Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Nova Scotia Health’s vice-president of Research, Innovation and Discovery and Chief Nurse Executive, knows philanthropy is an important catalyst for research and a critical means of leveraging other funding dollars for research projects, especially during a crisis.
This combined power of philanthropy and collaboration is currently at work within the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition, an alliance formed among several healthcare partners, including the QEII Foundation, to support research studies focused on health system decisions, vaccine development, novel treatments, and social response to the pandemic.
“In a matter of just over two weeks, a shared investment of approximately $1.5 million in COVID-19-focused research was launched,” says Dr. Tomblin Murphy. “In my 35 plus years in health care and health research and innovation, I have never seen such a unified, impactful response to a crisis.”
Since then, several research teams funded through the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition have been successful in attracting additional funds.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease expert at the QEII Health Sciences Centre, is just one example. Her team recently obtained a $1.9-million federal grant to examine vaccine effectiveness in older people.
She is also part of a team of researchers funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to examine clinical characteristics and outcomes of confirmed and suspected hospitalized cases of COVID-19 infection.
“Local funding from healthcare foundations, because of the generosity of donors, can make a critical difference in supporting the important work of researchers and innovators,” says Dr. Tomblin Murphy.
Dr. Steven Beyea, scientific lead at the Biomedical Translational Imaging Centre (BIOTIC) for the QEII and the IWK Health Centre, has witnessed first-hand how donor investments in research not only facilitate research, but allow researchers to use that funding to leverage more money to advance the quality of care for patients and create long-term changes in the way care is delivered.
In 2014, a new 3T MRI arrived at BIOTIC at the QEII, thanks to $3.1 million raised by the QEII Foundation, including a $2.5-million gift from the David and Gauthier families. The advanced imaging capability of the 3T MRI allows for new clinical and research studies not previously possible in Nova Scotia.
Along with the immediate impact to patient care, the 3T MRI resulted in an Atlantic Innovation Fund award of close to $3 million. It also led to the development of a research partnership with GE Healthcare and Toronto’s Synaptive Medical, a company focused on a variety of medical devices for studying the brain.
“Dr. Beyea’s work in this area is a great example of how donor dollars have led to innovative health research in Nova Scotia, garnering national and global attention,” says Dr. Tomblin Murphy.
Since then, the 3T MRI has made countless research projects possible, supported the development of new technologies, attracted incredible people to work at the QEII, and helped train students, creating opportunities for them to work in Nova Scotia’s growing biomedical technology sector.
“Equipment is critical when it comes to either health care or it comes to research. It is enabling,” says Dr. Beyea. “This high-impact equipment pulls in high-impact people.”
As an example, he points to Dr. Kimberly Brewer, a Maritimer who went to work at Stanford University in the U.S. but was drawn back to Halifax to work as a scientist at BIOTIC and pursue her research in imaging. She is driving research with Nova Scotia companies to better understand how vaccines work, says Dr. Beyea.
Having the 3T MRI at the QEII ignited a partnership with Synaptive Medical. The QEII is now evaluating the impact of an MRI instrument the company designed, which could provide diagnostic information for patients arriving in the emergency department with acute neurological symptoms.
About a year ago, the first of Synaptive Medical’s EvryTM MRI was placed in the QEII, about five metres away from the 3T MRI.
“It is now driving an entirely new area of imaging research, at which Nova Scotia is at the absolute forefront,” says Dr. Beyea.
Radiologist Dr. Adela Cora is analyzing whether the new rapid screening technology can be used to detect strokes in some patients. While a computerized tomography (CT) scan is the standard of care in detecting stroke, MRI is sometimes more sensitive in detecting strokes in certain patients.
“The EvryTM MRI has the opportunity to potentially play a very important screening role,” says Dr. Beyea. Knowing the coronavirus has acute and long-term neurological impacts, the EvryTM MRI could help doctors during the pandemic. “There is opportunity for this device to possibly play a role screening for neurological effects due to COVID,” Dr. Beyea explains.
Dr. Tomblin Murphy understands donors of the QEII Foundation are integral in making these advances happen.
“Without them, we would not be able to provide quality care for patients, their families and communities across our province, which is grounded in applying health research and innovation to enable positive health outcomes.”