2020 Excellence Awards

Award winners and project summaries

As part of the 17th annual Sante Awards, six researchers and teams were presented with Excellence Awards. These awards recognize the top-ranked applications from researchers and teams in the past year’s funding competitions. All applications to SHRF’s funding competitions are ranked according to our rigorous peer review process by committees of active researchers and health professionals.


Dr. Walter Siqueira College of Dentistry, University of Saskatchewan

Top Establishment Grant: Biomedical


Project Title: An innovative chair-side diagnostic method for detection of periodontal disease activity based on histatin 5 degradation rate


Project Summary: Periodontitis is one of the most common chronic diseases in Canada. 21% of Canadians have periodontal disease, while 43% of the First Nations population show signs of periodontitis. Current detection methods indicatives only disease history, not of the current disease activity nor the risk for an individual to have periodontitis in the future. There is an urgent need to develop a novel method to diagnose periodontitis based on the activity of the disease, assisting the clinician with the decision-making process to propose a patient-oriented management plan. Our preliminary data showed that the kinetic degradation of histatin-5 differ between healthy and periodontitis groups, suggesting that the evaluation of the histatin-5 degradation rate may serve as a tool to detect disease activity.

Herein, we hypothesize that the degradation rate and mode of histatin-5 in saliva may be used as a novel approach to diagnosing periodontitis.


This proposal aims to exploit the use of saliva for the diagnosis of periodontal disease stages by addressing the degradation rate and mode of histatin-5 by using proteome and microbiome technologies.


The scope of this study is to gain insights into salivary enzymes activity and specificity on histatin-5, and to comprehensively characterize the proteome and microbiome in periodontal health/disease. These are the first steps in developing a diagnostic method for identifying active periodontitis. The expected short- and long-term outcomes are assisting clinicians during the decision-making process to propose a patient-oriented management plan for their periodontal disease, improving oral health by reducing the burden of this chronic condition.



Dr. Sarah Donkers College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Top Establishment Grant: Socio-Health


Project Title: Building towards a neurorecovery model of care for multiple sclerosis physical rehabilitation in Saskatchewan


Project Summary: Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic neurological disease that places a high burden on patients, families and society. The landscape of MS is changing with physical rehabilitation increasingly recognized as a critical aspect of disease management. People with MS are living longer and newer more effective disease modifying drug treatments are increasingly becoming available. Despite these advancements in pharmacological treatment for MS and increased survival, MS remains a progressive disease resulting in loss of function, independence and quality of life. Physical rehabilitation in MS is associated with improved function, symptoms, and quality of life, fewer relapses, and fewer brain lesions on MRI. There is an urgent need to improve access to physical rehabilitation in order to optimize recovery and minimize the impact of disease progression. Saskatchewan has the highest rate of MS worldwide, yet no MS specific rehabilitation services. Individuals with MS have identified limited access to professionals knowledgeable about MS and evidence based physical rehabilitation recommendations for MS. Identifying effective methods of delivering physical rehabilitation interventions for people with MS in Saskatchewan is necessary. The purpose of this project is to inform, develop and evaluate a comprehensive MS rehabilitation model of care in Saskatchewan, which supports delivery of services promoting recovery of function and improved quality of life for those affected by MS. This project will combine current evidence with a participatory health research approach to designing the physical rehabilitation intervention to maximize sustainable change at the health care systems level, and to advance MS rehabilitation innovation in Saskatchewan.



Drs. Yuliang Wu and John DeCoteau College of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan and team

Top Collaborative Innovation Development Grant: Biomedical


Project Title: Molecular Pathogenesis and Targeting of DDX41 in MDS/AML Molecular Pathogenesis and Targeting of DDX41 in MDS/AML


Project Summary: Myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) is characterized by bone marrow that cannot make enough healthy mature blood cells. About 30% of MDS patients progress to acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive and fatal blood cancer. MDS and AML typically occur in the ageing population; however, they can also occur in younger individuals due to inherited mutations. Approximately 3,850 and 1,416 Canadians of all ages were diagnosed with MDS and AML, respectively, and 2,900 died from leukemia (Canadian Cancer Society Statistics 2016). The mainstays of MDS/AML treatment are chemotherapy with azacytidine and cytarabine, which have been in use for more than 40 years. Despite their clinical utility, these drugs suffer from considerable toxicity and the long-term results are disappointing. Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop better therapies for MDS/AML.


Recently, germline and somatic mutations in the DEAD-box helicase 41 gene (DDX41) were identified in patients with MDS and AML and are thought to contribute to disease pathogenesis. Both germline and somatic DDX41 mutations are believed to promote hematopoietic deregulation and leukemogenesis. Although a strong clinical correlation is found between mutations in DDX41 and MDS/AML, the molecular pathogenesis of DDX41 has not been elucidated and drugs targeting DDX41 have not been developed. The goal of this project is to understand the origin of disease-causing DDX41 mutations and identify drugs targeting DDX41, with the aim of specifically killing leukemia cells. Thus, our work will be helpful for genetic counseling, early detection, and treatment, including donor selection for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation of MDS/AML.



Dr. Paulette Hunter St. Thomas More

Top Collaborative Innovation Development Grant: Socio-Health


Project Title: Using video-assisted patient education to support discussions about palliative care in long- term care


Project Summary: Currently, the average life expectancy of long-term care (LTC) residents is about 18 months from the time of admission, yet there is no strong focus on palliative care in most LTC homes. For example, family members report a lack of communication about end of life care, while health care providers report discomfort addressing this sensitive topic. The objective of this project is to address these communication gaps by co-creating – with direct input from family members – an educational video to address a specific knowledge need about the end of life in long-term care. Depending on family input, this video might address questions such as “is dementia a terminal illness?”, or “what is the likely trajectory of illness for someone who is frail, and has multiple chronic health conditions?”, or “what kinds of changes can I expect as my loved one nears the end of life?” During the project, we will: (1) seek input from family members; (2) develop a brief educational video based on this input; (3) assess the feasibility and acceptability of the video from health provider and family perspectives; and (4) examine whether the video has potential to influence knowledge and readiness for discussions about end of life care. Overall, this project seeks a practical solution to improve communication between health care providers, residents, and families about end of life issues and care.



Dr. Bhanu Prasad Saskatchewan Health Authority

Top Collaborative Innovation Development Grant: Clinical


Project Title: Feasibility study of a randomized controlled trial investigating renal denervation as a possible treatment option in patients with Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome

Project Summary: Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome (LPHS) is a rare poorly understood clinical condition characterized by severe loin pain localized to the kidney but in the absence of identifiable urinary tract disease. There is no consensus on validated diagnostic criteria or optimal treatment strategies for LPHS. The disease imposes a significant health and economic impact in terms of loss of productivity and quality of life in a young population as they are shuffled between numerous health care providers in search of a diagnosis. Pain management is the prime mode of therapy for patients with LPHS, which embrace variety of different components including narcotics, nerve blocks and surgical intervention. However these interventions have been associated with varied outcomes and/or complications.

Minimally invasive treatment options are needed for LPHS patients. Catheter-based radiofrequency nerve ablation is a minimally invasive alternative to opiate therapy, auto-transplantation and nephrectomy. Recent case reports and small case series from our group and others have shown renal denervation to be a potent therapeutic option for patients with LPHS. However, these previous studies were limited, as they lacked a control group. To determine whether catheter-based renal denervation is a meaningful addition to the treatment options in LPHS patients a randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial is needed. Prior to conducting a definitive trial that focuses on patient outcomes, ensuring the feasibility of undertaking such a trial is required. As such, we propose a single-centre randomized control feasibility trial designed to determine viability and provide framework and direction for a larger trial. 



Drs. Marta Erlandson and Corey Tomczak College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, and Dr. Kristi Wright Faculty of Arts, University of Regina

Top Sprout Grant Funded in partnership with Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR)


Project Title: Inventing Chronic Disease Management for Children with Congenital Heart Disease


Project Summary: Congenital heart disease is among the world’s leading birth abnormalities. Approximately 2,500 Saskatchewan children are affected by congenital heart disease. Improvements in detection and treatment mean more of these children will have longer lifespans. Despite the promising improvement in the length of their life, children with congenital heart disease are alarmingly inactive and face a number of short-term and long-term health challenges. They have higher rates of obesity, lower levels of physical fitness, and experience mental health concerns such as anxiety, uncertainty, and depression. This combination of physical and mental health concerns puts children with congenital heart disease at greater risk of adult cardiovascular diseases. Adults with different heart conditions habitually participate in rehabilitation programs. There are currently no such rehabilitation programs anywhere in Canada for children with heart conditions. Parents of children with congenital heart disease have identified the absence of this type of programming as an urgent need for their children. Numerous parents in Saskatchewan are now part of our team with researchers in kinesiology and psychology, pediatric cardiologists, and decision makers in chronic disease programming to address this glaring gap in health services for children with congenital heart disease. This study tests the effectiveness of an innovative 6-month chronic disease management program for children with congenital heart disease. Our program will focus on physical activity, lifestyle behaviour changes, and mental well-being. A total of 90 children between the ages of 7-17 years will take part. Thirty children with congenital heart disease will participate in the program immediately. Thirty additional children with congenital heart disease will have a delayed start and begin the program six months later. Thirty healthy children will only complete study measures to account for natural growth and maturation changes that might be occurring during the study period. Before and after the six-month program, a combination of clinical tests and questionnaires will measure body composition, physical activity, physical fitness, and mental health of all participants. Children and parents in the program will also complete questionnaires and have group discussions about their satisfaction with the program and any suggestions for improvement. Our project was sparked by a heart parent and engages parents and patients as full and valued team members throughout all parts of the research. It is the first study to launch a longer-term, comprehensive rehabilitation program for children with congenital heart disease. The new knowledge gained through this study will bring Saskatchewan one step closer to solving the major health care disparity experienced by this underserviced and vulnerable patient group.


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