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About SickKids

January 25, 2018

SickKids researchers to benefit from major investment in genomics and precision health research

By Anastasia Semionov, Intern, Communications & Public Affairs

The promising new avenue of precision medicine aims to transform traditional health care into truly individualized care based on the unique genetic makeup of each patient. To help advance the rapidly evolving research in this area, the Government of Canada announced two new major investments in genomics research totalling $255 million from federal and provincial governments, as well as research institutions and private sector partners. The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, made the announcements Jan. 23 at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

The funding, provided through Genome Canada with support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and co-funding partners, will be invested in 25 projects through two Genome Canada competitions in Genomics and Precision Health and Genomics Technology Platforms

Seven of the platforms are led by researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) including Drs. Michael Brudno, Colin McKerlie, Felix Ratjen, Stephen Scherer, Lisa Strug, Padmaja Subbarao, Michael Taylor, and Rae Yeung. Scherer, who is the Director of The Centre for Applied Genomics (TCAG), and Yeung, the project lead for UCAN CURE, both spoke at the event, noting that the funding will provide researchers across Canada with access to leading-edge genomics research and technology services.

Dr. Stephen Scherer; Dr. Michael Apkon, President and CEO, SickKids; Paul Lasko, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Genetics; the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science; Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO, Ontario Genomics; Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada; Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Front, from left: Dr. Rae Yeung; Aida Kelf-Kowal
Back, from left: Dr. Stephen Scherer; Dr. Michael Apkon, President and CEO, SickKids; Paul Lasko, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Genetics; the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science; Bettina Hamelin, President and CEO, Ontario Genomics; Marc LePage, President and CEO, Genome Canada; Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. Front, from left: Dr. Rae Yeung; Aida Kelf-Kowal. (Photo credit: Genome Canada)​

Minister Duncan reflected on the far-reaching impact that this research could have on the health of Canadians. "It is an honour to support some of Canada's leading genomics and precision health researchers through investments that will allow them to further their discoveries and innovations,” she said. “Their incredible work brings hope to Canadians living with chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and arthritis, while strengthening Canada's health-care system."

Marc LePage, President and CEO of Genome Canada, also highlighted the opportunities the funding will bring. “What’s exciting about these genomics and precision health projects is how clinically oriented they are. Most are led by clinician-scientists who deal with patients on a day-to-day basis and are well-positioned to apply the research to health-care settings,” he said, “Further, they are not just about developing new therapies to treat diseases, but about early diagnosis and intervention to better curb or manage diseases at their onset.”

Yeung, Rheumatologist and Senior Scientist in Cell Biology at SickKids, discussed her research team’s goal of developing streamlined diagnostic tools and treatment plans for children with arthritis. Through UCAN CURE, one of the 15 precision health research projects, Yeung’s team will focus on redefining the treatment of childhood arthritis, and improving the quality of life of young patients like nine-year-old Aida Kelf-Kowal, who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at the age of five.

Aida Kelf-Kowal joins the Hounorable Minister Duncan, Minister of Science and other special guests on a tour of Rae Yeung’s research lab
Aida Kelf-Kowal joins the Honourable Minister Duncan, Minister of Science and other special guests on a tour of Rae Yeung’s research lab. (Photo credit: Genome Canada)

Aida’s parents, Katrina Kelf and Ed Kowal, joined their daughter at the podium before accompanying Minister Duncan and other special guests on a tour of Yeung’s research lab. “The research that Dr. Yeung is doing is very important to the well-being of families like ours, and to children like Aida,” said Kelf. “It is critical that the most effective treatment be implemented as quickly as possible, especially in young children who are developing and growing. If this research could shave a year off of trial-and-error periods, it could put children like Aida on the path to remission, much sooner.”

Aida Kelf-Kowal added, “It will allow kids to be kids, as they should be.”

For more information, visit Genome Canada’s news release.