State-of-the-art medical research close to home

by Osler Staff | Aug 06, 2020
On the left, the late Dr. Ron Heslegrave, Osler’s former Corporate Chief of Research. On the right, a laboratory technician using a microscope

Dr. Ron Heslegrave (right) had a poignant role in establishing Osler's first formal research program.

Many people associate medical research with academic hospitals. But what many don’t realize is that state-of-the-art research is happening right here at Osler.

“We are one of very few community hospitals that also conducts research, including clinical trials to test new medications and therapies,” says Patti Rempel, Osler’s Interim Director of Research. “To date we’ve conducted over 100 trials in a variety of areas, including research in cancer, nephrology, paediatric, cardiac, and intensive care, and we’re also participating in numerous studies to help us better understand and treat COVID-19.”

Far from the often-imagined lab coats and test tubes, Osler’s research program focusses on clinical research at the patient’s bedside. As Osler’s Pathologist and Physician Lead of Research, Dr. Brandon Sheffield explains, “Our goal is to help people who are sick right now, as well as in the future. The research program helps many of our patients gain access to technology and therapies that may not otherwise have been available to them. We’re leveraging our research partnerships to provide people with cutting-edge medical care, right in their own community.”

For some patients, participation in a research study means access to a drug that physicians know is helpful or that shows promise, but that is not yet reimbursed by the Ontario drug plan or approved by Health Canada. Being able to offer effective medications to people who may not otherwise be able to access them has made a world of difference to the hundreds of patients who’ve participated in research through Osler,” notes Head of Cancer Research, Dr. Parneet Cheema. “Our research is truly about improving the quality of care for all patients.”

In addition to clinical trials, Osler is also creating a new model of cancer care. Equipment purchased through research grants has allowed for sophisticated on-site testing, with cancer patients receiving results within days rather than two or more months, as is typical.

“What we’re creating is truly personalized medicine,” Dr. Cheema says. Not only can we give much quicker results, we can test for more genes than ever before. As a result, we are able to prescribe the most effective cancer treatments for each individual person’s needs. We’re the first community hospital in Canada to offer this specialized care.”

The research program’s exponential growth is due is no small part to Dr. Ron Heslegrave, who in 2013 became Osler’s first-ever Chief Research Officer. A visionary and remarkable leader in research ethics, Dr. Heslegrave was instrumental in establishing Osler’s first formal research program and in forging new partnerships to strengthen health care in our region.

To the great sadness of those who knew him, Dr. Heslegrave recently passed away – but his legacy lives on. “Very few researchers have made such a difference in the health and wellbeing of their community,” says Dr. Sheffield. “Ron was one of those people. He truly improved the lives of so many.”

Dr. Heslegrave’s vision was to form a research institute at Osler that would represent and showcase the organization’s leading edge research nationally. Osler remains committed to this vision and plans to make it a reality in the years to come.

In honour of Dr. Heslegrave and at his family’s request, the William Osler Health System Foundation has established a fund in his memory. All donations will be used to expand Osler's Research Program even further.