Pictures of Chris McCulloch, Michael Glogauer and Boris Hinz

Fibrosis research at the Faculty of Dentistry receives major funding boost

The Faculty of Dentistry was awarded ~$10 million in research funds from the CFI Innovation Fund and Ontario Research Fund. The award – largest in the Faculty’s history – will create Canada’s first comprehensive state-of-the-art research hub: “The Fibrosis Network”. The Network is founded on the bedrock of pioneering multi-disciplinary research, long-standing multi-sector partnerships, and the innovative vision of Dentistry’s Chris McCulloch. McCulloch led the initiative along with Dentistry’s Michael Glogauer and Boris Hinz and involved seven additional top-notch scientists and clinicians at U of T’s Faculty of Arts and Science, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, St. Michael’s Hospital, and Toronto Western Research Institute. Farah Thong, Dentistry’s Research and Business Development Manager was instrumental in the success of the application by coordinating this multi-centre application and by providing strategic writing of the proposal.

Fibrosis, simply put is a pathological “stiffening” of once agile vital organs such as heart and lung, affects more than 2 billion people, costs more than $2.5 billion in global health care resources annually and is a major burden on families and society. It is a major cause of organ failure and there is currently no cure and its early diagnosis that can circumvent organ transplantation is not possible. The CFI/ORF award will fund new cutting-edge research infrastructure that will be needed to conduct world-class human-centric fibrosis research across three major themes: Mechanisms of Fibrosis, Biomarker Discovery and Diagnostics, and Fibrosis Therapies that will lead to the discovery of new drug targets and biomarkers, non-invasive in vivo diagnostics to facilitate early diagnosis, and new treatment strategies. “By virtue of using this equipment, we’re able to conduct experiments we’d otherwise never be able to do,” says leader McCulloch, who holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Matrix Dynamics.

The Fibrosis Network dovetails nicely with the Global Fibrosis Network established through a recent $250,000 award from U of T’s Connaught Global Challenge Fund to IBBME and Dentistry’s cross-appointed Craig Simmons. The award, which included co-applicant Chris McCulloch and researchers at U of T’s affiliated hospitals, will fund international fibrosis research networking events to enhance local and global collaborations and establish a global community of trainees and provide them with multi-sectoral and global perspectives on fibrosis research and technology. Soror Sharifpoor, Research Program Manager at U of T’s Translational Biology and Engineering Program, Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research, was key in writing the winning proposal.

Boris Hinz, a Distinguished Professor of Tissue Repair and Regeneration in Dentistry, received $3.17 million over seven years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as one of few recipients of a highly competitive Foundation grant. Hinz will continue his research on myofibroblasts, which are cells involved in tissue repair. “The issue with these cells is that they keep on repairing the tissue. They don’t know when to stop,” says Hinz. When they go overboard, they leave disease-causing fibrosis behind.

These timely awards will provide significant resources to transform fibrosis research, build mutual capacity across sectors, and train the next generation of researchers. These initiatives will help the researchers achieve a level of basic and clinical research capacity unmatched in Canada that will have significant impact on patient care and establish Canada as a global leader in fibrosis research. “This remarkable combined success has now created a powerful hub to eventually make a real difference to fibrosis patients. Faculty of Dentistry researchers are playing a critical role in this multidisciplinary team effort. This is a big step in the right direction for us,” says the Faculty’s Vice-Dean Research, Bernhard Ganss.