UHN on the Go is our monthly feature highlighting news and events at UHN.

Terry Fox Research Institute supports new nanotechnology and imaging-based treatments

Drs. Gang Zheng, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Irish
(L to R) Princess Margaret Cancer Centre-based Drs. Gang Zheng, Brian Wilson and Jonathan Irish — pioneers in fields of nanoparticles and medical imaging — will lead the five-year project. (Photos: UHN Research)

A research project focused on the use of nanoparticles to improve the treatment and visualization of tumours has received $6.6 million in funding from the Terry Fox Research Institute.

The project will get five years of funding through the New Frontiers Program and will be led by Dr. Gang Zheng (PM Senior Scientist and Techna Core Lead), Dr. Brian Wilson (PM Senior Scientist and Techna Core Lead), and Dr. Jonathan Irish (PM surgical oncologist and Techna Core Lead), altogether with Dr. Christine Demore and Dr. Stuart Foster at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

The research team will advance the development of two Canadian technology platforms: porphysome nanoparticles, which are small injectable particles that accumulate within tumours; and photoacoustic imaging, which uses short pulses of laser light to produce high-resolution images of tumours. The researchers will examine a treatment strategy involving the use of nanoparticles that absorb light and can convert it into heat energy that selectively destroys tumour tissue.

This project will focus initially on prostate and thyroid tumours – two cancers that lack minimally invasive treatment options. Current treatments for these tumour types involve either a "watch-and-wait" approach or the use of aggressive surgeries to remove the cancer. These surgeries can have unwanted side effects and impair quality of life for patients.

"The majority of prostate and thyroid cancers won't kill you, but some will need treatment," explains Dr. Zheng. "If we can avoid invasive surgery for most patients, we can eliminate harmful side effects – and the economic burden for Canada will be decreased by this as well."

With this funding, the researchers will focus on fast-tracking these new technologies to the clinic so that they can help patients.

The project, titled The Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project in Nanoparticle-Enhanced Photoacoustic Imaging for Cancer Localization and Therapeutic Guidance, is a renewal of a previous project funded by the same program.

UHN's Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic now open

UHN's Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic (RAAM) is now open and accepting patients at Toronto Western Hospital (TW). The clinic offers access to evidence-based treatments for patients seeking help for substance use disorders, including alcohol and opioid addiction, who do not require acute emergency treatment.

Staffed by addiction physicians and nurses, patients can be referred to the clinic from anywhere at UHN, or they can drop-in without a referral during clinic hours. The clinic aims to reduce wait times for patients to see an addiction medicine physician, and transition them back to primary care when stabilized for ongoing medical management and support. The clinic model ensures patients receive both care for their presenting substance use issue, as well as on-going access to resources after discharge.

"With this clinic, we are trying to understand the realities our patients are facing," says Dr. Hasan Sheikh, Medical Lead, UHN RAAM Clinic. "When someone is struggling with substance use, the instability in their lives can make it difficult for them to keep appointments made weeks in advance, and we hope this clinic will reduce barriers to accessing addiction medicine care for those who need it."

The RAAM Clinic concept was developed through the Mentoring, Education, and Clinical Tools for Addiction: Primary Care – Hospital Integration (META:PHI) project, which seeks to improve the quality of care provided to this patient population while also reducing unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits.

With funding from the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network (TC-LHIN), RAAM clinics are now open at Women's College Hospital, St. Michael's Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, and TW.

The UHN RAAM clinic is open Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and is located on the first floor West Wing (WW1-414), across from the West Elevators.

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