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Queen’s Health Sciences researchers secure $1.75 million through New Frontiers in Research Fund

Queen’s Health Sciences researchers secure $1.75 million through New Frontiers in Research Fund

This story was originally published in The Queen's Gazette.

On April 25, the Government of Canada announced support for high-risk, high-reward research projects that address some of Canada's and the world's most pressing challenges with a multidisciplinary, innovative approach. Researchers from Queen’s Health Sciences secured $1.75 million from the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) to support projects that will advance new therapies, diagnosis and medical technology, and seek new ways to change health workplaces to promote compassion and positive mental health. 

In total, nine Queen’s-led programs were granted $3 million overall, with QHS researchers participating in most of the funded projects.  The successful applications were responding to two calls from the NFRF: the 2022 Special Call, looking for research projects with a focus on post-pandemic recovery, and the 2022 Exploration competition, which invited researchers to go beyond their own disciplines to inform bold new perspectives. 

Here is a look at the successful applicants and the research they are leading to help create a healthier world.  

NFRF 2022 Exploration competition – Queen’s Health Sciences recipients 

Christopher Lohans (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Carlos Escobedo (Chemical Engineering), Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering), and Prameet Sheth (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) will develop a new diagnostic device to quickly diagnose antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Many current methods rely on bacterial culturing, which can take a couple of days – a time during which infections can worsen. But the new ultrasensitive method will be able to detect resistant bacteria in just one hour, directly from patients’ blood or urine samples using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. Researchers also expect the technology can be used to deepen our understanding of the degradation and metabolism of antibiotics and other drugs. 

Amer Johri (Medicine) and Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry) are planning to establish a national remotely supervised virtual point-of-care ultrasound (Tele-POCUS) program. While this revolutionary technology can facilitate clinical examinations by providing the ability to assess the heart, lungs, and other organs immediately at the bedside and live-stream images from remote regions directly to experts thousands of kilometres away, it also poses challenges related to technology access, inclusion, and human-to-system interactions. The team of psychosocial, medical, and digital experts will look at the implementation and sustainability of the new technology and work with remote and Indigenous communities on impact assessment. 

Parvin Mousavi (School of Computing) and David Maslove (Medicine & Critical Care Medicine), along with colleagues from business, critical care, computing and surgery will aim to improve the management of intensive care unit (ICU) patients across Canada using machine learning methods coupled with large-scale physiologic data. They will explore strategies to identify and anticipate important clinical events, with an emphasis on personalized therapeutic strategies, integration with clinical workflows, as well as the ethical and equitable deployment of artificial intelligence-based systems. 

Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Shetuan Zhang (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) will look at how to increase patient survival rates of heart failure. Myocardial infarctions or hypertension-related cardiac hypertrophy result in decreased oxygen flow to the heart tissue, causing cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) to die, resulting in heart failure. However, available treatment strategies only target symptoms, and there are currently no clinically approved drugs that promote cardiomyocyte survival and/or regeneration. This research program will focus on developing new therapeutical drugs for heart failure using artificial intelligent and biosensor technologies and testing them on pre-clinical models. Specifically, it will deliver small molecule drugs to heart tissue to inhibit cardiomyocyte death caused by LATS, an enzyme that is upregulated during the heart failure process. 

Ryan Alkins (Surgery) and team will explore new therapies for glioblastoma, the most common type of central nervous system tumour in adults, combining two cutting edge technologies: therapeutic ultrasound and cellular immunotherapy. They will test if available immunotherapies using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T or Natural Killer (NK) cells can have their efficacy enhanced by using ultrasound and microbubbles to activate brain endothelial cells – an approach that will pave the way for new treatment paradigms. 

NFRF 2022 Special Call: Research for Post-pandemic Recovery 

Jacqueline Galica (School of Nursing) and Erna Snelgrove-Clarke (School of Nursing) will focus on organizational compassion and how it could be fostered and used to facilitate post-pandemic recovery, such as post-traumatic stress experienced by front-line healthcare providers. The team will investigate how workplace characteristics impact workers’ mental health, with special attention to organizational- and unit-level mechanisms rooted in social support, respectful culture, and compassion role modeling by managers. The goal is to formulate a plan to promote organizational compassion to mitigate stress among front-line workers, and disseminate results and recommendations to multiple decision-making groups, including policy makers and professional organizations. This research program will be carried out both in Canada and in Ethiopia. 

Learn more about the NFRF announcement and Queen’s research.

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