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By Jeff Green

Healthy cities. Stroke recovery. Virtual care.

Memorial research teams dedicated to all three subjects are heading into the fall with funding to advance their innovative studies, thanks to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Medical Association Foundation.

Three faculty members are at the forefront of projects that received a total of $1,168,000.

Funding recipients

Dr. Daniel Fuller, wearing dark rimmed glasses, a blue, white and yellow stripped shirt and black Arc'teryx coat, smiles. Green trees are blurred in the background.
Dr. Daniel Fuller
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Daniel Fuller, Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, is one of the principal investigators on a study that received $918,000 from CIHR.

INTerventions, Equity, Research and Action in Cities Team (INTERACT) is a pan-Canadian collaboration of scientists, urban planners and citizens uncovering the impact of urban changes on health and equity.

The project includes other principal investigators and collaborators from across Canada and the U.S.

“Our work contributes to sustainable and equitable urban development for generations to come,” Dr. Fuller told the Gazette.

“The project is about understanding the health impacts of large-scale investments in changes to the transportation environment. This includes, for example, building new bicycle infrastructure or launching a bus rapid transit program.”

Improving health

Dr. Fuller and his colleagues plan to expand their research to use survey data and data collected from participant’s smartphones to understand the mobility and health impacts of transportation interventions.

“Our work can help cities understand what the specific health impacts of investments will be in their city.” — Dr. Daniel Fuller

“We are also working with political scientists to understand the decision-making processes around changing transportation environments,” he noted.

Dr. Fuller says the public debate around bicycle infrastructure in St. John’s is an example of the need to understand how and why decisions are made.

“There is always local push back,” he said. “We want to understand what works to mitigate push back and to promote the implementation and adoption of these changes.

“Our work can help cities understand what the specific health impacts of investments will be in their city and why it’s important to invest in these transportation infrastructures if we want to improve health,” Dr. Fuller added.

Stroke recovery

Dr. Michelle Ploughman, wearing a beige jacket and white and black top, smiles and stands next to two black computer screens, a mouse, keyboard and a white table. Computer screens feature blurry text; white and blue cords and orange pencils are located near the screens.
Dr. Michelle Ploughman

Dr. Michelle Ploughman, Canada Research Chair in Rehabilitation, Neuroplasticity and Brain Recovery, Faculty of Medicine, is awarded $100,000 for the project, Amplifying Aerobic and Strength Training to Drive Superior Stroke Recovery During Inpatient Rehabilitation.

The study is a partnership with the Stroke Rehabilitation Unit at Eastern Health’s Dr. L.A. Miller Centre.

The aim is to implement intensive exercise training that has the potential to promote brain plasticity and recovery after stroke.

“We hope that St. John’s becomes the posterchild for rehabilitation.” — Dr. Michelle Ploughman

Globally there are about 26 million stroke survivors, a statistic that is expected to double by 2038.

“We will be closely monitoring brain recovery by measuring the integrity of motor circuits as the brain heals and modifies itself after stroke,” Dr. Ploughman (M.Sc.’03, PhD’07) told the Gazette.

“We will be able to link these changes to recovery of the arm and leg. We will then ask whether changing the intensity of rehabilitation will make a difference in these outcomes.”

Fostering next generation

Dr. Ploughman says they are focused on developing and testing novel interventions for stroke survivors.

“No one plans on having a stroke. It is a devastating event that, in many cases, results in residual paralysis,” she explained.

“We hope that St. John’s becomes the posterchild for rehabilitation that obtains optimal recovery after stroke. We plan to seek other grants to help move this important project forward. Importantly, we intend to recruit graduate students who gain valuable experience through this project and who will go on to become the next generation of stroke researchers.”

Preventive care

Dr. Kris Aubrey-Bassler, wearing dark rimmed glasses, a checkered pattern shirt, pink and white necktie, and a dark patterned jacket, smiles.
Dr. Kris Aubrey-Bassler
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Kris Aubrey-Bassler, associate professor and director of the Primary Healthcare Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine, received $150,000 in funding for the project, Building on Existing Tools to Improve Chronic Disease Prevention and Screening in Primary Care Virtually: The Virtual BETTER Study.

The Canadian Medical Association Foundation provided CIHR with funding for the initiative.

“This study will help shift the focus of the health system towards disease prevention.” — Dr. Kris Aubrey-Bassler

Dr. Aubrey-Bassler says chronic diseases such as cancer, heart attack, stroke and diabetes cost the Canadian economy over $190 billion a year in health-system costs and lost productivity.

“Currently, our health system is overwhelmingly focused on the treatment of these diseases rather than their prevention, but relatively small expenditures in prevention have the potential to save substantial costs down the road,” he explained.

This project builds on previous work led by Drs. Eva Grunfeld, University of Toronto, and Donna Manca, University of Alberta, who developed a new approach to delivering preventive care and collaborated with Dr. Aubrey-Bassler to test the new approach with in-person visits.

Meeting goals

“BETTER is led by a non-physician health-care provider such as a nurse or dietitian who has special training in helping people to change their health behaviours, such as improving their diet, increasing their physical activity and limiting alcohol use,” Dr. Aubrey-Bassler said.

Their funding allows the team to compare how many patients agree to participate in a prevention visit in-person, by phone or by video, how they rated their satisfaction with the different types of visit and their readiness to change their health behaviours after the visit.

“The results of this study will help shift the focus of the health system towards disease prevention rather than treatment and will help increase accessibility to health care,” Dr. Aubrey-Bassler added.

‘New insights’

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), congratulated the researchers on successfully securing their funding.

“The work of Drs. Fuller, Ploughman and Aubrey-Bassler and their teams will lead to new insights, treatments and scientific discoveries that will benefit Canadians,” he said.

“Memorial is very grateful to our funding partners for their valuable investments in support of these innovative projects.”

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