UBC researchers awarded funding to improve health outcomes through MSHRBC Health Professional-Investigator Program


April 27, 2023

A new cohort of 16 health professional investigators funded by Michael Smith Health Research BC are conducting and applying research to ultimately improve health outcomes in BC and beyond.

Research is the foundation that leads to life-saving and innovative medical treatments, practices and policies that benefit of all British Columbians. What we know about health and disease today—and what we can do with that knowledge—comes from decades of research. Under the Health Professional-Investigator (HP-I) Program, each health professional is actively involved in patient care, and will develop and advance research with the goal of bringing research evidence into practice.

This year’s recipients are tackling a broad range of health challenges including: food as an intervention to reduce effects of woodsmoke exposure on respiratory health; integration of shared decision-making in heart failure pharmacotherapy; accelerating diagnosis of glioma (a type of brain cancer) in BC; and updating guidelines deprescribing medications based on needs and current evidence.

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UBC Recipients

Stephen yip

(Pathology and Laboratory Medicine)

Accelerating comprehensive diagnosis of glioma patients in BC: the long and short of it

Glioma is a type of brain cancer affecting patients of all ages. Modern care of the glioma patient consists of surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy. Understanding the molecular makeup of the glioma can better identify how a tumour may progress than traditional pathology, which relies on what the tumour looks like under the microscope. Moreover, molecular information is crucial for treatment planning in the era of “precision oncology”, which aims to maximize tumour treatment while minimizing side effects. Without a doubt, the timely delivery of an integrated molecular glioma diagnosis is essential for quality care. We aim to achieve this via. an interdisciplinary approach, engaging researchers, pathologists, cancer physicians, and most importantly brain cancer patients at BC Cancer and Vancouver General Hospital, to integrate novel genomic technology and a re-imagined workflow to speed up brain cancer care and to reduce inequalities in access to care across BC.

Host Institution: BC Cancer

Research Location: Fraser Health Authority

Wade Thompson

(Anesthesiology, Pharmacology & Therapeutics)

Making medications fit for older adults: advancing the science and implementation of deprescribing guidelines

As people age, they can end up taking many medications. Certain medications might have made sense when they were started. But as people get older, some medications may no longer be needed, or may be unsafe. It makes sense to consider stopping such medications. It can be tough for prescribers and patients to decide when and how to stop a medication. From 2014 to 2017, we developed guidelines and resources to help patients and prescribers make decisions about stopping medications. Our guidelines and resources are used in Canada and across the world. However, guidelines and resources need to be up to date with the most current evidence. There also needs to be ongoing strategies to ensure guidelines are used in the real world. This project, led from UBC Vancouver, will first survey patients and prescribers to assess needs and priorities for guidelines on stopping medications. We will then update our guidelines based on needs and current evidence. Finally, we will design knowledge translation materials together with patients and prescribers (called “co-design”), and spread the word about our updated resources. We strive to help patients/prescribers decide when and how to stop medications and improve well-being of older adults.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: University of British Columbia - Vancouver Campus

Youwen Zhou

(Dermatology and Skin Science)

Maresin 1 as a novel therapy for vitiligo

Patients with vitiligo experience social stigmatization due to white patches on their face and hands. The existing therapies have limited effectiveness. Our lab recently discovered that an omega-3 essential fatty-acid derivative, maresin 1, has the ability to prevent development of vitiligo patches. In this proposal, I plan to test its effectiveness and long-term safety using a mouse model of vitiligo. We will induce vitiligo in B6 mice, and then treat them with maresin 1 injections three times a week for 80 weeks, which is equivalent to 60 years of human life, and observe the mice for changes in white patches and development of side effects. We expect maresin 1 treatment to shrink the white patches without causing cancers or other side effects. The experiments will be performed by an experienced research associate, Dr. Mingwan Su, and a graduate student. My lab is located in Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, which has a licensed animal care facility. The results will be vital for planning of maresin 1 clinical trials in the future. Despite using mice for our research, we will collaborate with vitiligo patient partners who will help ensure our findings will eventually be useful to vitiligo patients.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: UBC

Yvette Drew

(Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology / Division of Medical Oncology)

Investigating novel, non-chemotherapy, targeted treatment strategies in high grade serous ovarian cancer

About 3,000 Canadians receive a diagnosis of ovarian cancer (OC) each year. Despite initial good responses to treatment, the chance of long-term survival is low with ~30 percent of patients living five years from diagnosis. Drugs called PARP inhibitors improve survival but only in about half of patients. Small clinical trials have shown promising results using chemotherapy-free PARP inhibitor targeted drug combinations. This proposed research asks several important questions:

  1. Do chemotherapy-free targeted treatments work in OC and which drug combinations are best?
  2. Which order treatments should be given, before or after chemotherapy?
  3. What are the features of OCs that do not respond to PARP inhibitors and can we find new targets?

We will use samples from two groups of patients to conduct the research: from a clinical trial called NEOCATS and from OC patients that did not respond to PARP inhibitors given as standard of care in BC Cancer sites. NEOCATS trial will run across Canada and is led by BC scientists. Laboratory studies will take place in our Vancouver labs and will use novel mice models to study how OC responds to different treatment combinations. Patient partners with lived experience of OC will help guide the project.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: BC Cancer - Vancouver

Kamyar Keramatian


Evaluation of a manualized telehealth-based psychoeducation group for individuals at high risk for bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a psychiatric condition that affects about 2 percent of people in BC. Individuals with BD experience extreme changes in their mood, as well as their energy and ability to function. These changes, however, are frequently underreported and unrecognized — especially in youth — which can delay the diagnosis and treatment of BD by several years. Dr. Kamyar Keramatian is a psychiatrist at Vancouver Coastal Health and UBC. His research team, including people living with BD, have developed a virtual group-based educational program for youth at high risk for BD. This program aims to increase knowledge of BD, reduce self-stigma, improve help-seeking and enhance resilience in adolescents and young adults who are at high risk of developing BD. His research will explore the feasibility of implementing this new program throughout BC and how it can help young people with BD to be identified earlier and receive more timely care. By facilitating early identification and treatment of BD, his research can potentially reduce health-care costs and lead to more efficient access to care and service delivery for youth with BD across BC.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: UBC 

Partner(s): Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

Khaled Abdelrahman

(Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics)

The contribution of metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) to impaired control of brain blood flow in Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a major crisis and a huge burden on healthcare system. It causes a decrease in memory and affects women more than men. The memory decline in Alzheimer’s is linked to poor blood supply to the brain. The causes for poor supply are unknown but it starves brain cells of essential materials leading to improper function. I will study how a molecule present in the cells of the brain called metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) contributes to the poor blood supply to the brain and the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms. My group at UBC is interested in mGluR5 because it attaches to the “toxic molecules” commonly found in Alzheimer’s brain. I will use mice sick with Alzheimer’s and samples from Alzheimer’s patients to study how the attachment of the “toxic molecules” to mGluR5 can lead to the short supply of blood to the brain and memory loss. I will also study if the role of mGluR5 in Alzheimer’s is different between males and females. In addition, I will test if the drugs that act on mGluR5 can help Alzheimer’s patients by correcting blood supply to the brain and improving memory. I also will work with patient and community partners to help interpret and communicate my findings and guide future work.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: UBC Vancouver Campus

Michael Berger

(Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)

Improving motor prognosis after spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to devastating muscle paralysis. My research has shown that paralysis is due, not only to interruption of communication across the damaged spinal cord, but also because of damage to the nerves and muscles outside the spinal cord, which are equally as important in producing strength. This unrecognized damage may influence prognosis and how a patient responds to treatment. Unfortunately, we do not routinely test the health of these nerves and muscles. This makes it very challenging for doctors to provide patients with accurate information about prognosis and also for patients to make proper decisions about treatment options. My project will showcase the health of nerves and muscles after SCI, using a combination of routine clinical and special laboratory techniques. This information will lead to:

  1. Identification of those at risk of nerve and muscle damage.
  2. Routine assessment of nerve/muscle health in clinical practice.
  3. The development of a tool to help patients make informed decisions about treatment.

The project will be conducted by my team at GF Strong Hospital and with collaborators in three other Canadian centres.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD)

Partner: International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD)

Ren Yuan


Clinical applications and implementation of artificial intelligence in lung cancer: predicting treatment response in advanced disease and risk of malignancy in lung cancer screening

Treating advanced disease and early detection are two main challenges in lung cancer. More than half (~55 percent) of people with advanced disease are unlikely to respond to a simple standard treatment. We’ll use advanced computer-assisted analysis technology to assess a special form of x-ray — computer tomography (CT) imaging to identify people less likely to respond to usual care. This, in turn, will allow care teams to provide more appropriate care decisions. Lung cancer screening uses CT to monitor abnormalities in the lungs. Some people with “normal looking” lungs on CT may rapidly develop aggressive cancer before the next CT appointment. We will use advanced technology to assess the “normal looking” lung CT images to identify early cancer-related changes in the lung tissue that can not be seen by the human eye. This research will guide personalized care decisions and improve the survival of people with lung cancer in BC. Our multidisciplinary research team at BC Cancer Vancouver includes cancer care clinicians, scientists, and patients and families with lived or living experiences with lung cancer. We will ensure the needs and priorities of those most likely to be impacted by our research will be integrated throughout the research.

Host institution: BC Cancer

Research location: BC Cancer - Vancouver

Renelle Myers

(Respiratory Medicine)

Lung cancer detection using the lung microbiome and exhaled breath

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide. The number and proportion of lung cancers in people who have never smoked is projected to outpace active smokers in the next 25 years. Evidence indicates that outdoor air pollution, specifically one of its major components, particulate matter (PM 2.5), consisting of small particles measuring less than 2.5 microns in the air, is a major cause of lung cancer in never smokers. Chronic exposure to PM 2.5 can affect the layer of bacteria lining the lung (lung microbiome), changes in the lung microbiome referred to as dysbiosis have been shown to occur 10 years prior to a lung cancer diagnosis, signaling an increased risk for cancer. A promising, non-invasive tool to detect dysbiosis in the lung microbiome is studying the components of exhaled breath.


  1. Define the lung microbiome composition and function in people who never smoked, with and without lung cancer, including the effect of high levels of air pollution by direct bronchoscopic sampling.
  2. Use exhaled breath to detect early lung cancer in people who have never smoked based on the differences in the lung microbiome between cancer and non-cancer individuals.

Host institution: BC Cancer

Research location: BC Cancer - Vancouver

Partner(s): Lotte & John Hecht Memorial Foundation

Ricky Turgeon

(Pharmaceutical Sciences)

Integration of shared decision-making in heart failure pharmacotherapy

Around 375,000 Canadians live with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF). HFrEF worsens quality of life, and leads to hospitalizations and death. There is no cure for HFrEF, but it can be managed with medications. Many people with HFrEF are unaware of the medications available to treat HFrEF and do not receive the best medications for them. Decision aids are tools that can help inform patients about available treatment options so they can be better involved in shared decisions about their health. This study will be conducted at UBC and will recruit from five Canadian HF clinics. This study will help us better understand what matters most to people with HF when making decisions about their medications, and use this to develop an effective decision aid to support shared decision-making. To do this, we will conduct interviews of people with HF and their healthcare professionals. After this, we will ask people with HF to complete a special online survey called a discrete-choice experiment to understand what matters most to them, and by how much, when making decisions about their HF medications. Then, we will develop a web-based decision aid and test how it improves the quality of medication-related decisions and quality of life.

Host institution: UBC

Research location: Providence Health Care Heart Centre

Steven Reynolds

(Critial Care)

Phrenic nerve pacing to improve outcome in mechanically ventilated patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome

Our lungs normally work by the diaphragm contracting and pulling air into our lungs. The mechanical ventilator is an amazing invention that blows air into the lungs to inflate them. However, research has shown that this can cause lung, diaphragm, and brain injury. Recently, the intravenous catheter that is used in almost all ICU patients has been modified to have the ability to send a directed pulse of electricity across the blood vessel wall to activate the nerve that travels from the brain to the diaphragm, called the phrenic nerve. By sending a carefully directed electrical pulse, the diaphragm can be activated even in patients who are deeply sedated and critically ill. We have shown in a pig model that when this is used in conjunction with mechanical ventilation, it can protect the lung, diaphragm, and brain from injury. We propose studying patients who have low-oxygen levels and are acutely ill. Our team at Royal Columbian Hospital has extensive experience with this novel intervention and will be partnering with a multi-disciplinary team, including patient partners, to carry out this patient-oriented research. This work has the potential to improve patient outcomes and save the healthcare system valuable resources.

Host Institution: Fraser Health Authority

Research Location: BC Cancer - Vancouver

Partner: Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation

Anna McGuire


Tumour tissue biomarkers to guide personalized lung cancer treatment in British Columbia

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common cause of cancer death in BC and worldwide. In 2020, 29,300 Canadians were diagnosed with lung cancer and 21,000 died from it — more than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Patients amenable to surgery have the best prospect of cure, but often cancer returns and is lethal. Only 5 percent of patients benefit from chemotherapy after surgery. Return of cancer is caused by changes in the tumour genes and immune system. It is possible to predict these changes to identify patients who would benefit from targeted gene and immune therapies, but testing for tumour genes and immune biomarkers is not done in Stage I-III NSCLC in BC. We will use novel tests to understand how the immune system and tumour genes predict cancer recurrence after surgery. This will be led by thoracic surgeon Dr. Anna McGuire. Tumour gene analysis will be done at the BC Cancer Genomic Lab and immune system analysis will be led by Drs. MacAulay and Guillaud at the BCCRC. Our results will reveal which features predict cancer recurrence so patients who can benefit from targeted gene or immune therapies can be identified. This is first step to implementing this testing for NSCLC patient in BC to improve survival.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: BC Cancer Research Centre

Anshula Ambasta

(Anesthesia, Pharmacology and Therapeutics)

Re-purposing the ordering of ‘routine’ laboratory tests in hospitalized medical patients (RePORT)

Blood tests can help diagnose diseases and monitor health status. However, overuse of blood testing, particularly in hospitals, leads to patient discomfort, loss of sleep, contributes to blood loss leading to blood transfusions, and wastes health care dollars. We previously developed and tested a multi-part healthcare provider (HCP) engagement strategy to safely reduce overuse of six target laboratory tests that make up 40 percent of costs on laboratory testing in hospitalized medical patients. In collaboration with a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC), we have co-designed a patient engagement strategy that includes an infographic, video and website. Our team, made up of clinicians, researchers, patient partners and policy makers, proposes to launch the HCP and patient engagement strategies across 16 hospitals in British Columbia and 14 hospitals in Alberta in a cluster randomized stepped-wedge design. We will evaluate the impact of this strategy on number of laboratory tests done, patient experience, patient safety, costs and HCP experience, using administrative data systems and patient and HCP interviews. We will work with the PFAC to design implementation evaluation, particularly of the patient engagement strategy.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: UBC

Emily Brigham

(Respiratory Medicine)

FIRE-Diet: food as an intervention to reduce effects of woodsmoke exposure on respiratory health

Many people in BC are exposed to woodsmoke from woodburning stoves in their homes, controlled burning for farming purposes, and increasingly from wildfires. Exposure to woodsmoke can lead to difficulty breathing, lung disease, hospitalizations, and in some people who have underlying health conditions, even death. Children, whose lungs are actively developing, may be at heightened risk. We don’t yet fully understand how woodsmoke causes health effects nor how to reduce or prevent these effects in people who can’t avoid exposure. We want to find these answers, first by examining symptoms and changes in function and immune activity in the lung with exposure to woodsmoke. We will also study whether and how the impact of woodsmoke may differ by (1) age of exposure, including developmental windows in childhood, (2) female or male sex, and (3) genetic factors, so that we can design strategies to protect and help those with the greatest and most urgent need. Lastly, because of growing evidence that a healthier diet may help the body to protect itself from pollution, we will study whether a person’s diet changes the effects of woodsmoke on the lung. This work will be performed at UBC with partners across BC and Canada.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: UBC 

Faisal Khosa


Clinical impact of 24/7 on-site staff radiologist coverage at a level 1 trauma center in British Columbia

Background: Between 2019 and 2020, the total number of emergency department visits in BC was 1,640,067. On October 1, 2013, Vancouver General Hospital started a program where specialist doctors capable of reading X-ray, ultrasound and computed tomography were available in the hospital around the clock. The mission of this new program was to improve access to diagnostic tests and improve patient care.

Methods: A team of physicians, researchers, patients and community partners are collaborating on this research to assess the impact of this new model of service by comparing time it takes for patients to get diagnostic tests, time it takes for reporting these diagnostic tests, patient length of stay in emergency, and the overall cost of care. We will also study if there are any differences in care and outcomes based on sex and race of the patient. We will review consecutive 10 years of the emergency room and radiology department records.

Importance: Our research results will help us improve timely patient care, efficiency and conserve hospital resources. The results of our proposed research will provide an example for enhanced and culturally fitting patient care which can be applied to emergency department services throughout Canada.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: Providence Health Care

Jasmine Grewal


Bridging the gap: screening for fontan associated liver disease (FALD)

One in 3,000 children is born with one, instead of two, heart pumps, and as a result of a surgery called the “Fontan”, survive well into into adulthood. This surgery creates an artificial path that collects blood low in oxygen from the veins and sends to the lungs (instead of using a right heart pump) to pick up oxygen; leaving the single pump to send blood with oxygen to the body. We are learning these patients are developing many issues in adulthood including liver disease. The best way of identifying significant liver disease is through a liver biopsy, but it is not reasonable to perform biopsies regularly. We do not know the best way to easily identify and monitor liver disease in the Fontan population, yet this knowledge is critical to maintaining Fontan liver health, reducing co-morbidities ultimately benefiting our health care system. The first part of the study will be undertaken at St.Paul’s Hospital and Mazankowski Heart Center in Edmonton. We will perform a number of liver related blood tests/imaging to determine the best combination that identifies significant liver disease as diagnosed by liver biopsy. The second part will take place at five adult sites across Canada and will confirm our findings from the first part.

Host Institution: UBC

Research Location: St Paul's Hospital