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High impact

Federal funding enhances Memorial’s international reputation for critical health-care research

By Jeff Green

Improving access to primary health care, a better understanding of the hepatitis C virus and enhancing access to mental health programming within Indigenous communities.

These three Memorial-led research projects are receiving a major boost from the federal government.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is investing a total of $727,300 into projects led by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and the School of Nursing.

The results of CIHR’s spring 2018 competition were released on July 11.

Critical funding

“As Newfoundland and Labrador’s university, Memorial plays a pivotal role in advancing innovative and high impact research focused on addressing health-care challenges affecting communities in our province and beyond,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), Memorial.

“This new funding will further amplify Memorial’s status as an international leader for multidisciplinary health research. Memorial is grateful to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for its continued support. I congratulate our researchers on securing their funding and look forward to the seeing the results of their important work.”

RNs role in primary care

Dr. Julia Lukewich, assistant professor, School of Nursing, received $91,800 for a project aimed at identifying national family practice nursing competencies to support the integration and optimization of registered nurses working in primary care.

Dr. Julia Lukewich
Dr. Julia Lukewich

These competencies include the knowledge, skills, judgment and attributes required by family practice nurses to work safely and ethically.

“Across Canada, family nursing offers a feasible and affordable solution to improve access to primary care, reduce costs and promote high-quality of care,” Dr. Lukewich said in an interview with the Gazette.

She says that when nurses are optimally supported in health-care teams, health outcomes and patient access to primary health-care services are greatly improved.

“The development of family practice nursing competencies lags in Canada behind international work,” Dr. Lukewich added.

Dr. Lukewich adds that the project will lead to national certification for family practice nursing through the incorporation of the newly developed competencies into the Canadian Nurses Association’s community health nursing certification.

Dr. Lukewich has received cash and in-kind contributions from various organizations to support her CIHR-funded research project, including the Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Family Practice Nurses Association and Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing.

Hepatitis C research

Dr. Rodney Russell, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, has received $535,500 for a project titled Analysis of Virus-Induced Mechanisms of Programmed Cell Death.

Dr. Rodney Russell
Dr. Rodney Russell

His recent research findings show that the hepatitis C virus could cause a relatively newly discovered form of cell death that stimulates inflammation, which can contribute to disease progression and severity, as well as the potential development of liver cancer.

Dr. Russell and his local and national collaborators want to better understand how viruses such as HCV cause multiple forms of cell death in virus-infected tissue.

“From a scientific perspective, the expansion of this project will allow us to study how viruses damage the cells they live in through lab-based, animal model and human disease studies,” said Dr. Russell, a Memorial alumnus whose research has been supported by the university and groups such as CIHR and the Canadian Network on Hepatitis C.

He credits an internal review process he implemented within his division for helping strengthen his application to CIHR. Dr. Russell says the new funding will allow him to expand his research activities.

“This funding is important because it secures support for the two graduate students we currently have working on this project and builds capacity for our future research.”

Mental health focus

Dr. Jennifer Shea, assistant professor in Aboriginal health, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, received $100,000 for a project focused on mental health and addictions in communities comprising the NunatuKavut Community Council in Labrador.

Dr. Jennifer Shea
Dr. Jennifer Shea
Photo: Submitted

A Memorial alumna whose research includes Aboriginal health and community-based participatory and decolonizing approaches, Dr. Shea says mental health and addictions is a critical issue in this province.

“This investment enables us to create and implement a culturally relevant and community-based mental health and addictions program to improve health and well-being for Southern Inuit peoples,” she told the Gazette.

Dr. Shea says her research is rooted in the local expertise from diverse stakeholders, including patients, families, health-care providers and community leaders.

“The lived experience and local knowledge within NunatuKavut’s territory will guide all aspects of the project,” she said, adding that community leadership and governance is critical to the work.

“Community members are the experts on the reality of mental health and addictions in NunatuKavut communities. They know first-hand what is available, what works and doesn’t work, and what is needed to close the gaps.”

In total, CIHR approved $277 million for research projects across the country.

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