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Critical research for better health

$6.2M for Canada Research Chairs focused on health and well-being of Canadians
Critical research for better health

Michelle Kho

By Danelle D’Alvise, Research Communications
November 14, 2013

Exercising in the Intensive Care Unit? It’s a concept that seems at odds with the typical ICU where recovery for the hospital’s sickest patients often means prolonged bed rest, sedation, and constant monitoring and support from specialized equipment.

But exercising critically ill patients might be ‘just what the doctor ordered’ – a remedy that’s at the heart of rehabilitation scientist Michelle Kho’s Canada Research Chair in Critical Care Rehabilitation and Knowledge Translation.

Kho is one of the three newest Canada Research Chairs awarded to McMaster, announced today by the Minister of State, Science and Technology, Greg Rickford.

As a practicing physiotherapist and researcher, Kho’s ‘lab’ is the ICU, where she works with highly specialized health care teams to help patients not only survive their life threatening illness or injury, but improve their recovery time and promote continued health and well-being once they leave intensive care.  If patients survive their critical illness, 1 in 4 has severe weakness impairing their quality of life for up to 5 years after leaving the ICU and more than half do not return to work.

ICU bike

Kho’s research program – Critical Care Cycling to Improve Lower Extremity Strength (CYCLE) – focuses on preventing or reducing the adverse effects of immobilization by having patients pedal a motorized stationary bicycle affixed to their ICU bed.  Her current clinical research home is at St. Joseph’s Hospital, using a specialized bicycle funded by St. Joseph’s Foundation; eventually her research program will expand to each of 3 medical-surgical ICUs in Hamilton. 

Dr. Kho’s CYCLE rehabilitation regime targets ICU patients needing breathing machines in the very first week of critical care, when muscle strength in their legs can melt away by 15% or more.  By strengthening their muscles and their overall health, patients may be sent home sooner, stronger, and happier, not only benefitting the patient, but alleviating the high cost of critical care for our health care system.

“It’s the patients who inspire me,” says Kho, “and the idea that my research program can provide them – and their loved ones – with hope that they can lead healthy, productive lives after they’ve been discharged from the ICU.”

Another researcher from the Faculty of Health Science, Eva Szabo was awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Metabolism in Human Stem Cells and Cancer Development, and Shiping Zhu, from the Faculty of Engineering was promoted to a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Polymerization Engineering. Four Chairs in the Faculty of Health Sciences were also renewed for another term. 

“The Canada Research Chairs program has an uncompromising commitment to excellence in research, and a rigorous nomination process that applies equally to our newest Chairs as to those that have been renewed for another term,” says Mo Elbestawi, vice president, research and international affairs. “Drs. Larché, Bhatia, Steinberg and Draper continue to distinguish themselves as world-class researchers, attracting excellent students and trainees to their research programs, while Drs. Kho, Szabo and Zhu will be carrying out programs of original research that will make a significant impact on their respective fields and on the lives of Canadians.”

McMaster’s newest CRCs

  • Michelle Kho, Canada Research Chair in Critical Care Rehabilitation and Knowledge Translation, Tier 2, is an assistant professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science.   
  • Eva Szabo Canada Research Chair in Metabolism in Human Stem Cells and Cancer Development is a principal investigator in the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, and assistant professor in both the departments of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, and medicine (division of endocrinology & metabolism). Szabo’s Tier 2 Chair will focus on the role of fat and the diseases associated with obesity, including diabetes and cancer. Understanding the role of fat cells and why some obese individuals develop other conditions can lead to the development of new strategies, treatments and drugs specifically targeted to these cells.
  • Shiping Zhu, has been promoted to a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Polymerization Engineering. The professor and chair, department of chemical engineering, will continue his world-renowned work in macromolecular reaction engineering and forge ahead with a research program that explores the digital synthesis and precision production of polymers. Zhu’s focus will be on the development of innovative polymer products and applications, including those that can result in significant energy cost savings for industry, environmental protection and safer drugs.

The following have had their Canada Research Chair renewed for another term:

  • Mick Bhatia, Canada Research Chair in Human Stem Cell Biology Tier 1 Chair has been renewed for another seven years. The Director and Senior Scientist at the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute  will continue his seminal work in human stem cell biology research, where he has made significant contributions in new areas of direct reprogramming and drug screening technology.
  • Jonathan Draper’s Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Human Stem Cell Lineage Commitment will continue to focus on the mechanisms that modulate both the initial steps of human pluripotent stem cells and the later specification of lung tissues, yielding insights that will benefit patient care. The assistant professor in the department of pathology and molecular medicine has been a Scientist with the Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute since 2008.
  • Mark Larché, Canada Research Chair in Allergy and Immune Intolerance, will further his research program centred on the development of curative treatments for chronic inflammatory diseases. Larché will continue to develop allergy vaccines (he has developed four during the first term of his Tier 1 CRC), for tree pollens and mould and will address the pressing problem of severe peanut allergy over the tenure of his next seven year term.
  • Gregory Steinberg, Canada Research Chair in Metabolism and Obesity, established the Metabolism and Childhood (MAC) Obesity Research Program in his first five year term as a Tier 2 Chair. Steinberg, an associate professor in the department of medicine (division of endocrinology & metabolism) researches how fat metabolism maintains health and longevity, and how it relates to obesity and metabolic disease.

“Our government remains committed to attracting and retaining the world’s best researchers, creating jobs and strengthening our economy,” said Minister of State Rickford. “Through programs such as the Canada Research Chairs, we are supporting cutting-edge research at Canadian universities and fostering innovation by helping researchers bring their ideas to the marketplace, to benefit Canadians and improve our quality of life.”

There are two types of Canada Research Chairs:
Tier 1 Chairs, tenable for seven years and renewable, are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. For each Tier 1 Chair, the university receives $200,000 annually for seven years.
Tier 2 Chairs, tenable for five years and renewable once, are for exceptional emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. For each Tier 2 Chair, the university receives $100,000 annually for five years.