Indigenous cancer care, MS among U of S research projects awarded $2 million

Complicated, foreign and often inhospitable. This is how an Indigenous patient once described Saskatchewan’s complex cancer care system to University of Saskatchewan researcher Dr. Gary Groot.

That conversation convinced Groot that more needs to be done to support Indigenous cancer patients in the province, who continue to encounter systemic and racial barriers while attempting to access cancer care. 
Groot, a surgical oncologist, clinical professor in surgery, and associate professor in Community Health and Epidemiology at the U of S, has been awarded a $120,000 Establishment Grant by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) for a pilot research program that will use peer navigators to help Indigenous patients deal with the health system.
Groot is collaborating with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) and the Métis Nation of Saskatchewan to gain a deeper understanding of the unique health experiences and specific barriers facing Indigenous people with cancer, so that cancer services can be redesigned from the user’s perspective.
The study involves several northern Saskatchewan communities including Prince Albert, Cumberland House, Black Lake and Shellbrook. It will follow 30 Indigenous cancer patients accompanied by an Indigenous patient navigator as they travel through the cancer system from first diagnosis to their return home.
Using interviews and questionnaires, Groot hopes to gain a clearer picture of how navigators might improve patient understanding and remove barriers patients face in accessing and receiving care. He also wants to raise awareness among health care providers about the importance of creating culturally safe and culturally appropriate supports for Indigenous patients. 
“As I've got to know the Indigenous community better, and I start to understand how they see the world, how they interact with it, and the challenges they bring to the table, my capacity and ability to have ideal interactions with them as a care provider has increased significantly. If I can do that I believe others can do that as well," he said.
The award to Dr. Groot is among nine Establishment Grants and eight research fellowships totalling $2 million awarded to U of S researchers by SHRF on June 29.
“These awards and fellowships are a worthy recognition of the hard work and talent of our community of researchers, and they also reflect the tremendous contribution the U of S is making to advancing health care in Saskatchewan,” said U of S Vice-President Research Karen Chad.
The eight others awarded three-year Establishment Grants are:
  • Robert Laprairie, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition: Laprairie was awarded $120,000 for research to develop cannabinoid-based medicine for a form of epilepsy called absence seizures that account for about 10 per cent of childhood seizures, and for other forms of pediatric epilepsy for which there is a clinically unmet need in Saskatchewan.
  • Jessica Lieffers, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition: Lieffers was awarded $80,000 for a multidisciplinary research project to understand parent perspectives about nutrition and tooth decay in children in diverse areas of Saskatoon, as well as the content of publicly available written information on tooth decay and nutrition available to them.
  • Dr. Michael Levin,College of Medicine: Dr. Levin was awarded $120,000 to help establish the Office of the Saskatchewan Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Clinical Research Chair as a province-wide resource for people with MS and researchers who study MS in the province. The funding will help initiate and guide development of novel therapies that target nerve cell death, a major feature of progressive forms of MS.
  • Emily McWalter, College of Engineering: McWalter, a biomechanical engineer, will be examining understudied tissues — synovium, muscles, tendons and ligaments—in knee osteoarthritis with her award of $120,000. The techniques proposed will provide objective measures of osteoarthritis required to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments.
  • Dylan Olver, Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM): Obesity and high blood pressure are primary risk factors for developing dementia, with an estimated 10 people in Saskatchewan developing dementia daily. Olver was awarded $120,000 for research to provide new insights on the causes of vascular dementia and identify targets for future prevention or treatment options.
  • Eric Price, College of Arts and Science: Price was awarded $120,000 for research that will advance the development of novel radioactive agents for use in positron emission tomography imaging, with improved imaging and treatment efficacy. These improved agents can lower the radiation dosage to healthy organs, and have the potential to improve patient care.
  • Scott Widenmaier, College of Medicine:  An excess of cholesterol can cause non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a liver disease that affects six per cent of North American adults and is a leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer. Widenmaier was awarded $120,000 for research to improve understanding of the disease and address the critical need for therapies that improve the health outcomes in people with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
  • Dr. Yanbo Zhang, College of Medicine: Dr. Zhang was awarded $117,500 to study the effectiveness in using Low Filed Magnetic Stimulation (LFMS) of the brain in treating cognition issues and depression in patients with multiple sclerosis. LFMS is used already as a safe and novel treatment for depression, and Zhang is using MS mouse models to study if the procedure can reduce neuroinflammation and brain damage and promote brain repair. 
SHRF also awarded $100,000 research fellowships to eight U of S postdoctoral fellows. They are:
  • Alexandra Belotta, Western College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Renuka Dahiya, College of Medicine
  • Amit Gaba, College of Medicine
  • Tetiana Katrii, College of Medicine
  • Thaisa Sandini, College of Medicine
  • Ornwipa Thamsuwan, Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture
  • Xingui Tian, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organizatio—International Vaccine Centre
  • Emilio Velez,Western College of Veterinay Medicine   


For more information, contact:

Jennifer Thoma
Media Relations Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
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