Congratulations to the VCHRI 2021 Innovation and Translational Research Award recipients!

Three members of the UBC Department of Medicine are the recipients of a VCHRI 2021 Innovation and Translational Research Award

Awards are open to health care professionals, clinicians and researchers throughout VCH and PHC’s health care and research facilities.


The intent of this competition is to fund innovative research that will:

  • have an impact on patient care at VCH and/or PHC
  • provide savings for the health system at VCH and/or PHC
  • create a medical device and/or commercial opportunities from pre-existing research outcomes

For all award winners, please visit VCHRI



The UBC Department of Medicine is proud to announce the recipients of this award:


Dr. Liam Brunham (Division of General Internal Medicine)
Study: The Advancing Cardiac Care Unit-based Rapid Assessment and Treatment of hypErcholesterolemia (ACCURATE)

Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder characterized by high cholesterol levels. FH is the most common monogenic condition causing premature cardiovascular disease. Among young patients who experience a heart attack, one in 14 will have FH, but less than one percent of those affected will be diagnosed with FH. Underdiagnosis of FH impacts health care provider’s ability to optimally treat patients and screen family members, who may also be affected. Earlier research has supported the development of a targeted gene panel to identify FH and incorporating this panel into clinical care may improve outcomes for FH patients.

The purpose of this project is to investigate how implementing real-time genetic diagnosis may help identify FH in patients admitted to an acute cardiac care setting following a heart attack, and to better understand the impact of genetic diagnosis on physician behaviour, patient medication use, lipid levels and the rates of recurrent cardiovascular events.

“With this study we hope to answer the question of whether clinical implementation of genetic testing in the acute care setting can benefit both health care providers and their patients,” says Dr. Brunham. “We believe rapid testing will result in earlier diagnosis, which will ultimately lead to improved cardiovascular outcomes.”


Dr. John Staples (Division of General Internal Medicine)
Study: Drug overdose after departure from hospital against medical advice

When a patient departs hospital against medical advice (DC-AMA), many forces might conspire to increase their risk of opioid overdose: unresolved illness, exposure to new prescription medications, persistent pain, untreated addiction, reduced opioid tolerance and interrupted access to familiar and potentially less toxic sources of illicit opioids. Unfortunately, little is known about these risks.

This project aims to understand drug overdose after DC-AMA in order to facilitate the development of innovative overdose prevention strategies. Using population-based administrative health data, researchers will perform a retrospective observational cohort study to define risks and identify risk factors for overdose in the 30 days after DC-AMA.

“Overdose risks after DC-AMA are largely unstudied,” says Dr. Staples. “We hope our project will identify new opportunities for clinicians and hospitals to reduce predictable harms among patients who chose to leave against medical advice.”


Dr. Scott Tebbutt (Division of Respiratory Medicine)
Study: Developing biomarkers for guiding immunosuppression strategy during cytomegalovirus infection in heart transplant patients

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections are common and usually asymptomatic in healthy individuals. However, CMV can cause life-threatening complications in immunocompromised individuals, particularly in heart transplant recipients where CMV infection is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality post-transplant.

In the event a transplant patient has severe CMV and does not respond well to standard antiviral therapy, a reduction of immunosuppression can be prescribed though it carries the risk of transplant rejection. This highlights the need for better tools to guide immunosuppression reduction to treat CMV while adequately suppressing transplant rejection.

Previous research in this area saw the development of a 9-RNA blood-based biomarker test for quantifying the risk of acute cellular rejection in heart transplant patients in the first year following transplantation. This project aims to continue that work and develop an enhanced biomarker tool by expanding the panel to include blood-based genes that can detect CMV-specific immunity.

“Results from this project could lead to the development of a clinical test that allows immunosuppressive drugs and antiviral therapies to be administered to patients more selectively and precisely,” says Dr. Tebbutt. “This could help to decrease drug toxicities and more importantly, improve patient outcomes.”

Please join us in congratulating Drs. Brunham, Staples, and Tebbutt on this wonderful achievement!