Congratulations to Dr. Carolina Tropini, Dr. Dena Shahriari, Dr. Nika Shakiba and Dr. Zachary Laksman for receiving Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Grants for research in their respective fields. Below are briefs of what the funding will support:

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a debilitating condition characterized by continuous inflammation and intense recurrences, or flares. There is no cure for IBD, and the surveillance regimen involves routine endoscopy to monitor disease. This research seeks to explore how bowel preparation, a process often used before endoscopies and involving osmotic laxatives, impacts patient’s IBD. The research planned for this grant aims to understand the effects of bowel prep on the progression of IBD and the composition of gut microbiota. The impact of this research will help inform clinical practice by revealing the precise ways bowel prep affects IBD progression and the gut microbiota and help guide modifications in current clinical protocols, advancing microbiota therapies leading to the development of improved probiotic treatments, and setting the stage for new therapeutic strategies.

About 80,000 Canadians live with spinal cord injury (SCI). There is no cure for SCI and it can result in the loss of sensation, muscle use and organ function below the lesion. SCI typically severs fine nerve cell projections in the spinal cord. These fine projections are called axons and do not naturally regrow. Interventions are needed to promote axon growth, to remove scar tissue formation and to guide axon growth across the spinal cord lesions that can be several cm long in humans. Funding for this project will explore the effects of optogenetic stimulation on axon growth after spinal cord injury. Results will provide answers for the curious question of how optical stimulation can improve function after spinal cord injury in rodents. We hope for our findings to be used for future clinical translation.

Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have the special ability to “expand” – make copies of themselves – and give rise to all cell types of the body. Since their discovery over 40 years ago, PSCs have opened the door to producing cell therapies by transplanting lab-grown cells into the body to restore damaged function. To meet growing clinical demand, researchers are challenged with the task of growing billions of PSCs for cell therapy production. Lab-grown PSCs, like their embryo-resident counterparts, compete with and aggressively eliminate one another. This research aims to understand what makes some stem cells winners and others losers. This is important if we want to be able to grow these stem cells reliably in the lab and turn them into clinical cell types. Now that we know stem cells can bully each other, we need to know how and why so we can engineer it for our benefit and to ensure that super-bullies (cancer-like cells) don’t emerge and overtake the culture. While previous studies point to mitochondrial function as providing a key advantage for winners in competition, the molecular changes that lead losers to perish remain unknown. To probe this question, we will use established approaches (mass spectrometry) and cutting-edge synthetic biology tools (“Ribo-STAMP” and genetic circuits) to track molecular changes during PSC battle.

As many as 1/100 people have a genetic variant called TTNtv. TTNtv affects a large protein that helps the heart to beat. Some kinds of inherited structural heart disease are commonly found in people with TTNtv, and these affect males and females differently. We lack a detailed understanding of why people with TTNtv are more likely to develop these heart diseases. But, we do know they are more likely to first develop heart rhythm problems. Heart rhythm problems are also a common side effect of many drugs. To test for these drug effects, scientists use heart tissues that can be grown in the lab. New drugs are not approved for use if they cause rhythm problems in the heart tissues. Yet, drugs are not currently tested for differences between sexes, nor for TTNtv. We will test drugs using engineered heart tissues (EHTs) from TTNtv carriers of both sexes. The data we collect will inform computer simulations of the heart, which will help us predict other variables to test or measure. We will also use the EHTs and tools we develop to discover new drugs that might help prevent the differences specific to tissues with TTNtv. This could lead to treatments for future patients at risk of heart rhythm disease or heart failure.