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posted here February 16,2020

In 2017, two leading research institutions, St. Boniface Hospital and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev established a collaborative partnership to look at the prevention and treatment of chronic health issues with a focus on cardiac disease, neurodegenerative disorders, and food sciences.

Leveraging complementary expertise and shared resources, these partnerships will accelerate discovery, scientific advancement and opening doors to novel medical treatments.

Generous support from our donors made this unique international collaboration possible and we are pleased to provide this progress report on the results of the first year of funding for six innovative research projects.

“It started as a dream. It moved to a transportation of researchers from one part of the globe to another to talk, discuss and ultimately work together. We have all, in the end, worked together to create something out of nothing. Some of these projects may generate exciting data. Some may not. Such is research. I am excited to see the final results as we move into the final year of this program. Good luck to all!!”

Dr. Grant Pierce,
Executive Director of Research, St-Boniface Hospital

Watch this short video to learn more about the remarkable collaboration between Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital Albrechtsen Research Centre and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev!


Learn about the six innovative research projects undertaken by this collaboration, and click here to see the researchers’ results:

1. Discovering new treatments for an abnormal heartbeat
Why it’s important
Irregular heartbeat is a condition that affects more people each year, often leading to serious complications like heart attacks and strokes which require interventions and corrective procedures. One such procedure, called an ablation, was performed 400 times in 2018 at St. Boniface Hospital’s cardiac treatment centre, a number that is expected to continue to rise significantly in the future. 

The economic impact of continuing to treat the growing prevalence of irregular heartbeats with inadequate treatments cannot be understated, making AF an important research priority.

2. Finding markers of autism in blood from children with autism
Why it’s important
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a collection of complicated and diverse conditions of brain development that are currently referred to as a single disorder due to the lack of an efficient subgrouping approach. Currently, the diagnosis of ASD is based on behavioural assessments that cannot distinguish between different subtypes of the disorder.

Metabolites are excellent biomarkers for different human traits as they can be easily measured in blood samples and vary according to diverse biological conditions. Dr. Aukema and Dr. Menashe hypothesize that ASD subtypes can be identified based on their unique profiles of blood metabolites. By developing classifications of ASD subtypes based on metabolites, researchers would facilitate further research, diagnosis and treatment of these disorders.

aving a better understanding of the specific subtypes of ASD will help patients lead more fulfilling lives and support families and caregivers in better understanding the nuances of their loved one’s condition. This research is considered a first-of-its-kind globally.

3. Using new drugs to correct nerve damage in diabetics
Why it’s important
About 40 million people in North America have some form of peripheral neuropathy. Sixty per cent of these people have diabetic neuropathy. In 2001, the annual cost of treating diabetic neuropathy and its consequences was between $4.6 and $13.7 billion, accounting for up to 27 per cent of the direct medical costs of diabetes. In Israel, pain in diabetic patients is ruled as neuropathic in almost half of the cases.

People with diabetic neuropathy experience incapacitating pain, sensory loss, foot ulceration, infection, gangrene and poor wound healing. These alarming figures are predicted to increase five-fold over the next ten years, making it more important than ever to develop effective treatments.

. Controlling cellular energy production by calcium
Why it’s important
If we can understand how NCLX influences mitochondrial function, we can learn how to influence energy production in cells. If NCLX is important in improving or inhibiting mitochondrial function (and, therefore, energy production), we would have an avenue to improve energy production and preserve cell life by creating drugs that would either inhibit or stimulate the function of NCLX.

5. Understanding novel factors involved in cardiac fibrosis and heart failure
Why it’s important
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death worldwide, with almost 23.6 million people predicted to die from heart disease by 2030. After a heart attack, cardiac fibrosis can affect areas of the heart that weren’t harmed by the heart attack causing the heart muscles to stiffen and become less efficient. By improving our understanding of cardiac fibrosis, Drs. Wigle and Birnbaum will bring us closer to developing an effective treatment for this condition.

6. Preventing coronary disease using fish oil supplements
Why it’s important
The endothelial cells being studied by Dr. Zahradka and Dr. Levy line the inside of our blood vessels and are responsible for keeping them healthy. When the properties of these cells change, it can result in problems such as high blood pressure and the thickening of the vessel wall – hallmarks of coronary artery disease. Heart disease causes irreparable damage to human heart cells. If researchers can develop a therapy that prevents coronary artery disease, they will save lives.

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