Four U of T researchers recognized as rising stars in global health

Sub-title: 
Grand Challenges Canada Award $100,000 Grants to Support International Health Projects
Author: 
Liam Mitchell

Losing a limb can be devastating enough, but the high cost of a prosthetic limb makes them unavailable to many in the developing world.

University of Toronto professor Jan Andrysek, a scientist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and an assistant professor in the Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, has tackled that challenge. His solution was to develop an inexpensive artificial leg that is based on a novel control mechanism that is able to mimic the function of leg muscles. It steadies the leg when weight is placed on it without adversely inhibiting the natural patterns of walking. The price tag: $50.

"Overall, the work is expected to provide important new insights into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the technology in mitigating the disabling effects of amputations, and thus a foundation for improving rehabilitation outcomes globally," said Andrysek. "Funding from Grand Challenges Canada will make it possible for us to work with a number of key partners around the world to clinically evaluate the new technology, and initiate steps toward making it accessible to those in need."

Andrysek  is one of four researchers associated with U of T whose work was recognized Feb. 9 with $100,000 Rising Stars in Global Health grants by Grand Challenges Canada.

Also recognized were Professors Helen Dimaras of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciencesand Ophira Ginsburg of Medicine and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and engineering post-doctoral fellow Lu Chen.

Dimaras, an affiliate scientist at Toronto Western Research Institute, is seeking to improve cancer treatment in Africa by bringing timely and accurate diagnosis using digital pathology images and Internet-based communications. The initial focus for this project will be on the diagnosis of retinoblastoma, a type of cancer affecting the eye. Dimaras’ network will allow remote clinics to send specimens to a single lab for diagnosis, with the results being shared in real-time with the treating physician.

Ginsburg is using mobile phone technology in rural Bangladesh, where many women with breast cancer don’t seek treatment until it’s too late. She is developing and testing a mobile phone app to be used by female Community Health Workers to overcome social barriers that cause women not to seek treatment. An adjunct scientist at the Women's College Research Institute, Ginsburg believes the app will encourage women to seek treatment sooner and adhere to treatment and follow up protocols. 

Chen, a post-doctoral fellow in the Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was also awarded a Grand Challenges Canada grant. Chen is working with Professor Stewart Aitchison and PhD Candidate James Dou on developing an inexpensive and portable HIV monitoring device for developing nations.

"A hand-held, mobile blood analyzer will allow caregivers or health workers to carry it to rural or under-served areas for HIV monitoring,” said Chen. “Globally, the health of the HIV-positive population can be greatly improved by access to such a portable, low-cost monitoring system. Also, with our new platform technology, it will be possible to test for CD4 counts as well as malaria parasites in red blood cells.”

He explained that grant will allow him to access additional resources and facilitate field tests.

“Both aspects are important to expedite our development, which will make our device available sooner for the benefit of the global community,” he said, adding, “We are pleased to see Grand Challenges Canada’s confidence in our work and appreciate their commitment to innovation."

The four U of T recipients are among the 15 grants announced today by Grand Challenges Canada, which is an independent not-for-profit organization. It is dedicated to improving the health and well being of people in developing countries by integrating scientific, technological, business and social innovation.

“When you look at the range of innovations and the potential those creative ideas have to make a difference, Canadians can’t help but be proud of our country’s contribution to the health and well-being of the international community,” said Dr. Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada and a U of T professor of medicine. “Bold Canadian ideas with big impact can save lives.”