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About SickKids

February 7, 2020

SickKids researchers awarded $7.5 million for microbiome and immunology research

Researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) recently received $7.5 million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health (CIHR) and partners to study the microbiome and immunology. These team grants were awarded by CIHR and partners in the Canadian Microbiome Initiative 2 and Human Immunology Initiative competitions.

“Research on the human microbiome and immunology is critical to understanding many complex paediatric health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as maternal and infant nutrition. This funding will make a meaningful difference to the health of children,” says Dr. Michael Salter, Chief of Research at SickKids Research Institute. “That these grants were awarded to SickKids speaks volumes about the high calibre of our scientists and their teams.”

The microbiome comprises all the microbes that live on and inside the human body, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. Immunology is the study of the immune system, which protects us from infection. 


From left to right: Drs John Parkinson, Padmaja Subbarao, John Brumell, Jayne Danska and Aleixo Muise

Dr. Jayne Danska, Senior Scientist in the Genetics & Genome Biology Program and Associate Chief of Faculty Development, received a $2-million Canadian Microbiome Initiative 2  grant (jointly funded by CIHR and JDRF) to study microbiome regulation of beta-cell autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes (T1D), which is caused by autoimmune inflammation of the pancreatic islets and destruction of beta cells, the only cell type that makes insulin. The incidence of this disease in developed countries has been rising at a rate of three to five per cent per year over the past several decades. This project seeks to understand how environmental changes have influenced the gut microbiome in infants, children and young adults with defined genetic risk for T1D. The research team will use complementary approaches to determine how immune responses to intestinal bacteria are associated with progression to T1D and new immunotherapy that can delay disease onset. The outcomes of this work will support new strategies for clinical trials that aim to prevent and treat new onset T1D and advance the design and testing of new therapeutics.

Dr. John Parkinson, Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine Program, received a $2-million Canadian Microbiome Initiative 2  grant to study the impact of pathogen-microbiome dynamics on maternal nutrition during pregnancy in young women. While much is known concerning the dramatic impact of maternal nutritional status during pregnancy on birth outcomes, little is known concerning how dynamic changes in the microbiome can modulate maternal and fetal health during pregnancy. The research team will study changes in the microbiome in two groups of pregnant women. The first group will be recruited from the Matiari Preconception and Pregnancy Supplementation Trial in Pakistan and the second group will be recruited from clinics in Toronto serving refugee communities. Understanding these complex relationships and their impact on malnutrition and birth outcomes could improve diagnoses and inform the development of targeted interventions that can significantly improve maternal health and child development.

Dr. Padmaja Subbarao, Senior Scientist in the Translational Medicine Program, and Staff Respirologist, received a $2-million Canadian Microbiome Initiative 2  grant to study causational roles of the gut microbiome in childhood asthma, leveraging the CHILD Cohort Study. Asthma is the most common reason why children miss school or end up in hospital. The CHILD Cohort Study was set up to research why some children develop asthma and to find out how we can prevent it. Nearly 3,500 babies and their families have joined this study over 10 years and scientists have already made some exciting discoveries about the importance of our gut bacteria in helping our immune systems to develop properly so that we don't get asthma. In this project, the researcher team will use new technologies to find out how gut bacteria can cause or prevent asthma, which will help them to develop new ways to prevent and treat asthma.  

Dr. Aleixo Muise, Co-Director of the SickKids IBD Centre and Senior Scientist in the Cell Biology Program, and Dr. John Brumell,  Senior Scientist and Program Head of the Cell Biology Program, along with other members of the SickKids IBD Centre, received a $1.5 million Human Immunology Initiative team grant to study the immune dysregulation underlying paediatric inflammatory bowel disease to better diagnose and treat patients. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common chronic illness of the gastrointestinal tract. Children make up the most rapidly increasing group of patients with IBD and they may have severe disease that prevents them from growing or going to school. Some of these patients have a disease that does not respond to drugs and/or surgery may not help. The reasons why people get IBD are not known but this team has already identified defective genes that cause disease. In this project, they will aim to identify novel causes and potential treatments for patients with a severe form of colitis.  

In addition to this $7.5 million in grants, a $2-million Canadian Microbiome Initiative 2 grant was awarded to a University of British Columbia-led research team, including SickKids scientists Muise, Parkinson, Dr. Anne Griffiths, Senior Associate Scientist in the Child Health Evaluative Sciences (CHES) program, Co-Lead of the IBD Centre, and Staff Physician in the Division of Gastroenterology/Hepatology/Nutrition, and Dr. Amanda Ricciuto, Staff Physician in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and Associated Scientist in the CHES Program, to study the role of microbes in the pathogenesis of paediatric IBD from discovery, through causation, to new treatments. The team will try to determine if certain diets can starve bacteria called pathobionts that are believed to play a role in IBD. They will study whether there are specific good bacteria they can give to patients in their food that can outcompete the pathobionts or if they can use new drugs to kill or flush away these harmful bacteria. Taken together, these studies could help to develop new precise and personalized ways to treat children with IBD and ultimately improve their lives.

Learn more about the CIHR microbiome and immunology grants awarded last month.

SickKids Research Institute is Canada’s largest, hospital-based child health research institute, working to improve the health of children in Canada and globally.