Four Daring Researchers Rewarded

- 6 min

Neila Mezgahni and Gabrielle Pagé, as well as Dr. Nathalie Bureau and Dr. Marie-Chantal Fortin, have received $100,000 grants from the Fonds de recherche du Québec’s (FRQ) 2020-2021 AUDACE Program.

Out of the sixteen award-winning projects in Quebec, four are being carried out by researchers from the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) and their teams. Let’s examine these winning projects.

Connected Underwear to Remedy Urinary Incontinence

Principal investigator: Neila Mezghani

In Canada, around 10% of the population is affected by a form of urinary incontinence, which is involuntary loss of urine that can be socially stigmatizing. Recent studies show that 16% of men and 33% of women over the age of 40 have symptoms of incontinence. However, only 26% of them have mentioned it to a doctor.

With the project “Connected Underwear to Remedy Urinary Incontinence: Living with Dignity and Autonomy,” Neila Mezghani will tackle the subject from two angles. For those affected by overflow incontinence, she will design an undergarment that will have an unobtrusive ultrasonic sensor. This device will measure the amount of urine in the bladder throughout the day and will warn the patient (or their caregivers) when their bladder has reached its predefined threshold level.

To accommodate people with physical or cognitive disabilities, the undergarment will be equipped with a moisture sensor to notify care workers in a nursing home, for example, of a urinary incontinence situation and to locate the resident in question. This optimizes caregivers’ interventions with patients and the use of disposable diapers (economic and environmental aspects).

The team, led by Neila Mezghani, consists of people with strong expertise in clothing design, materials science and artificial intelligence.

“I’m very eager to start this project with this talented team and also very happy to have been able to have Vestechpro, a college technology transfer centre (CCTT) affiliated with CÉGEP Marie-Victorin, participate in our project. Its director, Paulette Kaci, is very involved,” says the researcher. And that’s not a coincidence.

The manufacturing of this undergarment, whose design will resemble that of traditional underwear, will allow people with incontinence to feel more comfortable and to experience freedom and dignity. By notifying them at the right time, this high-tech undergarment will encourage these people to maintain their daily activities and help them improve their quality of life.

Two manufacturers are already interested in partnerships: La Vie en Rose, a Canadian lingerie retailer, and Enovacom, a subsidiary of the French operator Orange, for the IT security and systems interoperability aspects.

>> Find details about the members of the research team involved

Better Diagnosing Chronic Lower Back Pain

Principal investigator: Dr. Nathalie Bureau

Co-director: Guy Cloutier

Over their lifetimes, 80% of Quebecers will experience at least one incident of lower back pain and 23% will experience chronic disabling lower back pain. In most cases, doctors are unable to pinpoint the cause of the pain by using conventional imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.

To ease their pain, patients increasingly turn to alternative and complementary medicine therapies: acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractic, etc., which mainly target painful areas located in the back’s tissues and muscles. Relaxing these abnormally tense tissues helps to control the pain, although the mechanisms of action are still unknown.

In her project, Dr. Nathalie Bureau intends to illustrate pain. How? By designing a non-invasive ultrasound imaging technique to more accurately diagnose the cause of lower back pain. With Guy Cloutier’s support, she will determine the role that muscles and connective tissue, known as fascia, play in the origin of lower back pain. Equipped with pain receptors, fasciae are casings of connective tissue connected to muscles and are found throughout the human body.

In their laboratory, they will be able to use their own ultrasound techniques to measure the viscoelasticity, movement, inflammation and structural properties of tissues. The goal is to characterize changes in fascia related to lower back pain. Their approach will also allow them to determine the effects of chiropractic, acupuncture and osteopathic treatments on these same tissues.

They ultimately hope to optimize existing treatments and identify ultrasound markers that can serve as targets. This would allow new treatments to be designed (injections, manual therapy) that are more specific and effective at treating lower back pain.

“We are very thankful that the AUDACE Program has given us this grant and we are enthusiastic about the idea of leveraging a unique intersectoral partnership to complete this ambitious and promising project!” said Dr. Nathalie Bureau.

>> Find details about the members of the research team involved

Special mention: Guy Cloutier is also the co-director of the project “Pelvic Fasciae — Discovery of a New Player Involved in Vulvar Pain?” conducted by Mélanie Morin, a researcher at the Université de Sherbrooke.

A Mobile Application to Manage Pain

Principal investigator: Gabrielle Pagé

Co-director: Jinghui Cheng, Polytechnique Montréal

Following a surgical operation, many patients have to learn how to deal with pain. Once home, they sometimes have trouble handling and controlling it. A mobile application, developed by Gabrielle Pagé and Jinghui Cheng (Polytechnique Montréal)’s team, could help make this easier.

Installed on a smartphone, this system will detect the user’s emotions and mental state (anxiety or depression, for example) in real time. How? By collecting information such as voice recordings, movement captured through the phone’s accelerometer, usage data, etc.

After analyzing and processing the information, the app will provide patients with recommendations for personalized resources tailored to their condition to help them manage their pain. To be effective and transform the user/patient experience, the app will use strategies normally associated with gaming. This method, called gamification, is used in many fitness or health prevention software programs.

Very pleased to have received an AUDACE grant, the team, made up of researchers, clinicians and a patient partner, hopes to limit patients’ long-term use of opioids for pain management after surgery and minimize the risks of developing an addiction.

A technological tool of this type will eventually optimize follow-up care when patients return home and could be recommended by CHUM’s postoperative transition service.

>> Find details about the members of the research team involved

Telling and Overcoming One’s Story as a Transplant Patient

Principal investigator: Dr. Marie-Chantal Fortin

Co-directors: Simon Harel and Catherine Mavrikakis (Université de Montréal)

For patients and their families, a transplant comes with its share of medical, psychological and even existential challenges. To better deal with them, other patients’ experiences can help. To this end, the story of their journey or personal account is an original way of getting their perspectives. It’s also a way for them to reappropriate their journey as a transplant patient and to better understand themselves.

For her project, Dr. Marie-Chantal Fortin has partnered with Simon Harel and Catherine Mavrikakis, two professors in the Department of Literatures and Languages of the World at the Université de Montréal. Together, they will collect the transplant stories of patients and health professionals. Then, they will have writers and artists help transform and go beyond these life stories by exploring literary themes such as, for example, science fiction.

Scheduled to be widely available on a web platform in about a year, these “personal accounts” will help prepare patients for, and do better with, their transplant. The writing workshops will begin in the fall of 2020.

“I’m very excited by the idea of starting this project with this great team. Thanks to a grant from the McConnell Foundation’s Chair, we had already begun working with kidney transplant patients. The AUDACE grant allows us to extend our reach to other types of transplant patients,” explained Dr. Fortin.

We all know that illness goes beyond mere medical data. Humanity has its place in modern medicine. As a component of the humanities, narrative medicine thus plays an important role in patients’ self-management and self-empowerment. Smaller-scale studies using personal accounts have already proven this, whether dealing with high blood pressure among African-Americans or paediatric oncology. Dr. Fortin’s study should be no exception.

>> Find details about the members of the research team involved