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SickKids-led projects receive $17.9 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation
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SickKids-led projects receive $17.9 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation


The funding will support SickKids research into understanding memory formation, increasing genomics capacity in Canada and advancing precision child health.

Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) were awarded $17.9 million in funding from the Government of Canada through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to support research infrastructure.  

The investment was announced today at l’Université de Montréal by the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Transport, on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, and included an investment of more than $1.7 billion to 7,700 researchers and research projects across the country.

The announcement included four SickKids-led projects, as well as renewed Tier 1 Canada Research Chairs (CRC) for Drs. Paul Frankland and Sheena Josselyn on their research into how the brain stores memories. 

Today’s investments will support the continued advancement of cutting-edge research and infrastructure at SickKids, helping our scientists develop new breakthroughs that can transform care for patients at SickKids and internationally,” says Dr. Stephen Scherer, Chief of Research and a Senior Scientist in the Genetics & Genome Biology program at SickKids and Director of The Centre for Applied Genomics (TCAG). 

Advancing child health through pre-clinical modeling

Modeling health conditions in zebrafish can uncover genetic insights and identify novel therapies that inform a range of research areas, including scoliosis and musculoskeletal biology, cardiovascular conditions and cancer. 

With new funding from the CFI, Dr. Brian Ciruna, Senior Scientist and Head of the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program, and Dr. Madeline Hayes, Scientist in the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology program, as well as team members Drs. Jim Dowling, Meredith Irwin, David Malkin, Ian Scott and Padmaja Subbarao, aim to enhance the capabilities of zebrafish modelling at the Zebrafish Genetics and Disease Models Facility at SickKids.  

Through the generation and implementation of precision-based diagnostic tools and interventions, the scientific team will work toward establishing precision models of paediatric health conditions and optimize how these interventions are brought from the bench side to the bedside.  

Advancing Child Health using Zebrafish Precision Models of pediatric cancer, congenital defects, and disease received $10,006,014 in funding through the CFI. 


Working toward incision-less neurosurgery

Focused ultrasound surgery (FUS) has the potential to turn complex neurosurgical treatments into incision-less procedures that help reduce surgery complications and improve patient outcomes. 

Dr. George Ibrahim, Paediatric Neurosurgeon, alongside SickKids team members Drs. Kristen Davidge, James Drake, Birgit Ertl-Wagner, Flavia Venetucci Gouveia, Brian Nieman and Adam Waspe, are expanding research into the SickKids Neuroscience Research in Focused Ultrasound Surgery (SoNaR-FUS) program. The team will seek to develop FUS technologies that can access previously inaccessible areas of the brain to investigate brain circuits in precise, less invasive ways.  

Building on established pre-clinical research programs in partnership with The Centre for Phenogenomics (TCP), the Centre for Image Guided Care and the existing SickKids FUS research program, which is CFI-funded and part of the Posluns Centre for Image Guided Innovation and Therapeutic Intervention (PCIGITI), the research team will also examine the physical effects of FUS on paediatric brain tissue and expand FUS treatments into the spine and peripheral nervous system. 

SoNaR-FUS: SickKids Neuroscience Research in Focused Ultrasound Surgery received $2,902,344 in funding through the CFI. 


Expanding national genomics research capacity

New instrumentation, methods and technical advances are driving down costs and making genomic sequencing more broadly available to researchers.  

CGEn, Canada's CFI-MSI funded national genomics platform, has supported the growing demand for sequencing of human and other genomes since 2015. Together with team members Drs. Lisa Strug and Padmaja Subbarao, Scherer is working to expand genomics research capacity across Canada. 

The CFI’s investment will help train the highly qualified personnel needed to drive genomics in Canada and also develop methods to extend the range of applications in areas such as single molecule sequencing, metagenomics and epigenomics. 

At SickKids, CGEn: Canada’s national platform for genome sequencing and analysis received $2,558,934 in funding through the CFI, in addition to funding received by partner institutions across Canada. 


Improving cellular imaging provides unprecedented precision

Recent technological advancements have allowed scientists to track single molecules within live cells and determine the activity of individual neurons inside the brain.  

By purchasing three new advanced imaging systems previously unavailable in Ontario, Dr. Sergio Grinstein, a Senior Scientist in the Cell Biology program, and Dr. Lu-Yang Wang, a Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program, alongside their colleagues Drs. Julie Forman-Kay, Sevan Hopyan, Xi Huang, Julie Lefebvre, Yun Li, Michael Salter, Ji-Young Youn and Benjamin Steinberg hope to enable researchers to measure and interact with cellular processes with unprecedented resolution and precision.  

The advanced imaging systems include an ultrahigh-resolution microscopy system, a fluorescence lifetime detection system that can be used to measure the association and dynamics of molecules, and an intravital microscopy system that will enable researchers to measure in real time the activity of individual nerve cells. Together, this equipment will help scientists observe the behavior of living cells in detail, providing new awareness of the cellular changes that occur in health and disease conditions.   

Resolving cell dynamics at the mesoscale level received $2,468,004 in funding through the CFI.


SickKids researchers awarded renewed Canada Research Chairs 

The CRC Program recognizes individuals who have achieved research excellence in engineering and natural sciences, health sciences and social sciences and humanities. In total, $8.7 million in research infrastructure funding through the CFI was awarded to support 40 CRCs at 22 institutions across Canada. 

SickKids currently has 37 filled CRCs.

Dr. Paul Frankland

Dr. Paul Frankland, Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Biology (Tier 1 Renewal)

Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program

Dr. Paul Frankland’s research has addressed classic questions in the memory field: Why do we lose our earliest childhood memories? How does the brain forget? Is it possible to implant memories? His upcoming research will focus on the biological building blocks of memories — engrams. His group will investigate: how engrams change when a memory is forgotten; if non-neuronal cells alter memory; how engrams change across development and if human neurons also exhibit engram-like activity, how is this activity altered in illness? His research will provide a foundation for the development of better treatments for conditions affecting thought and cognition, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Frankland is also a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Physiology and Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a member of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) in the program for Child and Brain Development. 


Dr. Sheena Josselyn

Dr. Sheena Josselyn Canada Research Chair in Brain Mechanisms Underlying Memory (Tier 1 Renewal)

Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health program 

Dr. Sheena Josselyn’s research explores how memories are made. She discovered engrams — physical and/or chemical changes in the brain that correspond to memories — and has since begun to investigate the neural basis of memory. Understanding how engrams are formed and connected in the brain could lead to effective therapies that target conditions disrupting memories, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Moving forward, Josselyn will develop sophisticated brain imaging tools to see brain cells that are active while an animal learns and remembers an experience. She will combine this imaging technique with advanced targeted single-cell optogenetic techniques to examine if memories can be artificially recalled or entirely implanted. Josselyn’s studies help researchers understand the complex biological structure of the brain. Josselyn is also a professor in the Departments of Psychology and Physiology at the University of Toronto. 

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