From improving outcomes for children with critical illnesses to finding new therapies to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, recipients of the most recent Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards have big ambitions for a healthier world.

The four winners of the postdoctoral awards work in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University. The awards are funded through a portion of the Faculty of Health Sciences Development Fund, part of Michael G. DeGroote's $105 million donation in 2003. The winners are chosen for their exemplary academic record and are awarded $50,000 to develop a competitive research program.

Carlos Cuello works in the lab of Karen Choong, an associate professor of the Critical Care Division in the Department of Pediatrics. Bruno Lamas is with the lab of Elena Verdu, associate professor of medicine. Guowei Li works in the lab of Mitchell A.H. Levine, a professor in the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact (HE&I). Brent Weber is from the lab of Eric Brown, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

Cuello is a pediatrician from Mexico who completed a PhD in health research methodology at McMaster last year, and is the recipient of the 2017 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Clinical Research.

"With newer and improved techniques used in the pediatric intensive care unit over the last decades, more and more children have better chances of survival," said Cuello.

"However, this improved survival is accompanied by a rise in complications acquired in the intensive care units, such as over-sedation and prolonged immobility, leading to an increase in delirium, weakness, and drug withdrawal."

He added this also increases familial stress, dissatisfaction, and worsening long-term function and quality of life.

Cuello's aim is to find strategies to optimize functional recovery in critically ill children such as early mobilization, adequate sedation approaches, detection of barriers, and improving the quality of care provided in the pediatric intensive care unit.

Lamas is the recipient of the 2017 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Basic Biomedical Science.

He focuses his studies on finding out if altered gut bacteria in celiac patients produce factors that signal through a molecule called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).

"AhR activity influences cells that are located within the gut lining (intraepithelial lymphocytes or IELs) and that have important roles in keeping balanced immune responses to gut luminal triggers," said Lamas.

He is investigating whether gut bacteria from celiac patients cause inflammation through the production of metabolites that activate AhR and cells that are located within the gut lining.

"The Michael G. DeGroote fellowship will be instrumental to perform this research at a specialized center with a strong a bench-to-bedside approach like McMaster. Being a recipient of the Michael G. DeGroote fellowship is an honour that will help me achieve my academic and research goals."

Weber's research is focused on finding new therapies to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.  

"These so called "superbugs" have become a major problem in hospitals worldwide and, in some cases, lead to untreatable and fatal infections," said Weber, recipient of the 2016 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Basic Biomedical Science.

"My work aims to first develop our basic understanding of the biological mechanisms that these superbugs require to cause infection, and then use this knowledge to develop more precise antibacterial therapies."

Weber has a particular interest in finding new antibiotics to treat bloodstream infections, which often lead to high mortality rates.

"The generous financial support provided by the Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship will give me the opportunity to undertake high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to impact treatment of serious bacterial infections," he said.

Li is the recipient of the 2016 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award in Clinical Research. He is investigating the quality of life and risk of fractures in diabetic patients.

Specifically, he is looking at whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy is associated with better quality of life in diabetic patients with non-healing ulcers of the lower limb. He is also assessing whether frailty can help interpret the diabetic paradox (high risk of fracture but normal or increased bone mineral density) in patients living with Type 2 Diabetes.

"The award will help support my postdoctoral training and continue to improve my skills as an independent methodologist and researcher capable of making a lasting contribution to health care research," said Li.

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