strokes ($35,261 awarded to Dr. Deborah Siegal)
  • Optimizing supportive treatment for autoimmune kidney disease ($29,044 awarded to Dr. Mark Canney)

“Research is a key part of The Ottawa Hospital’s mission and the driving force behind innovative new treatments and health-care practices,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, Executive Vice-President of Research at The Ottawa Hospital and professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “We are delighted to be able to kickstart these important research projects and support our early-career researchers.”

ELEVATE is funded in part through undesignated gifts to The Ottawa Hospital’s Research Institute through The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. These gifts, which are not tied to any specific researcher or project, are critical for advancing strategic research initiatives that enable all research at The Ottawa Hospital. Other strategic initiatives are outlined in The Ottawa Hospital’s new strategic plan for research, Designing the Future of Health Care.

While the inaugural ELEVATE competition focused on supporting early-career researchers, subsequent competitions may have different themes and eligibility criteria.

Summaries of funded projects (in their own words)

Harnessing stem cells to regenerate bone after traumatic injuries

Daniel CoutuDr. Daniel CoutuFifty percent of Canadians suffer from skeletal injury and/or degeneration, negatively impacting their mobility and quality of life. Using genetic lineage tracing in postnatal mice, we recently showed that a subset of Sox9+ cells in the postnatal mouse skeleton are self-renewing and multipotent. We also showed that human tissues contain similar stem/progenitor cells (manuscript submitted). Our hypothesis is that these cell populations can be used for skeletal tissue regeneration after trauma.

To test our hypothesis and expand on our previous data, we will use a combination of molecular biology techniques, including single cell transcriptomics, on mouse skeletal stem cells (SSCs). We will then determine the presence of similar cells in different human skeletal tissues. We will finally create skeletal injury models in humanized mice, which will receive transplantation of human SSCs at the site of injury to stimulate tissue repair.

Research team: Daniel Coutu (pictured), Jeff Dilworth, Mark Campbell, Sacha Carsen, George Grammatopoulos, Stephanie Farhat, Bahaeddine Tilouche, Spencer Short, Medjie Piron.

Improving care for skin and soft issue infections in the emergency department 

Krishan YadavDr. Krishan YadavSkin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs) are painful bacterial infections of the skin and underlying tissues and are one of the top 10 most common emergency department (ED) problems in Canada. Nearly one third of patients with SSTIs are misdiagnosed initially and treatment protocols can be subjective. Patients with SSTIs are often admitted to hospital and treated with intravenous antibiotics, even though many cases could be sent home with a simple prescription for oral antibiotics.

We will develop the first Canadian SSTI guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and disposition in the ED setting. The overall goal is to create an evidence-based, user-friendly best practices checklist to improve care for patients with this condition.  

Research team: Krishan Yadav (pictured), Ian Graham, Jamie Brehaut, Jeffrey Perry, Ian Stiell, Debra Eagles, Monica Taljaard, Kathryn Suh, Vicente Corrales-Medina, Stuart Nicholls

Optimizing supportive treatment for autoimmune kidney disease

Mark Canney Dr. Mark Canney Glomerulonephritis (GN) is a group of autoimmune diseases that target the kidneys and result in progressive loss of kidney function. Patients with GN are also at high risk of cardiovascular disease due to both the underlying kidney disease and the immune-suppressing drugs that are needed to control it.

Clinical trials have shown that up to one third of patients with IgA nephropathy, the most common type of GN, may be able to avoid immune-suppressing drugs through intensive supportive therapy, such as lifestyle changes and aggressive lowering of blood pressure. It is currently unknown how best to achieve this outside of a clinical trial scenario or in other types of GN.

In collaboration with the GN and Hypertension programs at The Ottawa Hospital, this research aims to improve our understanding of the relationship between blood pressure and outcomes in different types of GN, and to prospectively evaluate strategies for optimizing supportive therapy in patients with GN. This will inform the design of a future clinical trial testing the effect of individualized blood pressure management in GN, and has the potential to be a cost-efficient means of improving the long-term health of patients with GN while reducing their exposure to toxicity from immune suppressing medications.  

Research team: Mark Canney (pictured), Brendan McCormick, Marcel Ruzicka, Swapnil Hiremath, David Massicotte, Caitlin Hesketh, Todd Fairhead.       

Detecting cancer in patients with unexplained strokes

Deborah SiegalDr. Deborah SiegalCryptogenic ischemic stroke (stroke of unknown cause) accounts for 10-40% of all ischemic strokes. Cancer increases the risk of ischemic stroke and may be the first manifestation of undiagnosed cancer. In a recent meta-analysis, 6% of patients with cryptogenic stroke were diagnosed with cancer within one year.

The INCOGNITO Pilot Trial will assess the feasibility of a definitive randomized trial to evaluate whether noninvasive cancer screening (via FDG PET/CT) in addition to usual care increases the number of occult cancers detected in patients with cryptogenic ischemic stroke compared to usual care alone. We plan to expand the study to include multiple sites in Canada to further assess feasibility and, if successful, this will be followed by a full-scale trial.

If successful, the INCOGNITO Trial may lead to important benefits: (i) earlier diagnosis and treatment of cancer which is a priority for patients based on feedback from our patient partners, (ii) establish the benefits and harms of screening to inform clinical practice and guidelines, and (iii) reduce the diagnostic burden for patients with a single screening test.

Research team: Deborah Siegal (pictured), Dar Dowlatshahi, AJ Blauer, Dominick Bosse, Marc Carrier, Aurelien Delluc, Ronda Lun, Stuart Nicholls, Tim Ramsay, Michel Shamy, Wanzhen Zeng.

Improving pain management in colorectal cancer patients through a novel surgical clinical trial platform

Sameer ApteDr. Sameer ApteClinical trials can provide patients with access to promising new therapies and closer monitoring, while producing evidence to support improvements in health care policy and practice at a population level. Unfortunately, many surgical patients in Canada are missing out on opportunities to participate in clinical trials because 50% of surgeries take place in non-academic health care centres, which aren’t set up for research.

To address this issue, we are creating a decentralized, remotely-managed platform to enable surgical clinical trials in health care centres across Canada. The platform combines the efficiency of The Ottawa Hospital’s REthinking Clinical Trials (REaCT) program with automatic data collection through the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP). By reducing the need for on-site research assistants, this platform will not only lower costs and increase efficiency, but also allow participation of regional hospitals and their diverse patient populations in pragmatic surgical trials.

Our pilot trial will evaluate whether five days of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) around the time of surgery can improve gut function and reduce opioid usage in colorectal cancer surgery patients, while avoiding major complications like anastomotic leak.

Research team: Sameer Apte (pictured), Rebecca Auer, Lisa Vandermeer, Michelle Liu, Mark Clemons, Dean Fergusson.

The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa and supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.