Last November, after five years of planning and building, Sunnybrook Research Institute opened its Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics (CeRIGT), a $160-million centre of research excellence that is bringing medicine from the lab to patients. The teams here are developing and testing new ways to diagnose and treat cancer, heart disease, musculoskeletal disorders, immune deficiencies, stroke, dementia and other neurological conditions. The work being done in the centre covers the entire span of biomedical research – from basic research to clinical trials.
TRANSLATIONAL RESEARCH FACILITY
Rebuilding the body – cell by tiny cell
In the Cellular and Molecular Regeneration and Repair Laboratory, scientists will develop cell-based repair kits from stem cells, undifferentiated cells that can develop into any cell in the adult body with the right coaxing. The aim is to help doctors rebuild immune systems knocked down by HIV, cancer or the toxic effects of chemotherapy, heal burns and wounds, and treat cancer with carefully selected cells – and they’ll watch the recovery live.
Small but deadly effective
Sunnybrook Research Institute’s first chemistry laboratory, the Molecular Targeting and Therapeutics Laboratory, will help turn the sci-fi movie the Fantastic Voyage into reality. Scientists in the lab will create new molecules that can be harnessed to deliver drugs and vaccines, or help doctors see inside the body to treat cardiac and neurological diseases. They’ll also design image-guided microbubbles and drug-coated nanostructures that target the molecular “signature” of a disease and let clinicians know if a treatment is working.
Innovation in action on the M7 research floor at Sunnybrook.
PRECLINICAL TESTING FACILITY
Breaching the brain’s fortress
The brain is like a fortress, protected from potentially harmful chemicals by a barrier of cells that separate it from the circulatory system. But this almost impenetrable fence — the blood brain barrier — also shuts out potential therapies for brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and brain cancer. Scientists are using MRI-guided focused ultrasound therapy in the Biomedical Imaging Research Suite to temporarily disrupt the barrier and deliver therapeutic genes or drugs to the brain. All without cutting into the skull or the brain.
Gizmos R Us
The Device Development Laboratory is the first of its kind in a Canadian hospital. Outfitted with a waterjet cutter and rapid prototypers, all inside an advanced machine shop, it allows scientists and engineers to design and produce devices that will detect disease, deliver therapy and guide treatments.
Every cell-based repair kit needs to hold the right tools — and they need to work and be safe. That’s where the Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) Laboratory comes in. The research teams here are making new therapeutic cells and vaccines that target diseased cells, while ensuring everything they manufacture in the lab is safe, pure and effective to test in patients.
When patients don’t need invasive surgery they have better outcomes, fewer complications and shorter hospital stays. The Image-Guided Surgery Facility combines MRI, ultrasound, X-ray, computerized tomography and state-of-the-art surgery suites to give scientists the opportunity to develop and test new techniques to treat musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and brain diseases, and cancer. Open-heart surgery may soon be a thing of the past.
CLINICAL RESEARCH FACILITY
The beat goes on...
The heart is an electrical organ, each heartbeat triggered by a tiny electrical current that stimulates its walls to contract. Sometimes the heart gets out of step and beats at an irregular rhythm, which can be serious or life threatening. In the Minimally Invasive Electrophysiology & Vascular Procedures Centre researchers are exploring ways of using magnetic resonance imaging to help guide them into and through the heart to fix these arrhythmias.
Scientists in the Neurointervention Centre are inventing new ways to treat brain disorders such as stroke and dementia – and to help stroke patients recover faster. Studies are focusing on how to help stroke patients recover their balance and mobility, the effect of exercise on the brain and the therapeutic effect of transmagnetic stimulation in stroke.
TREATMENT PLANNING, ANALYSIS & EVALUATION FACILITY
Clinical Intelligence Agency
Wouldn’t it be nice to see exactly what a drug or a device is doing — to make sure it’s working? The Image-Processing
Laboratory and the Biomarker Imaging Research Laboratory will let scientists spy on cancer or brain and cardiac functions, and collect and analyze the fingerprints of disease.
The first lab gathers all Sunnybrook Research Institute scientists and engineers working on image-processing techniques to form a critical mass of talent that is by far the largest in the region. The Biomarker Imaging Research Lab gives research teams the capability in 3-D histopathology techniques they need to advance their work across many clinical areas, including cancer, brain sciences and cardiovascular, and is a fundamental resource within the Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics.
- Hannah Hoag