The Globe and Mail


Sunnybrook’s pioneering work in anxiety-disorder care and research is getting a $10-million boost.

The gift from Frederick Thompson, thought to be the largest-ever private donation focused on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), will create the Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre within Sunnybrook’s Brain Sciences Program.

“This gift makes a bold statement and represents a real turning point in the research and treatment of anxiety disorders,” says Dr. Peggy Richter, director of Sunnybrook’s Clinic for OCD and Related Disorders.

“This centre will address the spectrum of anxiety disorders, and will focus on the treatment of OCD and its related conditions – and no other centre in Canada offers such specialized care for these disorders. This gift truly establishes Sunnybrook as a leader in treatment and research in this important field.”

The centre will attract international experts who will collaborate with Sunnybrook’s world-class scientists and will be an epicentre for anxiety-disorder research across Canada.



Can exercise improve the moods of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who are suffering from depression?

That’s one of the questions a team of Sunnybrook researchers hopes to answer with its research into the mental well-being of these patients, thanks in part to a $263,000 grant from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

Half of MS patients suffer from depression and half suffer from cognitive dysfunction. When a patient faces both at once, it can be difficult to manage their health, says Dr. Neil Rector, director of research in the department of psychiatry at Sunnybrook.

The grant will be used to fund a study, led by Dr. Rector and Dr. Anthony Feinstein, director of Sunnybrook’s neuropsychiatry program, examining whether non-drug treatments can improve depression and cognitive dysfunction in MS patients.      

Patients will be divided into three groups: patients who only receive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), patients who only exercise and patients who receive a combination of both.

Because many of the patients will be taking antidepressants, the study results will also clarify the extent to which CBT and exercise can benefit MS patients.



Sunnybrook doctors have launched a study to determine whether “keeping it cool” in ambulances is best for cardiac arrest patients. Cooling a patient’s body temperature after a cardiac arrest has been shown to reduce the chances of severe brain damage and death, but the treatment is usually only provided in hospitals. Lowering the patient’s body temperature by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius slows the brain’s need for oxygen, which can reduce the patient’s chances of severe brain damage caused by lack of blood flow during cardiac arrest.

“We know we can prevent brain damage and save more lives by cooling a patient,” says Dr. Damon Scales, the trial’s principal investigator and a staff physician in Sunnybrook’s Department of Critical Care Medicine.

Since the trial launched in July, paramedics have treated a patient in the field using cooling, a first in Ontario.

Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the trial is expected to last for two years and involve more than 1,000 patients.




Sunnybrook researchers have shown they may be able to boost the tumour- destroying power of radiotherapy by using ultrasound in a new way. “This is definitely a world-first happening at Sunnybrook,” says Dr. Greg Czarnota, radiation oncologist and lead on this research.

The process involves injecting tiny microbubbles into the blood stream. Researchers found the otherwise harmless microbubbles bounce and expand when heated with focused ultrasound, straining the blood vessels of the tumour. The cancer cells become leaky and weak. When a tumour is targeted this way before radiation in pre-clinical models, the radiation destroys up to 40 per cent of the tumour within 24 hours.

The research received a $1-million boost from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada this year. “This support will allow us to scale up these treatments and move them out of the laboratory and into breast cancer patients in the next three to five years,” Dr. Czarnota says.



A Sunnybrook scientist is trying to determine why women with melanoma have a better chance of recovery than men. Melanoma is an aggressive skin cancer with a poor outlook for survival once it spreads to other parts of the body. But women with melanoma, even at an advanced stage, have a far better prognosis than their male counterparts. Researchers have found no evidence female hormones contribute to this phenomenon; they believe the gender difference has a genetic basis.

 Dr. Teresa Petrella, a clinician-scientist at Sunnybrook, is trying to understand the female advantage and uncover drivers of the disease. She and her colleagues will do in-depth analyses of X-chromosome genes in melanoma to identify potential new therapeutic targets to improve survival.



They say two things are certain in life: death and taxes.

A Sunnybrook study has found the two often go together; for U.S. motorists, income tax deadline day increases the risk of a fatal road crash.

 Using road safety information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1980 through 2009, Sunnybrook researcher Dr. Don Redelmeier and colleague Christopher Yarnell from the University of Toronto examined the number of fatal crashes on each tax deadline day as well as on the same weekday one week before and after.

They found the risk of being involved in a fatal crash was 6 per cent higher on income tax deadline day.

“The increased risk could be the result of stressful deadlines leading to driver distraction and human error,” says Dr. Redelmeier. “Other possibilities might be more driving, sleep deprivation, lack of attention and less tolerance toward hassles. Another contributor could be decreased law enforcement as the police, themselves, might be busy with their own tax deadlines.”

And why is this finding significant? The study’s authors say these risks could be mitigated through driver education.



An easy and painless prostate cancer biopsy? Most men will say there’s no such thing – but some Sunnybrook researchers
are perfecting a high-tech
imaging procedure that allows them to see prostate tumours much more clearly, and in some cases detect tumours missed with past biopsies.

Dr. Masoom Haider is leading a group to advance image-guided prostate cancer detection and biopsy. With Dr. Laurent Milot and the team at Sunnybrook’s Gelato Cup Golf Early Detection Centre, prostate tumours are targeted with great precision in a needle biopsy, a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the prostate gland. With the cutting-edge technique, doctors only need two to four samples – far less than the 12 or more samples that are traditionally required. 

“The current paradigm of prostate cancer detection with prostate-specific antigen and biopsy does not show us where the cancer is located in the prostate,” Dr. Haider says. As a result, men endure multiple random needle biopsies. Tumours can be easily missed, prompting painful
repeat biopsies.

Sunnybrook’s experts fuse a magnetic resonance image of the prostate tumour with real-time ultrasound imaging obtained during biopsy, providing a clear picture of the tumour.

And by finding tumours otherwise missed, they are saving lives by ensuring men are treated early in their disease.



Every year fire kills 400 people in Canada, and most of these deaths occur at home. A new Sunnybrook study will look at the health-care costs of house fires, including the costs of burn care, and whether automated sprinklers in homes have an impact on the health, safety and economic outcomes of house fires in Canada.

Over the next three years, researchers will look at literature and statistics on fires and their associated costs to homeowners, insurance companies, fire services and society as a whole. The research will focus on Canada, but also extend to other parts of the world.




Dr. Greg Czarnota, left, examines images as part of his
research using high-intensity focused ultrasound.

Imagine checking into a hospital to have a tumour removed, being discharged that same day and back at work the next. This is the vision of scientists at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), who are working on image-guided focused ultrasound surgery, a minimally invasive procedure.

That vision has just received a tremendous boost; the Federal Development Agency for Southern Ontario has invested $6.9 million into this and three other innovative imaging research projects led by SRI scientists.

The other projects include using magnetic resonance imaging to guide and monitor treatments to correct an irregular heartbeat or unclog blocked arteries; technology that reveals early whether chemotherapy has been effective in cancer patients; and a hybrid catheter that combines optical and ultrasound imaging to treat blocked coronary arteries.

The agency’s contribution, matched by 19 industry partners, will allow SRI and its academic partner, Western University, to develop and commercialize therapy and monitoring systems for cancer and heart disease.

It is anticipated the initiative will create high-value jobs and economic growth across southern Ontario.