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Dr. Janice Leung Wins MSFHR Health Professional-Investigator Award

By July 5, 2017No Comments

“This is an emerging public health issue – people with HIV are living longer and surviving thanks to effective treatments. But now we have to consider what the long-term effects of surviving with HIV are and the fact of the matter is that many are suffering from chronic lung diseases.”

This quote from Dr. Janice Leung, a respirologist at St. Paul’s Hospital, summarizes what drives her to understand how and why people with HIV develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at greater rates and younger ages than the general population.

“As a respirologist in the HIV clinic at St. Paul’s, I see first-hand how COPD impacts my patients’ quality of life and limits what they can do day-to-day. As more and more patients with HIV live to see older ages, it’s important we find out why they are developing COPD at such high rates and come up with targeted treatment and prevention strategies,” says Leung.

Her research got a recent boost when she received one of 11 inaugural MSFHR health professional-investigator awards, designed to support health professionals who are actively involved in patient care to conduct and apply research relevant to health and/or the health system.

Her award was made possible thanks to a new MSFHR competition partner, Providence Health Care Research Institute (PHCRI).

“This is our first co-funded award with MSFHR and we are excited to be able to support research to both advance our understanding of lung disease in people living with HIV and contribute to our vision of integrated patient care and research that serves the province’s most vulnerable populations,” notes Dr. S. F. Paul Man, PHCRI President.

Partnering with other organizations who are working to advance health research and innovation is one of the ways MSFHR increases the funding available to grow BC health research talent. Thanks to our many partner organizations over the years, we’ve been able to offer over 150 partnered awards.

With her award, Leung will be able to focus more time on her research while still maintaining her clinical practice. As part of her research program, she is collecting blood and bronchial epithelial cell samples from patients in her clinic and studying them to better understand how these cells behave and how their bacterial community may differ from other populations. From what she has learned to date, partly through research conducted as part of her 2013 MSFHR Trainee award, these cells appear to harbour distinct bacteria and age faster in patients with HIV, both processes potentially accelerating the development of COPD. Understanding how these factors work together to injure the lung is the first step to developing a way to treat the disease.

“Thanks to this award, I can continue both my clinical and research practice which is so important because the two critically inform each other. I can feed what I learn from my patients into my laboratory work and hopefully translate that knowledge back into tangible benefit for their lives,” says Leung.