Ontario researchers take aim at costly diseases with stem cell therapies

TORONTO, May 25, 2017 – Ontario researchers will continue to be global leaders in the development of stem-cell based therapies thanks to $3.6 million in grants from the Ontario Institute of Regenerative Medicine (OIRM). The grants, supported through funding from the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science, were announced at OIRM’s annual symposium today.

The funding will support 14 research projects being led at seven research institutions and hospitals in Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton. More than $3 million is earmarked for five OIRM Disease Team projects, which focus on treating conditions that drive large costs to the healthcare system, as well as forging global opportunities for improved outcomes based on stem cell science.

“Ontario is fortunate to be home to some of the world’s top researchers and institutions working in regenerative medicine,” says Duncan Stewart, OIRM president and scientific director. “These grants will support significant advances in creating innovative treatments for such debilitating illnesses and injuries as heart attacks, septic shock, damaged white matter in the brain and more. Beyond efficacy, our goal is to also make these treatments cost-effective, and therefore widely accessible through Ontario’s health system.”

At the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, a research team led by Dr. Bernard Thébaud is developing new cell treatments for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a severe, chronic lung disease that often develops following ventilator and oxygen treatment in extremely premature babies. In preparation for a phase I human clinical trial, the team will test the regenerative potential of cells taken from umbilical cords, and evaluate the treatment’s economic benefits, social acceptance and future patient eligibility criteria.   

“Babies with BPD face extreme challenges very early in life and the potential benefits from a stem cell therapy in their early and long-term development would ensure they gain more of the advantages that full-term babies take for granted,” notes Dr. Thébaud, who is also a professor at the University of Ottawa. “The type of support provided by OIRM and the Ontario government allows this research to move forward, so we can one day make these therapies a reality.”

The balance of the OIRM funding will support seven discovery level projects and two post-doctoral fellowships in areas such as diabetes, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, autism spectrum disorder and osteoporosis. A complete list and summaries of funded projects can be found at http://oirm.ca/oirm-research/current-research.

“We are excited about the possibilities for stem cell research to improve the health of Ontarians, while advancing scientific excellence and opening up new avenues for economic growth,” says Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Every person in Ontario stands to benefit from this research, and I applaud all of the researchers for their great work.”