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Aligning research for Saskatchewan health challenges: Align Grant results

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

Research leads to better health care, healthier communities and brighter futures. As a small but mighty province, Saskatchewan is uniquely positioned to respond to local health challenges with some of the most advanced health research technologies, infrastructure and expertise.

The Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) Align Grant provides funding for activities that align research with the needs of Saskatchewan and enables the development and engagement of robust interdisciplinary research teams, including members outside academia, to help ensure research is serving those that will benefit from it.

SHRF is investing $115,000 in 13 projects working with a variety of community organizations, healthcare providers and patients in a wide range of fields. This investment is in addition to the $24,000 announced in August (further details found here).


A team led by Mohamad Baydoun (University of Regina Faculty of Nursing) and Natasha Hubbard Murdoch (Saskatchewan Polytechnic), including members from the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and Tisdale Hospital, will interview people with cancer in rural Saskatchewan about their experiences accessing medical, psychological and social care services. Rural cancer patients can face unique healthcare journeys, which can include additional burden of travelling for care and relying on general practitioners to provide follow-up oncology care. Through understanding these challenges from the perspective of the patients, strategies for high-quality and comprehensive cancer care for all Saskatchewanians, no matter where they live, can be achieved.

Tisdale Hospital (Image: Kelsey Trail Health Region)

Dr. Shelley Peacock

Shelley Peacock (University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing) is leading a collaboration of researchers from Scotland, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba to co-produce the first dementia care education program for Canadian healthcare professionals working in acute care. People living with dementia have a higher risk for other health issues leading to higher rates of emergency hospitalization. A person with dementia may be disoriented, have difficulties communicating, and experience heightened distress due to the unfamiliar environment within the high-pressure, fast-paced acute care setting. Additionally, healthcare professionals in acute care may not have the specific training in dementia care, leaving them uncertain how to meet the needs of the patient. The Canadian Dementia Champions Program could provide this training and improve the quality of the hospital care for people living with dementia and their families in Saskatchewan.


Dr. Brian Eames. (Image: University of Saskatchewan and CIHR)

Brian Eames (University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology) and local orthopedic surgeons and rheumatologists are working together to develop new therapies for osteoarthritis. In the Eames lab, they are able to model human cartilage development using zebrafish. Through this model, Eames' team can mimic changes that occur in osteoarthritis in humans. Samples from osteoarthritis patients undergoing surgery will be compared to the zebrafish model and guide the development of new therapies that could provide an alternative to surgical treatment of osteoarthritis. Further collaboration with clinical healthcare providers will support the feasibility of the proposed therapeutic approach for patients and first steps towards preclinical work.


Information about applying for the Align Grant can be found at The next application deadline is December 6, 2022.


Funding Recipients

Mohamad Baydoun, Natasha Hubbard Murdoch | University of Regina and Saskatchewan Polytechnic | $9,893

Exploring cancer patients' experiences accessing medical, psychological and social care services in rural Saskatchewan

Individuals with cancer living in rural communities may experience difficulties related to availability and accessibility of healthcare services. In Saskatchewan, there is limited understanding of the needs of rural cancer patients with regards to accessing medical, psychological and social care services. Participants will provide informed consent before taking part in the study. Telephone or Zoom videoconference interviews of approximately 60 minutes will be conducted by a trained member of the research team and later analyzed. By conducting this research, we will understand the challenges related to accessibility of care services experienced by individuals with cancer in rural Saskatchewan. We will work closely with cancer patients and their family and healthcare professionals and administrators to address the needs of people with cancer residing in rural Saskatchewan and improve their access to cancer care.

Ramona Kyabaggu, Shauna Davies | University of Regina | $10,000

An Early Health Technology Assessment (eHTA) Stakeholder Dialogue to Accelerate Research, Development, and Commercialization of Virtual Reality for Paramedic Occupational Assessment in Saskatchewan

There is a paramedic shortage in Saskatchewan. The Government of Saskatchewan has earmarked $10.8 million within its 2022-23 provincial budget to fill more Emergency Medical Services positions, mainly in rural and remote areas, yet several barriers to licensure limit workforce supply. Paramedic assessments are limited to on-site evaluation, posing undue burden and financial risk to applicants, most especially in foreign-trained applicants. Community paramedics who deliver short-term care for low-acuity illnesses in the community alleviate pressure on ER wait times and hospital beds but constitute less than 1% of all licensed practicing paramedics in Saskatchewan.
The sense of urgency due to COVID-19 to fill these supply gaps has opened unprecedented policy window for expedited innovation and regulatory change in the way of virtual technology for education and licensure. One promising innovation is virtual reality simulation. Our team developed hi-fidelity virtual reality simulations that assess users on 70% of the competencies required for entry to practice. However, virtual reality use in regulation is a relatively new concept that deserves exploration. The proposed activity is intended to explore the research, development and commercialization of our prototype, as well as translation among stakeholders with various interests or capacity for its adoption. Our activity addresses a common concern about health technology assessment being performed too late in a product's development process to enable stakeholders to give guidance about how innovations ought to be designed, tested, implemented and sustained to mitigate risks and maximize benefits.

Holly Bardutz | University of Regina | $7,000

Effects of a brain health class on brain and heart function in the aging population

Brain Health and Fitness Classes have been taught for several years in the Regina area. Participants take what they learn in the class and adopt it into their lifestyle and daily habits. To observe the influence of these classes on human function, we will recruit participants who are on the wait list for the class. Participants will wear a cap-like on their head that measures how much oxygen different regions of the brain are carrying, and assessment of heart and sleep function will also be completed. The proposed activities will increase research relevance on to the stakeholders such as those with lived experiences and community-based organizations and groups (such as the Saskatchewan Brain Injury Association), increase quality and success of Saskatchewan applications to peer-review funding competitions, and support the development of Saskatchewan research and health professional trainees. Our goals include gathering data on the effectiveness of the Brain Health and Fitness classes and its influence on changes in cerebral cortical activity by aligning our research plans to the Saskatchewan context as we are working with the aging Saskatchewan population. We will also engage stakeholders and partners to see how these classes can help to inform research knowledge users about the potential application of these activities for their cliental.

Laurie Clune | University of Regina | $10,000

Creating a path out of Hidden Homelessness: A Saskatchewan Symposium

In 2019 community researchers in Regina joined to examining the experiences of people experiencing hidden homeless. The term, hidden homeless, is used to describe people who have access accommodation but no immediate prospect of permanent or stable housing described as the hidden homeless or those who couch surfer. In our study we found people: Slept in screened in porches, garages, closets, or bicycle storage lockers; Felt unsafe due to domestic violence, gang extortion, drugs and a housing in disrepair; Suffering from gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin conditions as a result of mould lice, bedbug and overcrowded housing conditions; Food security issues were evident causing mothers to often go without food in order to feed their children; A large number of people identifying as hidden homeless were youth and women with children
To open dialogue between experiencing hidden homelessness, community members, social service providers, and researchers we will hold a Community feast and Saskatchewan Symposium on Hidden Homelessness in Saskatchewan. The event will happen at the mâmawêyatitân centre in Regina. Zoom technology will be used to support virtual attendance of people across our province. At the event we will seek guidance and direction from people living in Hidden Homelessness, community members, and stakeholders on ways to create a pathway out of Hidden Homelessness through new community programs and future research initiatives to be used in Saskatchewan.

Stacey Lovo, Randy Morin, TJ Roy, Sally Sewap, Jaris Swidrovich, Leona Janvier, Hailey Brown, Kendra Usunier | University of Saskatchewan | $9,912

Collaborating with Indigenous Communities in the Development of Indigenous Language Rehabilitation Materials for the Management of Chronic Back Pain

This team-based project is founded on previous collaborative work, and will facilitate ongoing relationship building and teamwork to develop Indigenous language educational materials for the management of chronic back pain. The team includes health researchers and Indigenous Faculty members, a health science research trainee, and 4 Indigenous community members (including an Elder and a Knowledge Keeper). We will expand upon a Th-dialect Cree back pain educational brochure that has been produced with the community of Pelican Narrows and has recently been translated into Y-dialect Cree, Dene and Michif by Indigenous language experts. Community members have directed that audiovisual material in Indigenous languages for the management of back pain would facilitate learning and uptake of this information in communities. This engagement will ensure an Indigenous community-directed approach to the creation of knowledge sharing materials on the management of chronic back pain in Saskatchewan.

Larissa Kiesman, Katelyn Roberts | University of Saskatchewan and Sanctum Care Group 1.5 | $9,960

One Roof: Point of Care Collaborative

Despite best efforts and community investments, certain key social and health outcomes and community wellness indicators within the core neighborhoods of Saskatoon have yet to improve. The greatest challenge to serve this complex population is the need for coordinated and integrated service delivery across diverse agencies and organizations to better meet the health needs of this community. Located in the core neighborhood, One Roof: Points of Care Collaborative (‘One Roof’) is envisioned as a multi-disciplinary inter-agency primary health and harm reduction collaboration and community hub care facility. This SHRF Align grant will support the cost of facilitating ongoing conversations among existing partners committed to the 'One Roof' initiative, conduct community assessments, and develop a planning document and business plan to seek the support of other agencies and funders. The ultimate resolution of the ‘One Roof’ initiative is to provide a one-stop, integrated health center for the core neighborhood in Saskatoon in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders and service providers.

Gary Groot, Pamela Meiers | University of Saskatchewan | $9,896

Exploring Priorities for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors in Saskatchewan

Breast cancer is the 2nd most common form of cancer in Canada, with 760 women in Saskatchewan estimated to be diagnosed in 2022. The Breast Health Collective is a newly formed group bringing together the expertise of academic research, clinicians and patients with lived experience. The first activity of this group is to establish a priority list for breast cancer research. We will address the objective by utilizing a multi-step patient oriented design including a literature review and a modified priority setting partnership method, adapted from the James Lind Alliance method. Priorities will be explored through focus groups with patients, survivors, caregivers and stakeholders. This project will culminate in a forum with a subset of focus group participants in which priorities will be ranked into a "Top 10" list, and by extension, co-development of several research questions. The "Top 10" list and research questions generated from this project will be used to drive the future of the Breast Health Collective in a way that is meaningful to patients in Saskatchewan.

Roslyn Compton, Mariana Ribeiro | University of Saskatchewan | $10,000

Connecting, sharing and caring to build interprofessional relationships between health care workers caring with older adults

Interprofessional connections can help to maximize the quality of care and quality of life experienced by older adults, close ones, and staff. This project will use emails and social media to help healthcare workers to connect, build relationships and increase their skills in caring with older adults. Healthcare workers will receive microlearning opportunities through email and social media. They will be asked to rate their understanding and awareness related to communication, team building, personal development, and relational care. Virtual meet-and-greet events will provide an opportunity for “in-person” meetings for participants to share experiences, learning, and enrich connections. Building strong and sustainable interprofessional connections can play an important role in supporting the recruitment and retention of healthcare workers in long-term care settings.

Shelley Peacock | University of Saskatchewan | $9,792

Championing Dementia Care Education for Acute Healthcare Professionals

In Saskatchewan, there is a need for better hospital care for people living with dementia, that respects their rights and dignity. Currently there is a lack of dementia education for people who work in hospitals. This project aims to complete the content of a dementia care education program that will be offered to Saskatchewan to people who work in hospitals; it is known as the Canadian Dementia Champions Programs. The Champions Program is based on a successful dementia care education program currently being offered in Scotland. We have already developed an overall plan for the Champions Program, by proposing 10-sessions spread out over 6 months. We will be completing the content for these session topics in this proposal so participants can learn more about: a) dementia and its effects, b) providing safe care, c) engaging family members, and d) guiding practice changes in their workplace to improve their co-worker's care. A unique aspect of taking part in the Champions Program is that it emphasizes the importance of becoming a change agent. Our work will continue with the Scottish Program's education and various dementia experts from Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada. Most importantly, our team will be guided by family carers of people with dementia and their unique experiences. The Champions Program could improve the quality of the hospital care for people living with dementia and their families in Saskatchewan.

Brian Eames | University of Saskatchewan | $10,000

Evaluating a molecular mechanism towards new therapeutics for SK osteoarthritis patients

Just like the rest of the world, the Saskatchewan population is becoming increasingly older on average. As a result, osteoarthritis (OA), which is an age-related bone joint disease, will also increase, because almost 50% of humans over 65 are estimated to develop OA. The painful changes to joint cartilage in OA are likely due to changes in gene expression in the cartilage that modify the cartilage extracellular matrix. New therapies for OA are critical, since the current approach to treating OA is only available for severe OA and involves invasive surgery that replaces joint cartilage with artificial materials. Humans and zebrafish are very different in morphology, but since they share ~70% of their genes, zebrafish have been used successfully for over 30 years to model human diseases. Over the past 10 years, the Eames lab has identified a genetic pathway in zebrafish cartilage that can mimic the changes seen in OA cartilage. This grant will allow us achieve two major objectives: 1) to test whether the same pathway is disrupted in human OA cartilage; and 2) to work with stakeholders (local orthopaedic surgeons and rheumatologists) to refine treatment strategies for SK osteoarthritis patients based upon these data. If successful, then these experiments will lead to novel therapeutic approaches that can use FDA-approved drugs to target members of the pathway under study in this grant.

Amira Abdelrasoul | University of Saskatchewan | $9,500

Advancing hemodialysis membrane research towards improved patient outcomes

Hemodialysis (HD) is a life-sustaining extracorporeal blood purifying method for patients with end stage renal disease (ESRD). My research focuses on understanding the shortcomings of HD membranes currently in use in Canadian hospitals and developing new membranes that reduce side effects and increase patient quality of life. The main goal of this proposed SHRF Align grant is to conduct crucial patient-oriented research (POR) with dialysis patients. This application focuses on the following objectives: 1) Increase research relevance, coordination, and potential for impact by undertaking patient engagement to align research questions with HD patient needs; 2) Increase the quality and success of applications to future peer-reviewed funding competitions; and 3) Support the development of research and health professional trainees. These initiatives are relevant to Saskatchewan residents because HD treatment is a huge burden to patients with many negative impacts on quality of life. Importantly, increasing understanding of challenges in the field will inform key directions for developing new HD membranes that focus on patient outcomes. The results will strongly position my team to further develop the research direction towards better outcomes for kidney failure patients in Saskatchewan and Canada.

Juan-Nicolas Peña-Sánchez, Noelle Rohatinsky | University of Saskatchewan | $9,998

Facilitating Conversations & Building Collaborations to Improve the Wellbeing and Retention of Healthcare Providers in Saskatchewan

Health care systems and healthcare providers have undergone significant stress due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Providers have identified symptoms of distress, burnout, depression, and anxiety, and expressed intentions to leave their workplace or profession. The goal of this project is to facilitate conversations and build collaborations to effectively address the key wellbeing and health system-related challenges faced by healthcare providers and managers as a pathway to retaining Saskatchewan’s healthcare providers. Our multidisciplinary, patient- and provider-oriented research team wants to learn more about the challenges and barriers to improving the wellbeing and retention of providers from the perspectives of health system providers and managers and to co-create strategies to improve the wellbeing and retention of providers.
We will offer online group sessions for registered nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists, as well as middle and senior level managers and other stakeholders to share their perspectives. We will gather the information collected and offer one large online session where we will invite providers, managers, and representatives from the health authority board of directors, the psychosocial support network, the provincial ministry of health, the chief nursing and medical health officers, and the various provider colleges, associations, unions, and organizations. It is hoped this project will improve the wellbeing and retention of healthcare providers in Saskatchewan.

Schroder Sattar | University of Saskatchewan | $9,770

geriAtric onCology in aCtion: a nEeds assessment in Saskatchewan: The ACCESS Project

Geriatric assessment is the gold standard of care for older adults with cancer. However, currently, it is now known whether, how, and to what extent, geriatric assessment is performed in oncology care in Saskatchewan, or what the support needs of health care providers carrying out geriatric care or informal geriatric assessment. Our specific objectives are to: 1) explore Saskatchewan oncology care providers perception and practices regarding geriatric assessment, and their perceived facilitators and barriers to implementing geriatric assessment for older adults; and 2) prioritize opportunities and future directions of clinical practices in this area within Saskatchewan.
This preliminary two-phase mixed methods study will be executed over 12 months, and will entail three activities, namely, a Saskatchewan-wide oncology care provider survey , individual interviews, and prioritization meeting. Results from this study will inform a subsequent grant proposal, as well as inform research and clinical practice on geriatric oncology with a Saskatchewan focus, with the potential to minimize cancer treatment toxicity and complications, promote functional outcome, quality of life, and survival in older Saskatchewan residents with cancer.


About SHRF - Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) is the provincial funding agency that funds, supports and promotes the impact of health research that matters to Saskatchewan. SHRF collaborates with stakeholders to contribute to the growth of a high-performing health system, culture of innovation and the improved health of citizens by strengthening research capacity and competitiveness, increasing the investment in health research in Saskatchewan and aligning research with the needs of our stakeholders.

For more information, please contact:

Chelsea Cunningham, SHRF Programs and Engagement Manager

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