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SickKids researchers awarded over $11.5 million in CIHR Foundation Grants competition
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SickKids researchers awarded over $11.5 million in CIHR Foundation Grants competition


SickKids researchers received over $11.5 million in funding in the latest Canadian Institutes of Health Research Foundation Grants competition.

Researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) were awarded over $11.5 million in the latest Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Foundation Grants 2018-2019 competition.

“I congratulate our scientists and their research teams on this success. This funding will help ensure that we can continue to advance child health through breakthrough research,” says Dr. Michael Salter, Chief of Research. “From understanding genetic basis of disease in model organisms to developing new medications for patients, the breadth of studies and the results of this competition speak to the outstanding calibre of our scientists and SickKids’ exceptional standard of scientific research and discovery.”

Dr. Brian Ciruna, Senior Scientist and Head of the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program, received more than $3.54 million for his research into idiopathic scoliosis (AIS), which is characterized by abnormal curvatures of the spine that develop in otherwise healthy individuals, typically during adolescence. Affecting four per cent of children worldwide, AIS can cause chronic back pain and disability. In past studies, Dr. Ciruna has used zebrafish to model human AIS and work towards identifying non-invasive pharmaceutical therapies that might block scoliosis. This grant will support the application of zebrafish models to define the full range of biological and genetic causes of AIS. The study will also screen for additional drugs that may block severe spinal curve progression.

Dr. Aleixo Muise, Senior Scientist in the Cell Biology Program, will use the $2.95 million received through his grant to screen known drugs to determine if they can correct inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) defects in patients. IBD is a common chronic illness of the gastrointestinal tract, which is predicted to affect nearly 1 in 100 Canadians by 2030. The ultimate goal of Dr. Muise's research is to help develop better treatments for IBD patients based on their genetic profile.

Dr. Steve Prescott, Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health Program, received $2.87 million for his research on neuron hyperexcitability and chronic pain. Following a nerve injury, many neurons generate too many spikes in response to sensory input, which distorts how sensory input is perceived and often results in chronic pain. His study aims to explore changes in gene regulation to decipher how and why injured neurons respond to treatments with compensatory changes that undermine the beneficial effects of pain medications. The study will also explore how changes in the excitability of different types of neurons affect the pattern of neurons activated by stimuli, and how changes in neuron activation patterns ultimately impact a patient’s perception of pain. The goal is to use the research to identify the underlying pattern of hyperexcitability to help determine the best therapeutic options for patients.

Dr. Lisa Strug, Senior Scientist in the Genetics & Genome Biology Program and Associate Director of The Centre for Applied Genomics, received $2.1 million to use genome sequencing to identify modifier genes that impact cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. While CF is caused by mutations in the CFTR gene, not all children with CF have the same course of disease or response to treatment due to differences in modifier genes. Dr. Strug’s grant will fund research into identifying changes in modifier genes that impact CF disease severity. The research team will develop statistical models that can combine the genetic changes identified with experimental data, paving the way towards more modifier-targeting treatments and application of the research into other diseases such as epilepsy.

SickKids Research Institute is Canada’s largest, hospital-based child health research institute, working to improve the health of children in Canada and globally. The Foundation Grant program provides long-term support for the pursuit of innovative, high-impact research programs. For more information on the competition, visit the CIHR website.

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