College of Medicine researchers have received awards from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation honouring research excellence.
College of Medicine researchers have received awards from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation honouring research excellence.

Leaders in discovery: five USask researchers honoured with top provincial health awards

College of Medicine researchers have received Santé Awards from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation for research excellence.

SASKATOON – Dr. Volker Gerdts (DVM, PhD), director and CEO of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), has been recognized with an Achievement Award by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF).

Gerdts is among five USask researchers recognized by the provincial funding agency as part of its annual Santé Awards honouring health research excellence in Saskatchewan.

“We are proud of our researchers who have received these prestigious awards,” said Singh. “They are confronting the world’s greatest challenges head on through creativity and collaboration. Their collective impact includes discoveries for improved mental health and wellness, hope for new treatments for drug-resistant infections, and the expertise that will influence how our decision-makers will shape an accessible and culturally responsive healthcare system for the people of Saskatchewan.”

Early Career Award

Dr. Lloyd Balbuena (PhD), associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry in USask’s College of Medicine, has been recognized with an Early Career Award for his work since receiving SHRF’s Establishment Grant in 2017. His project, titled Neuroticism and Mood Instability as Suicide Prevention Targets, aims to identify predictors of suicide in the general population and in a sample of patients who experienced suicidal ideation.

In general population data from the United Kingdom (UK) analyzed by his team, the researchers found the personality trait neuroticism predicted suicide. Daily cigarette smoking was also associated with suicide in the general populations of UK and Norway, but that’s not to say it is a cause. In a clinical sample of Saskatchewan patients, Balbuena’s team found that suicidal ideas fluctuate, meaning that patients who visit emergency rooms for suicidal ideation and are discharged may again become suicidal.

While suicide rates remain high, Balbuena feels impactful suicide research can identify a specific modifiable factor that can save lives.

“I find fulfilment as a participant in the quest to understand suicide. I consider myself a marathon runner who does his best even with the knowledge that he will not finish first,” he said.

In his current work, Balbuena is pursuing the smoking-suicide link by trying to estimate how much genes and environment contribute to smoking behaviour, and is studying inflammation as a potential mechanism that links cigarette smoking to suicide.  

Excellence Awards

Three USask College of Medicine researchers and their teams were recognized with Excellence Awards for having the top-ranked applications, as determined by committees of their peers, in their respective funding competitions.

Dr. Jessica Sheldon (PhD) was recognized for her project that seeks to understand how histamine, most known for its function in allergies, can influence infection, specifically by a multidrug-resistant bacterium called Acinetobacter baumannii. Her project aims to reveal avenues for using antihistamine-based therapeutics as a new potential treatment.

Dr. Ivar Mendez (MD, PhD), working with a highly experienced and nationally recognized research team, was recognized for the team’s project to develop an actionable framework that will provide a roadmap for the Ministry of Health to establish an integrated patient-centred virtual care service in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Stuart Skinner (MD) and the Wellness Wheel team are recognized for their work with addictions care. The project has trained and certified several peer support workers in Saskatoon, Regina, and on-reserve to better support people with addictions across Saskatchewan. The project aims to demonstrate the value and impact of a formal peer mentorship program as a key component of culturally responsive addictions care. The team will also develop a plan for the full integration of peer mentorship into the healthcare system. 

Read the full article on the university's news site.

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