Top honour for health research

(Edmonton)  A University of Alberta medical researcher is part of a team that won a national research award Monday.

Lisa Hartling, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, cross-appointed to the School of Public Health and director of the Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, was part of a team of five researchers from various sites in Canada who were cited for the annual Top Canadian Achievements in Health Research, given jointly by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). In total, six awards were given to research teams across the country to recognize work that has changed the course of health-care delivery.

By generating and sharing research data via a national network known as Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC), Hartling’s team aimed to improve health outcomes of acutely ill and injured children who visit emergency departments. Thanks to the team’s work, emergency departments now deal better with common childhood problems such as croup, bronchiolitis and mild head injuries. Hartling is sharing this award with her colleagues: Terry Klassen from the University of Manitoba, David Johnson from the University of Calgary, and Martin Osmond and Amy Plint from the University of Ottawa.

“It’s very exciting on a number of levels,” says Hartling. “It’s a group of people that have come together and created a collaborative network across the country. This network helps us do high quality research in an efficient way and facilitates communication at a national level. The network is recognized internationally.

“This collaborative network has had a very important impact on how children are cared for in emergency departments across the country. We aim to identify the most effective and safe ways to treat and diagnose certain conditions. A key focus is to communicate this information to health-care providers and parents.”

PERC recognized that many children with croup were not receiving optimal therapy. Randomized trials found that corticosteroids were effective in managing this common illness. Treatment with corticosteroids has substantially cut the number of hospitalizations and return visits by half, reducing health-care costs, parental stress and out-of-pocket expenses.
PERC has been at the forefront of generating evidence for bronchiolitis.

The group conducted the largest randomized trial to date. The study showed that dexamethasone (a steroid drug used to treat many inflammatory conditions) and epinephrine (commonly known as adrenaline) may interact positively, resulting in a significant drop in hospital admission rates.

Another challenging issue that the group addressed was the huge variation in the use of computed tomography (CT) for children with mild head injury. The CIHR-funded study, which enrolled more than 4,000 children, resulted in a clinical decision rule that assists physicians in determining if a child suffering mild head injury requires a CT scan. This rule could result in a decrease in the number of children facing unnecessary radiation exposure.