Home to one of the richest pools of scientific knowledge and clinical expertise in the world, Canada’s research talent is reflected in the ground-breaking innovations taking place in our academic health care organizations. Among these innovations are those related to the prevention, early detection, and effective treatment of chronic disease.
HealthCareCAN, the national voice of health care organizations across Canada, highlights many of these developments in Innovation Sensation, a database funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) that features over 500 stories related to cardiovascular and respiratory health. A selection of stories that feature new and innovative technologies to help alleviate the burden of these chronic diseases are highlighted below.
Doctors and pharmacists are now able to utilize a mobile phone application to help them better manage medications for patients with heart failure. Designed by Alberta Health Services and the University of Alberta in Edmonton, the step-by-step instructions help determine proper dosages and manage complications as they arise. Clinicians have traditionally relied on national guidelines, a drug’s instructions and their own experience to figure out medications for patients, but a large document of guidelines can be cumbersome. The answers that doctors need will now be a click away on their phones.
Researchers at Alberta Health Services have also developed a portable machine that is opening up a world of possibilities when it comes to lung transplants. Known as “lungs in a box”, the machine will save countless lives by changing the way lungs are transported. For the past 30 years, an ice cooler would be used to move a donated set of lungs. However, of all the lungs donated every year, three out of four are rejected due to damage – often from the ice used during this traditional transportation. The machine uses state of the art technology to keep donated lungs warm, and infused with oxygen and nutrients.
Physicians at London Health Sciences Centre have designed a robot to conduct open heart surgery. Surgeries performed by the DaVinci robot are far less invasive to a patient than conventional open heart surgery. The benefits of this new treatment are smaller incisions, less pain, less blood loss and earlier release and recovery. The same technology has been used by doctors at Toronto General Hospital to rid early stage lung cancer patients of tumors.
Rather than open a patient’s chest and spread the ribcage, the surgeons can now make four small incisions in the chest through which they insert a small camera and their surgical instruments.
Surgeons are able to operate more precisely and see better with the aid of 3-D images. The technique allows surgeons to remove the tumour and any affected lymph nodes, and as little of the lung as possible, with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue. In the end, patients usually have less pain and scarring after their surgery, as well as shorter hospital stays.
A team of researchers at McGill University Health Centre in Montréal have developed an online tool that will help Canadians lower their risk of heart attack and stroke. The “Heart Age Calculator” allows users to discover their cardiovascular age. Studies show that patients are significantly more likely to reach recommended treatment targets when they know that their cardiovascular system is aging faster than they are, but that they can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by reducing their blood pressure and cholesterol, exercising more, losing weight or giving up smoking. They are more likely to stick with treatment, more likely to modify their lifestyle and more likely to adhere to medication.
Researchers at B.C. Children’s Hospital have developed a new mobile application that can measure respiratory rates in children roughly six times faster than the standard manual method. “RRate” allows caregivers to measure respiratory rate by tapping the touch screen every time the child inhales. In addition to calculating the rate of inhalations during a given time, the app also provides an animation of a breathing baby allowing for a direct comparison with the breathing patient.
Chronic disease is an increasing challenge for clinical researchers. Cardiovascular disease, the second leading cause of death in Canada, contributes to over 180,000 deaths annually. However, the cardiovascular death rate in Canada has declined by nearly 40 per cent in the last decade – largely due to research advances in surgical procedures, drug therapies and other innovative treatments. (Statistics Canada, 2011, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2015)
Similarly, respiratory conditions represent a high health burden for children and adults alike. Over 3 million Canadians of all ages have a serious respiratory disease. After cardiovascular disease and cancer, respiratory diseases are responsible for the third-highest share of hospitalizations and deaths in Canada. Although Canada has seen a decrease in respiratory diseases over the past few decades, aging populations are expected to lead to a surge in these diseases in the future. (The Conference Board of Canada, 2015)
“Researchers in our member organizations conduct research in health and health systems,” says Dr. Tina Saryeddine, Executive Director, Research and Innovation at HealthCareCAN, “at HealthCareCAN we look to shine a light on their successes to show the return in research investment and share leading practices.”
With the burden of chronic disease increasing, the need for clinical researchers to generate new and innovative technologies is intensifying. The capacity to turn basic science into effective treatments, revolutionary therapies and new technologies allows Canadians to enjoy longer, healthier lives.