Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Appoints Two New Board Members

Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute (TBRHRI) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Thursday, June 24th.

Board of Directors Chair Dr. Andrew Dean and Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott, President and CEO of TBRHRI, welcomed Dr. Erin Cameron and Jocelyn Bel as new Board Directors serving 3-year terms. They will join Dr. Dean as well as James Peotto, Dr. Sheldon Tobe, Dr. Pam Wakewich, Andrew Ross, John Dixon, and Peter Bishop who are continuing with the Board.

“Our team is expanding the fields of research and breakthroughs in some amazing fields,” said Dr. Andrew Dean. “From detecting neurodegenerative diseases at the earliest of stages, advancements in mammography for those with breast cancer to smart home-based monitoring systems for patients – the research being conducted in Thunder Bay is ground-breaking and game changing.”

The meeting also say Dr. Pamela Wakewich elected as Vice-Chair as well as Chair of the Science & Research Committee, and James Peotto as Treasurer.

“The research taking place in Thunder Bay is not only going to help the lives of patients and families in our region, but on a global scale,” said Dr. Crocker Ellacott. “Our team is recognized internationally for their innovation, intelligence and dedication to science and medicine. Great things are happening in Northwestern Ontario.”

Dr. Crocker Ellacott will continue to serve as an ex-officio Director along with Dr. David Marsh, Associate Dean, Research, Innovation & International Relations, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Kelly Meservia-Collins, Executive Vice President, Research, Quality & Academics, Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, and Tim Larocque, Director, Applied Research & Innovation, Confederation College.

The Health Research Institute’s Annual Report was also released and highlights some of the successes of the 2020/2021 fiscal year. To read it, please visit

Help Bring Discovery to Life By Joining Our Board

The Board of Directors invites interested Northwestern Ontario residents to consider serving as members of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute Board of Directors. Successful candidates will be expected to participate actively for a three year term.

As a skills-based Board, we are seeking to fill 2 vacancies with interested volunteers who:

  • are willing to promote our Vision of “Bringing Discovery to Life”, our Strategic Directions as well as our role as the research arm of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre;
  • commit to advocating for our Mission to be an international leader in health technology research and other strategic health innovation, that improves the health of the people of Northwestern Ontario and beyond;
  • demonstrate teamwork, community leadership, multicultural awareness, financial acumen and are representative of the population in this region;
  • can commit the time necessary to be productive Board members.

Applicants with understanding of population health or clinical research are encouraged to apply.

Interested candidates should forward a resume and letter of interest by Friday, March 19th, 2021 to:

Chair, Board of Directors c/o Lisa Niccoli
Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute
980 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 6V4

Message from Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott

It is an honor and privilege for me to lead and serve our Hospital and Health Research Institute as your new President and CEO.  As we begin our journey together, I look forward to reconnecting with you, our dedicated staff, Professional staff, Scientists, Patient Family Advisors and Volunteers.

In this role, I am here to work with you to build the future of health care.  My arrival as President & CEO coincides with the development of our next Strategic Plan, which will provide a roadmap for how we will meet the ever changing health challenges we face. The development of this plan will require extensive engagement with people in our organization, community and region.

As we face unprecedented challenge and change in health, there are tremendous opportunities to grow, innovate, integrate, advance and evolve our organization  – to advance research, learning and overall health care design and delivery. The Ontario health system is transforming and we have a unique opportunity to be key leaders.  Together with our partners, we can capitalize on this opportunity to shape a new system of care.

Moving forward, I recognize our strong history and commitment to Patient and Family Centred Care.  Through this philosophy, I will work to further inspire and grow our culture founded in trust, respect, compassion, and hope as key foundational elements to a healthy work environment.  Bringing joy and meaning to work while investing in our talented and engaged workforce to lead research, innovation and revolutionize care are critical to excellence in Patient and Family Centred Care.

Finally, as we continue to advance the COVID-19 response in our community and region, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your commitment and dedication to keep our community safe. I am truly inspired by the way staff, Professional staff and Volunteers have risen to this challenge – with flexibility, resilience, courage – and a caring heart. Thank you for your enormous contributions.

A sincere thank you for choosing to work, practice, learn or volunteer here at our Hospital and Health Research Institute. I look forward to continuing the journey together to make us the best organizations at which to work, innovate in, research, learn and most critically, receive leading edge health care.

I am proud to say that I am part of the Hospital and Health Research Institute team.

Together, we will shape the future of health for our community and region.


Farewell Message from Jean Bartkowiak

I write to you today with so many emotions. Pride. Nostalgia. A heavy heart. But mostly, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude.

On November 20, 2020, I will officially retire as a senior health care leader and as President and CEO of our Hospital and CEO of the Health Research Institute. It seems like yesterday that I arrived in Thunder Bay, excited to take on a new challenge to lead one of the newest academic health sciences centres in Ontario and its blossoming health research institute. That moment was the culmination of a wonderful career and the crowning of a journey of a lifetime; it provided me with the opportunity to attract and mentor an outstanding group of senior leaders and to work alongside so many skilled and dedicated health care professionals and support staff. I take this opportunity to share the following reflections with the community I served for the last five years.

I’m very proud of our many accomplishments together these past 5 years. These include:

  • the development and expansion of several regional clinical programs that foster safe, quality, specialized care closer to home;
  • successfully advocating with the Ministry of Health for additional base funding allocation given our impressive performance as compared to our peers;
  • opening Transitional Care Units at Hogarth Riverview Manor to provide a more adequate care setting for our Alternate Level of Care patients;
  • organizational restructuring that brought, among other innovations, the creation of a Senior Director, Indigenous Collaboration position to engage and partner with Indigenous leaders and communities to have a better grasp of their health priorities, or the creation of a Patient Flow department that allowed us to improve significantly our performance for wait times of admitted patients in Emergency and our average length of stay;
  • the integration of the Northwest Health Alliance that allowed for the creation of a regional senior leadership role to support integration and transformation and the creation of a Regional Chief Information Officer role, to support the renewal of all Northwest Ontario hospitals health information system;
  • actively engaging in “smart health” research; and
  • an accreditation with distinction award from Accreditation Canada.

These are only a small fraction of our accomplishments. They were only possible thanks to your guidance as a cohesive Board, and to the dedication, expertise and will of our staff to imagine and try new avenues to deal with the challenges our Hospital and Health Research Institute must tackle every day. Without all of you, none of this would have been possible.

Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott, as your new President & CEO will now lead you through the development of a new strategic plan and health system transformation. Her health system leadership experience, as well as her many accomplishments such as championing Patient and Family Centred Care, will be invaluable to the Hospital and the Institute. Furthermore, Rhonda brings specific knowledge of and passion for Northwestern Ontario that make her the ideal person to inspire and guide ongoing innovation in health research at our Hospital and Health Research Institute.

Rhonda inherits an extremely talented and knowledgeable senior leadership team and a dedicated Board. Our skilled and knowledgeable senior leaders provide strategic guidance to achieve safe quality care experiences and outcomes for patients and their care partners. Under their combined leadership and expertise, I am confident that our Hospital and Health Research Institute clinical, academic and scientific mission will evolve and thrive.

This will be an emotional transition, but I am looking forward to the next phase of my life. This is the first time I do not have a clear sense of what the future holds for me, but I look forward to spending time with my loved ones, here in Thunder Bay and in Québec.

Until we meet again.

Je vous écris aujourd’hui avec tant d’émotions: fierté, nostalgie, le coeur gros. Mais surtout, je ressens un immense sentiment de gratitude.

Le 20 novembre 2020, je prendrai officiellement ma retraite en tant que cadre supérieur du système de santé canadien et comme président directeur général de notre hôpital et directeur général de l’institut de recherche. Je me sens comme si j’étais arrivé hier à Thunder Bay, enthousiaste à l’idée de relever un nouveau défi en dirigeant l’un des plus récents centres universitaires en sciences de la santé en Ontario et son institut de recherche en plein essor. Ce moment a été le point culminant d’une merveilleuse carrière et le couronnement d’une vie consacrée à cette vocation; ça m’a permis d’attirer et de guider un groupe exceptionnel de hauts dirigeants et de travailler aux côtés de tant de professionnels de la santé et de personnel de soutien si compétents et dévoués. Je profite de cette occasion pour partager les réflexions suivantes avec la communauté que j’ai servie pendant les cinq dernières années.

Je suis très fier des nombreuses réalisations que nous avons accomplies ces cinq dernières années, dont notamment:

  • le développement et l’expansion de plusieurs programmes cliniques régionaux qui supportent l’offre de soins spécialisés plus sûrs et de qualité localement;
  • la représentation efficace auprès du ministère de la santé pour l’octroi d’un financement de base supplémentaire, compte tenu de nos performances impressionnantes comparativement à nos pairs;
  • l’ouverture d’unités de soins de transition au manoir Hogarth Riverview afin d’offrir un milieu de vie plus adéquat à nos patients requérant un autre niveau de soins;
  • une réorganisation qui a entraîné, entre autres innovations, la création d’un poste de directeur principal de la collaboration avec les autochtones, afin de s’engager et de s’associer avec les dirigeants et les communautés autochtones pour mieux comprendre leurs priorités en matière de soins de santé, ou la création d’un service de navigation des soins aux patients qui nous a permis d’améliorer considérablement nos performances en matière de temps d’attente des patients admis aux urgences et de durée moyenne de séjour hospitalier :
  • l’intégration de la Northwest Health Alliance qui a permis la création d’un poste de direction régionale pour soutenir l’intégration et la transformation, et la création d’un rôle de chef régional des systèmes et technologie de l’information, pour soutenir la modernisation du système d’information de la santé de tous les hôpitaux du nord-ouest de l’Ontario;
  • le développement accéléré de la recherche sur l’ »intelligence artificielle en santé” ; et
  • l’octroi d’une cote d’agrément avec distinction de la part d’Agrément Canada.

Ce ne sont là qu’une petite partie de nos réalisations. Elles ont été rendues possibles grâce au soutien d’un conseils d’administration cohésif, ainsi qu’au dévouement, à l’expertise et à la volonté de notre personnel d’imaginer et d’essayer de nouvelles façons de relever les défis auxquels notre hôpital et notre institut de recherche doivent faire face quotidiennement. Sans leur appui, rien de tout cela n’aurait pu se réaliser.

Dr Rhonda Crocker Ellacott, en tant que nouvelle présidente-directrice générale, guidera désormais les destinés de l’hôpital et de son institut de recherche dans l’élaboration d’un nouveau plan stratégique et dans la transformation à venir du système de santé. Son expérience et son expertise en matière de direction du système de santé, ainsi que ses nombreuses réalisations, telles que la défense des soins centrés sur le patient et la famille, seront d’une valeur inestimable pour l’hôpital et l’institut. De plus, Rhonda apporte des connaissances spécifiques et une passion pour le nord-ouest de l’Ontario qui font d’elle la personne idéale pour inspirer et guider l’innovation continue dans la recherche en santé à notre hôpital et son institut de recherche.

Rhonda hérite d’une équipe de direction extrêmement talentueuse et très habile et d’un conseil d’administration dévoué. Nos cadres supérieurs extrêmement compétents et expérimentés continueront de prodiguer leurs conseils stratégiques afin d’assurer à nos patients et leurs proches aidants des expériences de soins sûres et de qualité. Sous leur direction éclairée et judicieuse, je suis convaincu que les missions cliniques, académiques et scientifiques de notre hôpital et de son institut de recherche évolueront et prospéreront.

Ce sera une transition émotive, mais je suis anxieux d’entreprendre la prochaine phase de ma vie. C’est la première fois que je n’ai pas une idée précise de ce que l’avenir me réserve, mais je me réjouis à l’idée de passer du temps avec mes proches, ici à Thunder Bay et au Québec.

Au plaisir, sait-on jamais, de se recroiser.

Lakehead University and Health Research Institute team exploring new diagnostic drugs for cancer

Dr. Jinqiang Hou

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has provided a Lakehead University and Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute team with a $98,655 grant to develop new drugs that will help prevent, diagnose and manage cancer.

In Canada, cancer is the leading cause of death, which is why Dr. Jinqiang Hou, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Lakehead University and Research Chair at the Health Research Institute, believes an effective diagnostic method would improve the quality of life of many people while reducing health care costs.

“Our research aims to design and prepare novel diagnostic imaging agents that could potentially improve prevention, early diagnosis and management of cancer,” said Dr. Hou.

Dr. Hou is working with Dr. Michael Campbell, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Lakehead and a Research Chair at the Health Research Institute, and Dr. Justin Jiang, a Professor in Chemistry at Lakehead.

While a biopsy is the only way to diagnose most types of cancer with any level of certainty, biopsies are invasive. Dr. Hou and his team are exploring a non-invasive detection method known as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging.

“By developing an imaging agent that targets receptors on the surface of cells that are highly expressed in many cancers, our research has the potential to develop the next generation of accurate cancer diagnostics,” he said.

Dr. Hou thanked CFI for the grant, which will allow the team to purchase equipment that will significantly improve productivity and speed up the research progress.

“This generous funding from the CFI strengthens our patient-centred research program and supports our researchers to find solutions to regional health care challenges – solutions that often have global applications,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Health Research Institute. “The results of this research can potentially provide our patients with more personalized care and better outcomes,” he added.

Dr. Andrew P. Dean, Lakehead’s Vice-President, Research and Innovation, also thanked CFI for the funding and said he is, once again, exceptionally proud of the research happening at Lakehead University and the Health Research Institute.

“This research has the potential to improve the quality of care for many cancer patients as well as reduce health care costs,” he said.

New Leader Appointed for Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre and Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute

Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott

Dr. Rhonda Crocker Ellacott has been appointed as the President & Chief Executive Officer of Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre and Chief Executive Officer of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, effective November 23, 2020. The announcement was made today by Matt Simeoni, Board Chair Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Chair of the CEO Selection Committee, and Dr. Andrew Dean, Board Chair of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.

“This is excellent news for our Hospital and Health Research Institute. The Board is absolutely confident that Rhonda is the right person to lead our Hospital through the development of a new strategic plan and health system transformation,” said Simeoni. “She is a highly respected and proven leader, as well as a champion of patients and families, as demonstrated by her three decades of growth and success.”

“Rhonda is a visionary who is driven by advancing and enhancing patient experiences. Her comprehensive background in the health care system and specific knowledge of and passion for Northwestern Ontario make her the ideal person to inspire and guide ongoing innovation in health research at our Health Research Institute,” added Dean.

Rhonda is currently the CEO of North West Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), and CEO of North East LHIN and Transitional Regional Lead for Ontario Health in the North Region. She was formerly the Executive Vice President, Patient Services and Chief Nursing Executive of Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and Chief Executive Officer, Nipigon District Memorial Hospital. Many of Rhonda’s accomplishments contributed to the growth and enhanced quality of health care. For example, Rhonda introduced Patient and Family Centred Care (PFCC) at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, nurtured it into an organizational philosophy, and has since expanded it to ensure the voices of patients and families influence health care access and delivery throughout Northern Ontario.

As a seasoned health care executive with over 30 years of progressive health care experience in a plethora of complex health systems, Rhonda has led complex systems level changes, advanced health system transformation, advanced quality improvement, inspired and developed innovations and garnered the trust of teams and colleagues. Rhonda has a track record of motivating vision, establishing strong and effective teams, empowering leadership, and nurturing and developing partnerships and networks across the broader health system.

Rhonda is inspired and honoured to begin this new chapter with the Hospital and Health Research Institute. “The values, collaboration and dedication of staff are familiar and match my personal principles. I look forward to connecting again with the dedicated staff, professional staff, scientists, Patient Family Advisors and volunteers. In this new role, I will rely heavily on their collective knowledge, skills, and commitment to safe, quality care as we advance our vision of being Healthy Together.”

Late last year, Jean Bartkowiak announced his intention to retire from his role as President & Chief Executive Officer of Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre and Chief Executive Officer of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute. We are grateful that he will continue to provide outstanding leadership until November 20, 2020.

Lakehead researchers receiving $2.3 million from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

Dr. Alla Reznik

Lakehead University professors are receiving more than $2.3 million from Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) for bold research exploring advancements in robotics, X-ray imaging technology, radio frequencies, and other important projects that will improve the lives of people around the world.

One of these recipients is Dr. Alla Reznik, a Lakehead Professor in Physics, Scientist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, and Canada Research Chair in Physics of Molecular Imaging. Dr. Reznik is receiving $205,000 to examine a new approach to X-ray imaging over five years.

This new approach, using photoconductive material lead oxide, will improve the quality of health care through more effective and less invasive imaging connected with cardiac intervention and early breast cancer diagnosis.

“Minimally invasive cardiac intervention includes a whole spectrum of surgical procedures ranging from cardiac catheterization to aortic valve replacement,” said Dr. Reznik. “Cardiac intervention procedures are long and are commonly carried out under X-ray guidance, which results in significant exposure of patients and medical personnel to X-rays. Hence, the need here is to develop a much more sensitive than currently available X-ray imaging detector that will navigate cardiac interventions under significantly lower doses.”

A common tool in breast cancer screening is 2D X-ray mammography, which takes an X-ray image of the breast while a medical professional compresses it between two plates. Although mammography reduces breast cancer mortality, its specificity for cancer detection is low.

“The need here is to develop a 3D visualization of the breast that will minimize the masking effect of overlapping fibroglandular tissue,” said Dr. Reznik.

Over the period of the grant, the proposed program will train three post-doctoral fellows, two PhD students and three Master of Science students. In addition, five high performing undergraduate students (each for one year) will be hired to participate in an annual Summer School on Medical Imaging to gain research experience.

“Dr. Reznik is a key contributor to our health research program that is vital to advancing our academic mission and even more importantly, to improving the health of the population,” said Jean Bartkowiak, President and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Health Research Institute. “Health research, like that of Dr. Reznik, provides patients with the opportunity to participate in research activity that helps design the care of the future and to access equipment at the frontier of health technology development. I would like to thank NSERC for recognizing the potential of Dr. Reznik’s research.”

To read the full announcement, visit

New Frontiers in Research Fund in Exploration Grant

Dr. Zubair Fadlullah

Dr. Zubair Fadlullah, a Lakehead University-Health Research Institute Research Chair in Smart Health Technology, is one of two Lakehead University professors who have been awarded grants from the federal New Frontiers in Research Fund in Exploration to pursue important work that will benefit Canada and beyond.

Dr. Fadlullah is receiving $250,000 over two years to investigate the use of drones to address the lack of reliable internet access and health care connectivity in rural areas in Northern Ontario. The aim of this research is to address both the urban-rural digital and health care gaps in an interdisciplinary manner.

“Connectivity is a key enabler for providing smart health care by monitoring and managing physical/mental health conditions and addiction trends,” Dr. Fadlullah wrote in his research proposal.
To tackle the digital divide issue, this research will use a robust communication infrastructure by leveraging Unmanned Aerial Vehicles such as drones, equipped with communication and energy harvesting modules as well as robotic arms, to form an agile network.

To address the health care gap in Northern Ontario, the drone-aided network, coupled with cost-effective device-to-device relays composed of smartphones, will offload the health data collected by Internet of Things and wearable devices deployed at the remote communities.

Dr. Fadlullah will carry out the research at two locations: the preliminary research investigation and experiment will occur at a Lakehead University research lab and the field experiment will be carried out at one of the Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations communities.

He will work with co-principal investigator Dr. Vijay Mago, an associate professor in Computer Science at Lakehead who is assisting with data analytics, and with co-applicant Keewaytinook Okimakanak eHealth Telemedicine, which will provide insight as they work toward implementing a successful solution.

To read the original announcement, visit:

Dr. Guillem Dayer and the “New Wave” of Young Scientists

Thunder Bay's Newest Scientists

Dr. Guillem Dayer is part of the “new wave” of young scientists in Thunder Bay. Two years ago, he moved here to join the Zehbe Group at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute. He saw working with Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe as a great opportunity. And the story of how he got here is fascinating.

Dr. Dayer grew up in the east-central African country of Burundi. His family moved back to his father’s home country of Switzerland in 1994 during Burundi’s civil war. He studied biology at university (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne); malaria and giardia, both parasites common to Africa, were obvious research interests for Dr. Dayer.

“That’s what triggered me to work in the parasitical field,” he said.

Dr. Dayer came to Canada to continue his studies and earned his PhD from Trent University in 2017. He joined the Zehbe Group two years ago on a postdoctoral fellowship to research cervical cancer and oral cancer. What attracted Dr. Dayer was the role of proteins from the human papillomavirus (HPV) in those diseases and how to target them effectively.

“I was always specifically interested in working with proteins,” he said.

Last November, Dr. Dayer was awarded a prestigious Mitacs grant to investigate how to prevent the E6 protein in HPV from blocking a cell’s immune system. Normally, an infection will trigger an alarm in a cell to stop the spread. But E6 blocks that alarm. The infection multiplies and causes more mutations, which can lead to cervical and other cancers. Dr. Dayer’s research will try to find a way to interrupt the E6 protein and turn the alarm back on.

His work builds upon research by Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, as well as two other of her mentees, Dr. Melissa Togtema and Dr. Robert Jackson. Their research, funded in part by the Health Sciences Foundation, helped discover that the E6 protein is the main culprit in cervical cancer development.

Dr. Togtema and Dr. Jackson are also a part of our new wave of scientists. Unlike Dr. Dayer, they are local – something that would be unheard of even 15 years ago. Dr. Togtema grew up in Manitouwadge and completed her Honours Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto before moving back to study with Dr. Zehbe. She received her master’s degree in August 2013 and then her doctorate in November 2018. Dr. Jackson grew up in Thunder Bay and got his Honours Bachelor of Science at Lakehead University. He joined Dr. Zehbe’s lab in 2010 and received his master’s degree in 2012 and his doctorate in May 2019. He moved to become a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Dayer may not be local originally, but he plans to make Thunder Bay his home. With Thunder Bay’s unique research partnerships between the Health Research Institute, the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, Lakehead University, NOSM, and others, it’s an ideal research environment for him.
“I felt like there was a lot of potential here for this project,” he said. “We can’t do research solely in a university or lab setting. We’ll need to work with a medical facility (for clinical trials) at some point.”
Dr. Dayer hopes to secure a professorship at Lakehead and continue his research here.

You can help support local research, too! Donate online at or call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.

New Research Grant to Fund Cervical Cancer Treatment in Development in Thunder Bay

Dr. Guillem Dayer, a researcher at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute, won a prestigious Mitacs grant to continue research into new cervical cancer treatments. As part of the Zehbe Group, his research will build on the work of Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, Dr. Melissa Togtema, and Dr. Robert Jackson into cervical cancer- and oral cancer-fighting molecules.

“The project that I’m working on will determine how we can use these molecules as potential therapies,” Dr. Dayer said.

Officially, Dr. Dayer’s grant is for the “development, implementation, and validation of new anti-E6 therapeutics for the treatment of HPV-associated cancer”. As complicated as that sounds, the concept is fairly simple.

Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is a common virus that almost all sexually active people get at some point in their lives. Most people clear the virus, just as they would a cold. An “alarm” activates and each infected cell shuts down. However, sometimes the infection doesn’t go away, which could lead to cancer development.

“The more these cells multiply, the more mutations that can occur and then make things worse – it can become a malignant cancer,” Dr. Dayer said.

Thanks in part to the Zehbe Group’s research, we now know that a specific protein – the E6 protein – blocks the alarm in the cell. You can picture it as bank robbers spraying security cameras. If security doesn’t know there are robbers in the bank, they won’t know anything is wrong.

“The strategy is to target the E6 protein,” Dr. Dayer said. “If we block E6, the alarm will switch back on. The cells will ‘kill’ themselves, if you like, before they can do any harm.”

Dr. Dayer will study this approach using cells in the lab. Years from now, his research could lead to clinical trials. Treatments could use another technology developed in part at the Health Research Institute – HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound). HIFU helps target only affected cells. The molecules designed to block the E6 protein would be encapsulated in “microbubbles” and sent to the affected area. HIFU would heat up the bubbles until they burst, releasing the molecules. The result is personalized, more targeted treatments to improve patient care.

But that’s years away. For the moment, Dr. Dayer is focused on Step 1: finding the best way of blocking E6. “This research wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation, TBRHRI, Mitacs and Lakehead University,” Dr. Dayer said. “I would like to thank everyone who supports local research in our region.”

You can help our scientists make new discoveries, too. Your donation to the Health Sciences Discovery Fund will support all of our researchers find new treatments to help patients in Northwestern Ontario. Call our Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673 or donate online at