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Eye on innovation

More than $3.8 million in federal funding for leading-edge health research

By Jeff Green and Michelle Osmond

A pair of researchers from the Faculty of Medicine celebrated today a more than $3.8-million investment from the Government of Canada that will strengthen Memorial’s capacity for cutting-edge health research.

Dr. Proton Rahman, associate dean, clinical research and professor of medicine (rheumatology), received a total of $2,445,091. Memorial is partnering with the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information (NLCHI) to better utilize genetic information to diagnose disease and predict drug response to improve the lives of the people and communities it serves.

Dr. Adam Dubrowski, professor, emergency medicine, received a total of $1,423,867 to advance medical education and patient care across Newfoundland and Labrador by expanding the existing biomedical 3D printing laboratory at the Faculty of Medicine.

Both were recognized during an event on Sept. 10 attended by Seamus O’Regan, minister, Veterans Affairs, associate minister, National Defence, and member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, on behalf of Navdeep Bains, minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and Nick Whalen, member of Parliament, St. John’s East, who emceed the ceremony held in the Faculty of Medicine.

From left are Dr. Adam Dubrowski, Dr. Proton Rahman, Dr. John Haggie, Seamus O’Regan, Nick Whelan and Dr. Neil Bose.
Photo: Submitted

Expanding genetic research

Dr. Rahman’s project, which has the potential for global application, will integrate genetic information with existing data in the province’s electronic health record housed at NLCHI.

The federal investment will enable Memorial to acquire specialized equipment to perform DNA sequencing, which is currently done outside the province, as well as facilitate ethical, privacy and public consultation and help NLCHI develop a platform to integrate and disseminate this data.

As a result, physicians and pharmacists will be able to securely access more comprehensive data for patients predisposed to common disease with a genetic underpinning. The new system will provide a platform for precision medicine to be applied in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Through this new partnership, public and private sector research partners developing health innovation products and services will also be able to access a significantly enhanced level of data for use in studying the field of genetics.

“Our vision is to develop an innovative platform that will allow us to efficiently utilize large amounts of genetic data to improve health outcomes for our patients and, at the same time, enhance pharmacogenetic research in the province,” explained Dr. Rahman. “This initiative includes the purchase of a state-of-the-art genome sequencer and will involve extensive public and stakeholder consultation, as well as privacy and ethical analysis and oversight.”

Rural networks

Dr. Dubrowski and his team are establishing a network of research and development sites within rural communities across the province.

With the new funding from the Government of Canada, rural sites will be able to use 3D printing technology to produce time and cost effective anatomy models and medical device prototypes. Researchers in the main lab will provide ongoing project support, as well as engineering and biomedical expertise.

“This new approach will drastically advance how clinical teams learn and perform, potentially leading to significant savings in the health-care system and improved patient outcomes.” — Dr. Adam Dubrowski

This initiative holds potential to create spin-off medical device products and simulation-based companies for commercialization, as well as reduce health-care wait times, operating time and medical transportation expenses. Rural sites in Newfoundland and Labrador will include Happy Valley-Goose Bay, St. Anthony, Twillingate, Carbonear, Burin and Corner Brook. A seventh site is also planned for Saint John, N.B.

Dr. Dubrowski says his team’s research and simulation tools will change how future health professionals learn and work. He also says they build anatomical, three dimensional and patient-specific models, which can identify potential pathologies, as well as rehearse invasive skills by new clinicians, who often lack hands-on learning opportunities with real patients.

“Similar models can also be used for surgical planning so the surgical team can plan the operation in advance,” he said. “This new approach will drastically advance how clinical teams learn and perform, potentially leading to significant savings in the health-care system and improved patient outcomes.”

Improving outcomes

President Gary Kachanoski thanked the Government of Canada for its ongoing support to health-related research at Memorial.

“Memorial’s teams of multidisciplinary researchers are globally recognized for their work in helping address health-care challenges and improving health outcomes for the communities we serve,” he said.

“This latest investment will further boost Memorial’s international reputation for innovative research and Memorial is grateful to the Government of Canada for supporting our researchers and scientists. I wish Drs. Rahman and Dubrowski much success.”

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