CHILD-BRIGHT: Child Health Initiatives Limiting Disability — Brain Research Improving Growth and Health Trajectories – Phase 2

Health Research BC is providing match funds for Phase 2 of the Network, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) Networks in Chronic Disease.


Supported through CIHR’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research and 15 generous funding partners, CHILD-BRIGHT is a pan-Canadian patient-oriented research (POR) network that focuses on brighter futures for children with brain-based developmental disabilities (BDD) and their families.


Dr. Dan Goldowitz, Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics at UBC and senior scientist at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics at the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, is one of CHILD-BRIGHT’s three co-PIs, along with Drs. Steven Miller at UBC, and national PI Annette Majnemer at McGill University.


Our national Network of 350 researchers, clinicians, decision-makers, youth and parents have co-created a novel research program based on priorities identified by patient-partners and other stakeholders that incorporates new technologies and interventions to advance health practice and policy. In our initial phase (2016-22), thirteen projects focused on early intervention that promotes brain/child development, strategies that support mental health of children/families, and service delivery redesign that addresses gaps in service.


A major focus for our Network is moving research into action through insight, inclusivity and methods grounded in implementation science (IS) and knowledge mobilization (KM). In Phase 2 (2022-26), we will accelerate the uptake and use of the knowledge generated in Phase 1 to enhance child health and family well-being within BC and across Canada. Our goal is to become a movement for change by moving patients and families into research teams, moving research into practice and policy, and ultimately moving children and families forward to brighter futures.


Dr. Goldowitz is co-leading CHILD-BRIGHT’s Training and Capacity-building Program with implementation scientist Dr. Celia Laur from the University of Toronto. In concert with his UBC team, they will engage with relevant groups including patients and families, trainees, and researchers to build a comprehensive training program that will enhance core competencies in POR, KM, IS, and EDI.


In addition, a core Phase 2 project spearheaded by Drs. Hal Siden and Tim Oberlander will receive funding support.  “Pain and Irritability of Unknown Origin (PIUO): Implementing a Diagnostic Pain Pathway in Community Clinics” will translate the findings from Phase 1 into a readily available tool that can help community pediatricians systematically assess the potential root causes of pain and irritability in children with complex medical needs


Canadian Primary Care Research Network – Phase 2

Health Research BC is providing match funds for the BC Primary Health Care Research Network (BC-PHCRN) Phase 2, the BC node of the Canadian Primary Care Research Network (CPCRN), which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) Primary Care Network


The goal of the BC-PHCRN is to encourage, facilitate, and support collaborations between government, health authorities, health professionals, patients and researchers. The CPCRN and BC-PHCRN objectives include:

  • Expand PBRLNs by recruiting new primary care practices and providers  to include more electronic medical record data for research purposes,
  • Participate in CPCRN research and quality improvement projects and other projects as well,
  • Support development of a pan-Canadian primary health care information system that integrates electronic medical records with Patient Reported Experience Measures (PREMs) and Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs),
  • build a network of primary care researchers, patient partners, clinicians, decision-makers and trainees to facilitate communications and knowledge mobilization, and
  • build capacity in patient-oriented primary care research in BC and beyond.

In British Columbia, the network is participating in both funded and non-funded research projects. Funded projects include:

  • OECD PaRIS to measure the outcomes and experiences of health care that matter most to people,
  • SPIDER to deprescribe potentially inappropriate prescriptions among elderly living with chronic conditions, and
  • Choosing Wisely antibiotic prescribing to provide CPCSSN providers with portrait detailing their antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract infections.

Non-funded projects include:

  • Evaluation of ICD-11 and ICPC-3 codes to build evidence for updating Canada’s Disease Classification Systems in primary care, and
  • Team-based care to understand functioning of teams in primary care.

The Nominated Principal Investigator of BC-PHCRN is Dr. Rubee Dev. Dr. Dev is an Assistant Professor in the UBC School of Nursing & Associate Faculty in the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, University of British Columbia, with research foci in global health and primary health care nursing. Dr. Dev leads the BC PHCRN along with Dr. Nathaniel Hawkins who is also Director of Research and Associate Professor at the UBC Division of Cardiology.

Canadians Seeking Solutions and Innovations to Overcome Chronic Kidney Disease (Can-SOLVE CKD) Network – Phase 2

Health Research BC is providing match funds for Phase 2 of the Network, which is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) Networks in Chronic Disease


The Can-SOLVE CKD Network is Canada’s largest-ever kidney research initiative. This national partnership of patients, researchers, health care providers, and policy-makers is working to transform treatment and care for Canadians affected by chronic kidney disease.

The network coordinates and conducts innovative research using a patient-oriented approach. During Phase 1 (2016-2023), 18 research teams developed projects seeking to diagnose kidney disease earlier, discover better treatments, and deliver innovative patient-centred care. These projects took many forms: treatment and education interventions, e-health decision aids, and clinical trials testing new therapies.


For Phase 2 (2022-2027), the focus shifts to mobilizing these innovations and implementing them into health care policy and practice on a national scale. The goal is to apply this knowledge to clinical practice in order to improve patient care. Can-SOLVE CKD Phase 2 also aims to change the culture of kidney research by strengthening Indigenous cultural competency and equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in health research.


Patients have been central to these accomplishments. The network’s Patient Governance Circle has enabled a system in which all research activities are developed collaboratively by patient partners, researchers, and other key stakeholders.


In British Columbia, the network is delivering the Kidney Check program. This initiative brings point-of-care screening for chronic kidney disease and its risk factors to rural and remote First Nations communities. Mobile screening technology, including a custom-built iPad app, enables real-time result sharing and the creation of personalized treatment plans. The goal is to support early detection of kidney problems and ensure timely follow-up care. With appropriate treatment, fewer individuals will suffer from kidney failure requiring dialysis, resulting in better health for communities and lower costs for our health care system.


The Named Principal Investigator of Can-SOLVE CKD is Dr. Adeera Levin. Dr. Levin is the former president of the International Society of Nephrology and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2015 for her work’s impact on those living with chronic kidney disease. As Senior Medical Lead, Integration Clinical and Academic Networks at Providence Health Care, Dr. Levin has played an important role in facilitating implementation and impacting policy in British Columbia.

A Chemogenomic Platform for Identifying Orphan Glyco-immune Checkpoints

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by GlycoNet’s Collaborative Team Grant.


This Canada-wide project is a collaboration between Prof. Landon Edgar (University of Toronto, lead PI) and Prof. Simon Wisnovsky (UBC). Both PIs research the ways in which cellular sugar molecules control the activity of immune cells. All of the cells in our body are coated with different types of sugar molecules. Cells in our immune system have ways of “tasting” these sugars. Some types of sugars taste good to our immune system, signaling that our cells are healthy and that everything is normal. Other sugars (like those attached to invading bacteria, viruses or cancer cells) taste bad to our immune cells, triggering them to activate and try to protect us from disease. Sometimes our cells can become altered in ways that lead them to produce different or abnormal types of sugar molecules on their surface. When this happens, it can lead our immune cells to either overlook unhealthy cells (in the case of cancer) or inappropriately attack healthy cells (in the case of autoimmune diseases). Understanding the details of how this happens can help us develop new drugs to treat such diseases. We face the problem, however, that these cellular sugar molecules are not like the sugar that we eat. Cellular sugars are notoriously chemically complex, making it difficult to predict exactly how specific types of sugar molecules will affect our immune system. This proposal attempts to solve this problem by using advanced genetic techniques to better understand the ways in which immune cells interact with cell-surface sugars. The goal of the project is to identify specific proteins that bind to cancer-associated sugars whose activity can then be blocked for therapeutic purposes.

End of Award Update – April 2024


With our genome-wide CRISPR screening approach, we have identified several novel immune receptors that bind tumor associated carbohydrate antigens. We are currently seeking to validate these receptors as targets in immune oncology assays.


Impact & Potential Influence:

There is an urgent need to uncover novel targets for cancer immunotherapy. Our work has uncovered several tractable immune receptors that may be excellent targets for the development of novel immune checkpoint inhibitor therapeutics. In the long-run, our work lays the foundation for the development of broad-spectrum immunotherapies for a range of different cancer subtypes.


Next steps:

We are currently putting a grant application together to get this project funded in the longer term by the Cancer Research Society. We hope to publish a small methods-focused paper on this research in the coming year.

Dissecting regulation of the CD44-hyaluronan axis in cancer metastasis

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by GlycoNet’s Collaborative Team Grant. Additional funding is provided by the Cancer Research Society. 


This BC-based research project is a collaboration between UBC cancer researchers Prof. Simon Wisnovsky (lead-PI), Prof. Pauline Johnson and Prof. Cal Roskelley. The research of all three Principal Investigators focuses on defining ways that cellular carbohydrates can act as drivers of cancer progression. The majority of deaths due to cancer occur as a result of cancer spread (called metastasis). Thus, it is important to identify molecules that drive metastasis, in order to develop targeted therapies to limit cancer spread. Here, we will determine how one widely expressed cell surface molecule, CD44, drives metastasis and we will identify novel cellular factors that regulate this process. To do this, we will use mouse models of melanoma and breast cancer metastasis, where cancer cells spread to the lung. We will use cancer cells expressing particular forms of CD44, or mutated forms of CD44, and test whether the interaction of CD44 with a long sugar molecule (called hyaluronan or HA) promotes metastasis. We will also determine if one variant of CD44, CD44v6, drives melanoma metastasis. We will then use these mouse models to determine at which stage CD44-HA interactions and CD44v6 affect the metastatic process: migration, survival, or growth in the lung. Next, we will use two innovative high throughput screening approaches (siRNA and Crispr-Cas9) to identify genes that regulate CD44 binding to HA and CD44v6 expression in cancer cells. Putative regulatory genes will be validated, then cancer cells with these genes deleted will be tested in our mouse models of metastasis. Our goal is to identify new proteins that regulate CD44 functions and reduce metastasis. These proteins will provide new targets for intervention and the development of novel anti-metastatic therapies to help cancer patients both in BC and internationally.

End of Award Update – April 2024



In this project, we used advanced genetic techniques to identify genes that drive metastasis in breast cancer. We have uncovered a number of exciting potential targets that could be candidates for the development of anti-metastasis therapeutics.


Impact & Potential Influence:

Our results have significant translational potential, and we are excited to expand our research to validate hit genes from our studies as potential drug targets.


Next steps:

With the foundational data produced with this study, we have applied for funding from the Canadian Cancer Society and are also preparing a CIHR Project Grant application to fund this project long-term. Our goal is to systematically evaluate a set of novel hit genes as regulators of cancer metastasis using preclinical models, with the ultimate long-term goal of developing new therapeutics that can inhibit cancer metastasis.

Clinical Trial for Montbretin A (MbA) in Diabetics

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by GlycoNet’s Translational Grant


This fully B.C.-based project will undertake a Phase 1 human clinical trial of a promising natural product from plants, Montbretin A (MbA), for control of blood glucose levels in diabetics. The team comprises a chemist (Stephen Withers), a clinician (Robert Petrella), a plant biochemist (Joerg Bohlmann) and a biochemist/coordinator (J.P. Heale). Earlier B.C. work identified MbA as a potent inhibitor of amylase, the principal human enzyme that degrades starch in our guts leading to glucose release into the bloodstream. Subsequent studies in diabetic rats confirmed that orally administered MbA lowers blood glucose levels and is safe, even at very high dosages. On this basis Health Canada approved a Phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate the safety of MbA in humans. This funding will allow us to carry out that trial in a side-by-side evaluation with the drug acarbose that is currently used but causes unpleasant side effects. Due to its different mode of action of MbA should be better tolerated yet highly active.


Key words: diabetes, obesity, blood glucose, amylase, inhibitor

Breaking Barriers: Empowering Primary Care Providers to be Instigators of Change in Hearing Health Care Practice

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by the Vancouver Foundation’s Participatory Action Research Investigate Grant


Up to 65% of adults in British Columbia (BC) aged 60+ will develop hearing loss. Fewer than one-quarter of these adults use hearing health care, with most delaying treatment 7 to 10 years on average. Untreated hearing loss affects health-related quality of life with links to social isolation, depression, greater risk of falls, and reduced financial security. For adults with concerns about their hearing, primary care providers (PCPs) are often a first point of contact for help seeking, and yet for reasons that remain unclear, PCP referrals to hearing health care are inconsistently and infrequently practiced. This problem was identified as a top priority through focus groups conducted in 2020. These graphics illustrate the focus group discussions that led to the development of this research question.


We will use a community-based approach to identify reasons for lack of referral and develop strategies that empower primary care providers to be key instigators for increased, timely uptake of hearing health care by individuals with hearing concerns.


The research team, all based in BC, is led by Lorienne Jenstad, PhD, an audiologist and associate professor at the University of British Columbia; Brenda Poon, PhD, the research program lead at the Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility; and Ruth Warick, PhD, president of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, Vancouver Branch. The team works closely with other individuals who have lived experience of hearing loss, physicians, nurses, clinical audiologists, and community organizations.


Ultimately we hope that primary care providers and the general public will have better recognition of the importance of hearing health and better understanding of the process to receive hearing health services, leading to timely uptake of hearing health care by individuals with hearing concerns and the potential to improve long-term health outcomes.

Mental health needs and technological interventions for social connectedness amongst older adults

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connection Grant


Older adults are one of the most at-risk groups in the COVID-19 pandemic, both to the negative effects of the virus and on their social connections. In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, social distancing and stay-at-home orders have been put in place. As a result of these steps, places that older adults go to socialize, for example seniors’ community centres, have been forced to close. The aim of this project is to work with a not-for-profit community centre, the West End Seniors Network (WESN), to disseminate the finding from a project where we examined the social connectedness of seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mission of WESN is to enhance the quality of life of older adults by providing social, recreational, educational and supportive programs and services that foster connection and inclusion in the broader community. WESN is the second-largest independent seniors’ centre in Vancouver with over 900 active members; however, due to COVID-19 WESN was forced to close its doors. Through this project we will work with WESN staff and community members to disseminate ways that we can develop stronger social connections. Through interviews with staff, community members, and older adults, we identified what worked, and what did not work to better seniors COVID-19 experience. We will use this information to inform policy-makers, other community centres, and older adults of the ways that we can improve social connections during the pandemic. Through this project we can use the lessons learned and relationships built in this project in larger programs and with more partners.

Digital interventions to improve social connectedness and mental wellbeing of vulnerable older adults during COVID-19 and beyond

Indira Riadi, as a PhD candidate and student lead under the supervision of Dr. Theodore Cosco, is being co-funded by Health Research BC and Mitacs as part of a studentship program led by Mental Health Research Canada in partnership with the Mitacs Accelerate program, designed to develop the brightest Master’s students conducting research in mental health.


During her internship, Indira will work with the West End Seniors Network, Vancouver’s second largest not-for-profit seniors centre, to identify ways to improve the social lives and mental wellbeing of ethnic and gender/sexual minority seniors during COVID-19 and beyond. This project hopes to explore the mental health priorities of these populations, investigate what has been done (with specific emphasis on digital interventions), and identify successful and unsuccessful interventions to help raise social connectedness and alleviate mental distress among marginalized older adults in Vancouver.

Adapting breath/air communications to rural, remote and Indigenous ways of living

Health Research BC is providing match funds for this research project, which is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connection Grant


Breathing is living. In recent years, policies that impact lung health and air quality have led people to change how they go about daily life. Traditionally, these policies are crafted by experts and specialists, with little input from the public. More effective policies could be developed by enhancing public participation and collaboration in the policy process. The overarching goal of our work is to improve the sharing and exchange of information about lung health policies with people living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.


This study uses design methods to adapt lung health policy communications for rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. The connections we create will be facilitated by two streams of outreach activities:


Stream 1 — AIRWISE-CONNECT — creates a community advisory group with Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in northern British Columbia. This group will meet four times over a year to participate in a human-centred design process and interactive group meetings. During these meetings, we will adapt a previously developed website:


Stream 2 — AIRWISE-VISION — develops a working relationship with the Witset First Nation Band Council and community members to better inform policies and practice. We will draw on the Design Justice method to create new breath/air policy communications that honour the traditional knowledge and practices in Witset.


The principal investigator, Sonya Cressman, a health economist at Simon Fraser University and the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Evaluation, will lead the study with co-Investigators: Brian Fisher and Dawn Hoogeveen at SFU and collaborators: Renelle Myers (BC Cancer), Anthony Noonan (Executive Director, Witset First Nation), Anne- Marie Nicol (SFU), and Chris Carlsten (Legacy for Airway Health).