Health research projects funded by CIHR

Drs. Laura GIllespie and Gary Paterno

More than $1.37 million in health research funding for six research projects at Memorial University were announced March 14 by the federal government and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The projects cover a wide spectrum of health research and will be conducted over a period of one to five years. In announcing the funding for Newfoundland and Labrador, John Efford, regional minister for the province, highlighted four of these projects.

Drs. Laura Gillespie and Gary Paterno, Terry Fox Cancer Research Laboratories, are investigating why cell-signaling goes awry in cancer and the signal to grow does not get switched off. Dr. Kensuke Hirasawa, Basic Medical Sciences, is investigating the role of interferon in antiviral responses to help the development of new antiviral drug treatments. Dr. Alice Gaudine, School of Nursing, is analyzing the functioning of hospital clinical ethical committees. Dr. Patrick Parfrey, University Research Professor, and his colleagues Drs. Sean Connors, Cardiology, and Dr. Terry-Lynn Young, Genetics, are examining the genetic basis of cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle that can lead to sudden cardiac death.

The research by Drs. Gillespie and Paterno is based in the fact that cancer is a group of diseases linked by a common thread: cancer cells do not know when to stop growing. This is because the signalling circuitry that controls cell growth has gone awry and the signal to grow does not get switched off. By studying cells' signalling circuitry in a newly discovered breast cancer-related gene called mi-er1, they have found that this gene can control the cell's response to estrogen, which is part of the signalling circuitry. In some situations this can inhibit cancer cell growth. By learning how mi-er1 works, this research may be able to identify potential targets for the design of new drugs and alternative cancer treatments. This project will receive $473,308 over four years.

Dr. Hirasawa is investigating the role of interferon in antiviral responses. Interferon is one of molecules released by infected cells in response to viral infection and plays a critical role as the first line of host defense. Some cellular environments, however, impair interferon-mediated antiviral responses. By seeking to understand these environments, Dr. Hirasawa is helping to make the development of new antiviral drugs possible. His work could make it possible to change the cellular environment to maximize interferon's ability to fight viral infection. This project will receive $283,026 over three years.

Dr. Gaudine is analyzing the functioning of hospital clinical ethical committees. Patient care and safety can be affected by how well physicians and nurses deal with the ethical conflicts that can arise. Dr. Gaudine is studying clinical ethics committees at four hospitals. She will analyze their operations to determine how they function, in what kinds of situations physicians and nurses turn to them and, just as important, in what kinds of situations they do not take their ethical conflicts to these committees. Her research will identify factors associated with effective hospital ethics committees. Since nurses' and physicians' ethical conflicts can be a significant contributor to stress, reduced organizational commitment and turnover, her findings will provide health care practitioners, hospitals and policy makers with valuable information to help retain their physicians and nurses as well as to help ensure patient safety and quality of care. This project will receive $133,647 over three years.

Sudden cardiac death as a result of ventricular arrhythmias occurs in up to 40,000 Canadians each year. A proportion of these deaths is due to hereditary cardiomyopathies. Drs. Parfrey, Connors and Young are studying one particular type of cardiomyopathy, called arrythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), whose first symptom can be sudden cardiac death. Dr. Parfrey is studying families with cardiomyopathy to map and identify the genes responsible for ARVC and evaluate the effect of current diagnostic tests on the outcomes of those affected with the disorder. This project will receive $386,005 over three years.

The other two researchers who succeeded in the latest round of CIHR funding were Dr. Hélène Paradis, Basic Medical Sciences, and Dr. Graham Worrall, Family Medicine. Dr. Paradis will receive $50,000 for one year for a study of Tubedown-1 in aging of the retina and in age-related retinal and choroidal neovascular disease. Dr. Worrall's project is titled Continuity of family doctors care for older people with chronic diseases: Does it matter? This project will receive $48,072 for one year.