2018 Research Competition Results

Diabetes Canada is proud to be a leading supporter of diabetes research in Canada.

Since 1975 and the establishment of the Charles H. Best Research Fund, the Association has funded thousands of Canada’s most renowned diabetes researchers and research trainees in their quest for new and innovative developments in the prevention, treatment and management of diabetes.

Each application goes through a rigorous peer review process, the results of which guide the funding decisions made by Diabetes Canada’s National Research Council (NRC).

Please see below for a listing of the funded 2018 applicants.

Diabetes Investigator Awards 

Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe
Women’s College Research Institute (Toronto, ON)
Funded: 2018-2021

Pregnancy as a window of opportunity to quantify and reduce diabetes risk in women

Dr. Lipscombe’s goal is to identify and reduce the risk of diabetes after pregnancy. As part of this research program, she will be testing a lifestyle program for new mothers with gestational diabetes (GDM) to reduce their risk of diabetes. She will identify key risk factors that arise around the time of pregnancy and use those to create a prediction tool that estimates a woman's risk of developing diabetes in the next five years. Dr. Lipscombe and her team will use health-care databases in Ontario to examine associations between risk factors and development of diabetes in pregnant women with and without GDM.

These research findings will be used to create and validate risk prediction tools which can be applied shortly after pregnancy to estimate a woman's personal five-year risk of diabetes. This research will help to reduce type 2 diabetes in Canadian women by creating a clinical tool to identify pregnant women who are at highest risk of early diabetes so that interventions can be provided to reduce their risk.

Dr. Przemyslaw Sapieha
Maisonneuve-Rosemont Research Centre (Beaconsfield, QC)
Funded: 2018-2021

Cellular senescence in diabetic retinopathy

The retina is a thin layer of nervous tissue at the back of the eye that transforms light into sight. During diabetes, the blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to the retina degenerate and the nerve cells cease to function appropriately. This is called diabetic retinopathy and is the most common complication of diabetes and the leading cause of blindness in working-age individuals. In this study, Dr. Sapieha will explore a novel and exciting paradigm in diabetic retinopathy where diabetic neurons in the retina enter a state of dormancy to protect themselves from diabetes-related stress. He and his team will explore avenues of waking these neurons in order to restore vision. Ultimately, he hopes to be able to develop new and more effective therapies for the treatment of retinopathy.

New Investigator Awards

Dr. Sonia Butalia
University of Calgary (Calgary, AB)
Funded: 2018-2021

Tools and strategies to improve dyslipidemia in individuals with diabetes

Dr. Butalia’s goal is to develop and assess innovative tools and strategies to improve cholesterol management in people with diabetes. Her research program will: (1) Gain an understanding about the reasons people with diabetes do not take or continue to take cholesterol-lowering medications; (2) Assess if sending a letter to patients, their doctors, or both improves treatment of elevated cholesterol in people with diabetes through the laboratory system; and (3) Assess if sending letters to patients and/or their doctors is cost-effective. 

These findings will not only provide a better understanding of why there is under-treatment of cholesterol in people with diabetes, but improve care in new and innovative ways using existing resources.

Dr. Erin Mulvihill  
University of Ottawa Heart Institute (Ottawa, ON)
Funded: 2018-2021

Organ cross talk: Heptokines linking inflammation, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease

All organs in the body are a mixture of distinct cells with different jobs and, when they coordinate their operation, our bodies are healthy. In type 2 diabetes, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas become damaged, but it hasn’t been entirely determined how this damage creates miscommunication with other cells in the body, particularly the heart. Dr. Mulvihill and her team have discovered that a protein, DPP4, found in the liver can, in people with metabolic disease, enter the circulation and disturb the exchange of information between cells in adipose tissue and the liver. They now wish to determine if this protein can also signal the heart and, in certain circumstances, cause injury and harm.

Post-Doctoral Fellowships

Dr. Fernando Forato Anhê 
Supervisor: Dr. Jonathan Schertzer
McMaster University (Hamilton, ON)
Funded: 2018-2020

Determining how microbes lower blood glucose and insulin after bariatric surgery

It is still not understood why some obese people have high blood glucose and others do not and what  causes the progression of prediabetes. The bacteria in our gut (i.e. gut microbiota) is now recognized as an important player controlling host metabolism. Bariatric surgery, the most effective intervention to cause remission of type 2 diabetes, is associated with changes in the type of gut bacteria. Bariatric surgery also lowers blood glucose and insulin before weight loss. Nobody has fully tested how gut bacteria within a bariatric surgery patient change glucose and insulin control. Dr. Anhê will use new ways to grow and identify bacteria from the same patient before and after three different types of bariatric surgery. He will also transplant the bacteria to germ-free mice and determine how these microbes can lower blood glucose without the need for weight loss. His findings could lead to new and more effective treatments for type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Stewart Jeromson
Supervisor: Dr. Jennifer Estall
Clinical Research Institute of Montreal (IRCM)
Funded: 2018-2020

Uncovering novel strategies to improve PGC-1 stability in diabetes

The main complications of diabetes include the inability of cells within the pancreas to release insulin, the hormone that reduces glucose in the blood, and uptake of glucose into cells. There is a protein, PGC-1, that is critical for the release of insulin and it is often reduced in people with diabetes, and there are differences in the genetic code for this protein between people that regulate the amount PGC-1 in the cells. Dr. Jeromson is trying to determine why this genetic difference causes low PGC-1 protein in key organs and how this difference is linked to the survival and function of these important cells. As diabetes is likely caused by a combination of genes and poor lifestyle, he will also aim to understand how this protein is affected by environmental factors (i.e. nutrition). These findings would allow for better prediction of who is at risk of developing diabetes and help in the development of new strategies to prevent diabetes.

Dr. T.M. Zaved Waise
Supervisor: Dr. Tony Lam
Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (Toronto, ON)
Funded: 2018-2020

Interaction of gut microbiota and nutrient sensing

Obesity and diabetes are characterized by a disruption in glucose, lipid and metabolic homeostasis due secondary to an altered microbiota population in the intestine. In this study, Dr. Waise will characterize microbiota and bile acid receptor, farnesoid X receptor (FXR), signaling pathways in the gut that alter glucose metabolism. Specifically, he will aim to identify novel FXR-dependent nutrient sensing mechanisms in the upper small intestine that regulate glucose homeostasis, and determine their  therapeutic potential to enhance gut nutrient sensing and restore metabolic homeostasis in obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Alanna Weisman
Supervisor: Dr. Bruce Perkins
University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)
Funded: 2018-2019

Associations between elevated uric acid, allopurinol, and end-stage renal disease in diabetes: Population-based cohort studies

Diabetes continues to be the leading cause of kidney failure, and new medications to prevent kidney disease are required. High uric acid (UA) is a possible cause of kidney disease, and people with diabetes more commonly have high UA than people without diabetes. Allopurinol is a medication used for gout that lowers UA and may prevent kidney failure in people with diabetes.

In this study, Dr. Weisman and her team will use routinely-collected health-care data in Ontario to study the associations of UA and kidney failure (dialysis or kidney transplant), and allopurinol and kidney failure, in people with diabetes. They believe that a higher UA will be associated with a higher risk of kidney failure and use of allopurinol will be associated with a lower risk of kidney failure.

These findings could lead to clinical trials of allopurinol and a wider role for the use of medications that lower UA in people with diabetes to prevent kidney disease.

Dr. Veera Ganesh Yerra
Supervisor: Dr. Andrew Advani
St. Michael’s Hospital (Toronto, ON)
Funded: 2018-2020

Inflammation, epigenetics and heart failure in diabetes

Dr. Yerra’s objective is to better understand the causes of heart failure in diabetes and to use this new knowledge to develop new treatments. Dr. Yerra has discovered that, in heart failure, a protein in heart muscle cells, called CCR2, signals a series of events that ultimately damage heart muscle cells, especially when diabetes is present. These damaging events involve processes called epigenetic processes, meaning they involve changes in the ways that genes work without causing typical changes in the genetic code. In this project, Dr. Yerra will look to see what the events are that cause heart muscle cell damage by CCR2 and whether medications that block CCR2, or block one of the cell-damaging events it causes, can prevent heart failure in diabetes. These findings will generate important new information about how heart failure occurs in diabetes and possibly lead to the development of new treatments for people with diabetes.

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