Fibrosis: confronting a global challenge

This fall, the Ted Rogers Centre led a successful bid for a U of T Connaught Global Challenge to create a “Global Fibrosis Network.” Piloted by scientific lead Craig Simmons (TBEP) and collaborators, the team earned a $250,000 grant over two years to launch a program that will unite experts across the world in a collective effort to research how to overcome the challenge of fibrosis.

The Connaught Global Challenge are annual grants that spur collaborations involving U of T researchers and students from many disciplines, along with innovators and thought leaders from other sectors. They seek projects that offer solutions to problems affecting people worldwide.

Fibrosis occurs when excess connective tissue in an organ forms in response to an injury or stimulus –often becoming a scar. Its danger lays in the fact that it is a huge driver of such chronic diseases as heart failure (the focus of our Centre), cancer, diabetes and renal disease.

2.5 billion people

Fibrosis affects over 2.5 billion people in the world with a cost to medical systems at over $200 billion a year. It is believed that one-third of global deaths are tied to fibrosis.

Here is what we don’t have, and why this Global Fibrosis Network is necessary: molecular targets, validated biomarkers, minimally invasive diagnostic tools for early diagnosis, methods to screen the effectiveness of new drugs, and a solution to halt the progression of fibrosis.

Into this void will step world-leading scientists and clinicians tied to U of T who have independently made strides in fibrosis research. Through this effort, they will join forces and tackle this massive challenge together. Local leads Chris McCulloch (U of T Dentistry), Dr. Richard Gilbert (St. Michael’s Hospital), Beate Sander (Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment group), and Simmons will seize the momentum in Toronto to develop a local fibrosis network.

 

Leading a new, global effort

They will then look to expand it globally. The initiative is already supported by international experts in fibrosis, including Ted Rogers Centre advisor Shoumo Bhattacharya (Oxford), Burns Blaxall (University of Cincinnati), Donald Gullberg (University of Bergen), and Didier Letourneur (University of Paris). Together, the network will create strategic partnerships in academia, medicine, and industry.

The Global Fibrosis Network will achieve these goals by hosting a major international symposium on fibrosis; bringing experts to Toronto to develop collaborative programs, share knowledge and strategize funding; and fostering an international community of trainees through a variety of educational efforts.

In related news, four Ted Rogers Centre principal investigators helped support Chris McCulloch for a successful Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant targeting fibrosis. Through this, the Centre is set to acquire new machines to develop new diagnostics to detect cardiac fibrosis early, model fibrosis tissue, and study the mechanisms that govern how fibrosis develops and progresses.

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Images: Human heart cells. The red represents the myocardium (muscular tissue of heart) and the green represents fibrosis. These are courtesy of Jake Cosme and Sina Hadipour-Lakmehsari (Gramolini lab) as well as Phyllis Billia who provided the biospecimens.

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