Research Nova Scotia is pleased to announce more than $2 million in funding for 21 research projects at eight Nova Scotia universities and healthcare centers through its New Health Investigator Grant.

The New Health Investigator Grant supports early-career health researchers who are engaged in work that aligns with the province’s health research priorities.  The grant aims to provide two years of support of up to $100,000 for researchers who are within the first five years of their academic appointment in Nova Scotia or who are new to the field of health research. Funding provided will support the establishment of independent programs of research, support and expand the research productivity necessary for obtaining long term funding from national and external agencies and expand the potential for early career investigators to make significant contributions in their field.  For the 2020-21 academic year, funding for this grant is provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

$2,032,284

In Funding

21

Projects

8

Institutions

New Health Investigator Grant Recipients


Dr. Christine Cassidy
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Project: Designing an Integrated Pediatric Inpatient-Ambulatory Care Service Delivery Model

The health care system is facing challenges related to poor quality of care, rising health care costs, and outdated technology. Efforts are needed to redesign health services to improve outcomes for patients, health care providers, and the overall health system. One way to address these challenges is to integrate care across multiple health care providers and services. This means that care is coordinated to meet patient needs and preferences. Integrated models of care help to improve the quality of care, quality of life, patient satisfaction, and health system efficiency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, IWK Health identified gaps in their current approach to delivering services to children, youth, and their families. Senior-level decision-makers at IWK Health have identified the need to improve the integration of care across their ambulatory (outpatient) and inpatient settings. This integrated approach will help to strengthen the delivery of care within the pediatric health system. Redesigning health services is not easy. Research is needed to understand factors that could support a new model of care and factors that could prevent it from being adopting into practice. Healthcare interventions are more effective when patients and care providers are included in the design process. Through her research, Dr. Christine Cassidy and team will work with patients, families, healthcare providers, and health system administrators to design an integrated model of care for pediatric inpatient-ambulatory care services at IWK Health. 

Funding amount: $99,682

Team members: Dr. Janet Curran, Stacy Burgess, LeeAnn Larocque, Amanda Higgins, Dr. Jordan Sheriko, Dr. Ian Graham, Dr. Britney Benoit, Dr. Annette Elliott Rose, Tanya Murray, Eileen Gillespie, Shauna Best, Karen Carter, Elizabeth Schurman, Joanne Gallant, Claire Richardson, Kristin Taylor & Hwayeon Danielle Shin


Dr. Sylvain Charlebois
Professor, School of Public Administration

Project: Home Food Gardening in Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic: Lessons for Food Security Considerations

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has impacted the food supply chain in Nova Scotia. While to date, the supply of most food products has proven to be both robust and resilient, citizens have reacted in fear, panic buying, stockpiling and turning to production of their own food through home gardening. Growing food as a response to crisis is not a new phenomenon. Times of economic upheaval have historically lead to increases in food gardening. The Great Depression saw the establishment of what were called relief gardens across Canada. Community gardens have been shown to increase community cohesion and resilience, increase food security, and support both physical health and mental health. The prevalence of home gardening versus community gardening suggests far more food is being grown at home. The isolation caused by COVID-19 has allowed citizens to turn to gardens for food and for mental health. Through his research, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois and team plan to determine how has COVID-19 affected Nova Scotian’s reaction to food security. This project will examine the extent to which Nova Scotians have turned to food production in their homes since COVID-19 and the underlying factors that have led some Nova Scotians to react to COVID-19 by gardening. In addition, the projects hopes to increase our understanding of how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the determinants to garden and the impact home gardening has on food security in Nova Scotia. 

Funding amount: $98,668

Team members: Dr. Patty Williams & Janet Music


Dr. Ketul Chaudhary
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine 

Project: Cardiac Vascular Stem Cells in Right Heart Failure

Heart diseases are the second leading cause of death in Nova Scotia, causing significant burden on the provincial healthcare system. Hospital costs related to heart failure in Canada is projected to increase to $ 2.8 billion in 2030. New options for better treatment of heart failure patients are desperately needed to improve patient outcomes and reduce the burden on healthcare system. The right ventricle of the heart normally functions against low pressure and resistance. However, in patients with increased blood pressure in the lungs or with existing left heart diseases, the right ventricle is exposed to higher pressure and resistance that leads to increase right ventricle wall thickness and ultimately right heart failure. Recent studies have shown that patients with stable right ventricle function have better survival than patients whose right ventricle function is deteriorating. Unfortunately, current treatments for left heart failure are not effective in right heart failure and right ventricle specific treatments are not available. Through his research, Dr. Ketul Chaudhary and team will investigate the processes involved in right heart failure to design new treatment options. Specifically, they will investigate the role of blood vessel stem cells in development of right heart failure and explore new stem cell-based treatment for patients.

Funding amount: $100,000

Team members: Dr. Susan Howlet


Dr. Parisa Ghanouni
Assistant Professor, School of Occupational Therapy

Project: Community-Based Services for Individuals With Developmental Disabilities: Transition to Adult Care

Despite the great progress signaled by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, individuals with disabilities worldwide continue to confront barriers to equitable access to the health resources and social supports that enable their full participation in society. Gaps in access have improved for many, especially for children, but the transition to adulthood continues to represent a “services cliff” that people with disabilities confront in their late teens. The service cliff during the transition to adulthood in rural areas is not well understood, given the higher incidence of developmental disabilities and difficulty in access to health services in rural communities. There is a lack of evidence on services and the successful transition of individuals with developmental disabilities with respect to their health as they age into adulthood in Canadian “rural” areas, including rural N.S. Through this research, Dr. Parisa Ghanouni and team plan to uncover barriers and facilitators related to community-based healthcare services during the transition of adolescents with developmental disabilities to adulthood in rural areas and co-develop a toolkit with stakeholders that outlines implementation strategies to promote successful transitions. This initiative will advance knowledge on services available that support the transition to adulthood in rural areas, highlight service gaps, point to important areas for investment, and thus contribute to academic, policy and community understandings and capacity around services for people with disabilities. The project will help combat health inequities through a focus on social determinants of health, and could enhance the quality of healthcare for individuals with disabilities living in rural areas.

Funding amount: $100,000

Team members: Dr. Christine Cassidy, Dr. Amanda Casey, Dr. Karen Foster, Dr. Janet Curran, Nancy Walker, Dr. Sara Kirk, Anne Pilmer, Dr. Karen McNeil, Garth Potter, Dr. Lynn Shaw & Dr. Tanya Packer


Dr. Denys Khaperskyy
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine

Project: Role of Stress Granule Formation in Immune Responses to Respiratory Viruses

Viral respiratory disease burden remains high despite continuous efforts to limit virus infection and spread through vaccination, surveillance, and quarantine measures. Right now, the world is in the middle of a pandemic caused by a novel respiratory virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In just a few months this new pathogen infected millions of people in almost every country and caused over 700,000 deaths. Even if vaccines are deployed, people with underlying health conditions will remain under threat if vaccines provide only limited protection. This is true in the case of another respiratory virus, influenza, to which vaccines were developed decades ago, and which continues to cause seasonal epidemics. In Canada, influenza infections peak each year in the late fall and winter months resulting in over 12,000 hospitalizations and over 3,000 deaths annually. This underscores the need for better treatment options for those who develop severe respiratory disease. Dr. Khaperskyy’s previous research demonstrated that formation of stress granules in response to virus infection is a powerful way for the cell to stop a virus from multiplying. Stress granules are large condensates that accumulate RNAs and proteins that are damaged, unnecessary, or even harmful for the cell when it is under stress. Through his research, Dr. Denys Khaperskyy and team aim to characterize the molecular mechanisms by which the host shutoff proteins of respiratory viruses block stress granule responses, define the role of stress granule formation in immune responses to respiratory viruses, and identify ways to disrupt viral mechanisms of stress granule inhibition to enable development of new antiviral treatments.

Funding amount: $99,980

Team members: Dr. Roy Duncan


Dr. Brendan Leung
Assistant Professor, Department of Applied Oral Sciences, Faculty of Dentistry

Project: Harnessing Oral Microbiota to Prevent Chemotherapy-Induced Oral Mucositis: Functional Screening Using a Bioprinted Mammalian-Microbe Co-culture Model

Chemotherapy induced oral mucositis (CIOM) is a painful and debilitating side effect of cancer treatment that affects 20-40% of cancer patients. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it also affects fast growing normal cells in the body, especially those that line the mouth. When these cells are damaged, painful mouth ulcers form. These painful ulcers can affect patients’ ability to eat, drink, talk and even rest, therefore significantly reducing their quality of life. Currently there is no effective way to prevent CIOM from happening, and the only way to treat it is to provide supportive care such as numbing gels, ice chips and painkillers. Research has found that the types of bacteria that normally live in the mouth (the microbiome) change when someone develops CIOM. It is difficult to study cause and effect between bacteria and CIOM partly because it is difficult to grow bacteria and human cells together in the lab in a controlled and repeatable way. Through his research, Dr. Brendan Leung and team will use a unique method to grow oral bacteria to investigate how microbes interact with oral cells during chemotherapy in order to identify microbial species that may offer protection again CIOM.

Funding amount: $99,600

Team members: Dr. Andrew Stadnyk, Dr. Ketan Kulkarni, Dr. Zhenyu Cheng, Dr. Morgan Langille & Dr. Lisa Johnson


Dr. Elaine Moody
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Project: Primary Healthcare for People with Dementia: Exploring Care Provided by Collaborative Family Practice Teams in Nova Scotia

There is an increasing need to improve the health care of people with dementia in Nova Scotia. As the population ages, it will become even more important to provide good care to people with dementia to ensure they can live well in the community. In Nova Scotia, there has been a move to develop collaborative family practice teams, where physicians, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses and other healthcare providers work together to address the Primary health care (PHC) needs of individuals. Primary care providers in these teams require dementia-specific knowledge, skills, resources and supports to enable people with dementia and their caregivers to live well in the community. However, there is little information available about how these teams address the needs of people with dementia. Through her research, Dr. Elaine Moody and team hope to better understand how collaborative family practice teams in Nova Scotia are addressing the needs of people living with dementia in the community, and to identify ways to improve their care. To achieve their goal, the researchers will gather the perspectives of people with living with dementia and caregivers on how collaborative family practice teams provide care in order to identify gaps in current service provision and opportunities to improve care, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. Additionally, they will explore how care provided by collaborative family practice teams to people with dementia has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. This project will contribute to the improvement of PHC for people with dementia, and may ultimately support the future needs of Nova Scotians with dementia and their caregivers, while supporting the sustainability of the healthcare system.

Funding amount: $89,489

Team members: Dr. Emily Marshall, Susan Savage, Dr. Ruth Martin-Misener, Dr. Grace Warner, Dr. Melissa Andrew, Dr. Alethea Lacas, Dr. Cheryl Smith, Dr. Katie Aubrecht, Sandra Britten, Sacha Nadeau, Heather McDougall, Marilyn Taylor & Dr. Fay Cohen


Dr. Deniz Top
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine

Project: Differences in the Regulation of Behaviour Genes as a Proposed Mechanism for Mental Illness

Mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder, affect nearly 200,000 Nova Scotians. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for these Nova Scotians to access treatment. Drugs and therapies used to treat mental illnesses do not work for all patients and can cause unpleasant side effects. To find better treatments, more research is needed to understand what causes mental illnesses and how they develop. Through his research, Dr. Deniz Top and team will use fruit flies to study changes in DNA (mutations) that are connected to mental illnesses in people. One of these mutations is linked to bipolar disorder and depression. In previous research, the team found that this mutation disrupts the function of the gene in some parts of the brain and not in others. Based on their findings, they believe that mental illnesses may occur when one part of the brain is unable to function as well as another. Through their work, they hope to determine if the change in mutant fly behaviour is similar to what is found in people so they can observe how genes mutations affect proteins, how proteins affect brain cells and how brain cells affect behaviour. This research aims to better our understanding of how mental illness develops in order to support the development of new treatments for people with mental illness. 

Funding amount: $100,000

Team members: Dr. James Kramer & Dr. Kazue Semba


Dr. Igor Yakovenko
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Science

Project: Screening, Self-Management and Referral to Treatment for YoungCannabis Users: Fulfilling an Unmet Need

Cannabis is commonly used across North America, with about 11% of individuals aged 15 to 64 reporting past-year use. Importantly, a disproportionate amount of young individuals tend to use cannabis for a variety of reasons. This issue is particularly relevant for Nova Scotia, which has the highest use rates of cannabis in Canada, with approximately 33% of youth age 15 and older reporting using cannabis in the past year and potentially experiencing problems as a result. Yet, researchers recognize that only a small portion of individuals with cannabis use problems ever seek treatment. Therefore, developing effective interventions is urgently required to meet the needs of people who already use cannabis, but who are not currently receiving specialty treatment for cannabis addiction. To date, the impact of providing an easily accessible intervention for cannabis problems has not been evaluated. To address this issue, the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse (CRISM) has developed an online intervention platform (Screening, Self-Management. and Referral to Treatment; SSMRT), accessible to the general public. Through his research, Dr. Igor Yakovenko and team will evaluate whether using the SSMRT program reduces problems associated with using cannabis. The goal is to answer the following research questions: 1) Will young adults who use the SSMRT platform experience greater cannabis problem reduction than those who do not use the self-help platform? 2) What factors predict reductions in cannabis problems for those who engage with SSMRT including gender and other sociodemographic differences? The results of the study will be used to support provincial healthcare programming, provincial public health campaigns for cannabis and service development to help young adults with cannabis use concerns. 

Funding amount: $99,657

Team members: Dr. Cameron Wild, Dr. Sandra Meier, Dr. Mohammed Al-Hamdani & Dr. Sherry Stewart