THUNDER BAY – Health – Dr. Marina Ulanova, Researcher and Associate Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and her colleagues have made important steps towards development of a vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae type A (HIA), an invasive bacterial pathogen capable of causing serious infections that can lead to permanent disability, brain damage, and deafness. This work is carried out in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
“Northwestern Ontario has the second largest number of cases of Haemophilus influenzae type A, after the Canadian Arctic,” says NOSM Associate Professor Dr. Marina Ulanova. “In addition, we have discovered that Haemophilus influenzae type A occurs at a much higher rate among First Nations peoples compared to the rest of the population in Northwestern Ontario.”
“Historically, there have been many examples of unethical scientific research conducted on First Nations people,” says Dr. Eli Nix, NOSM Postdoctoral Fellow. “As a result many are hesitant to become involved in research today. We have been working with communities, council members in health portfolios, tribal health authorities, and regional health centers to ensure that our research is inclusive and collaborative, with the goal of building long-term relationships. We’re very invested in making sure that our research is done in a culturally competent and appropriate way.”
“We have found that First Nations people have more potent antibodies than non-First Nations,” says Nix. “Our working hypothesis now is that there is a higher circulation of the bacteria among First Nations. This has the effect of boosting your immune system if you’re healthy, but may also result in higher rates of infection among people with weakened immune system.”
In addition to developing partnerships with many First Nations communities across Northern Ontario, Ulanova and Nix have been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. Their interest in the project stems from the high rates of the HIA in Alaska.
Although Ulanova and Nix’s study of HIA has been primarily focused on Northwestern Ontario, they plan to expand their research to other parts of the province to understand why these infections are largely confined to the Northwest.
“Our next big research question is: What is the epidemiology of this infection in other regions of Northern Ontario?” says Ulanova. “We know that in Canada, the infection is much more prevalent in northern areas than in southern areas. We plan to extend our research to gain more specific data about how and why the bacteria are in higher circulation in the North.”
“Development of the Haemophilus influenzae type A vaccine has the potential to significantly improve health outcomes by safeguarding patients against a harmful pathogen,” says Dr. Roger Strasser, NOSM Dean. “I commend Drs. Ulanova and Nix and the members of their research team for undertaking important research that impacts the health of their fellow Northern Ontarians.”
Dr. Marina Ulanova will present at NOSM’s ninth annual Northern Health Research Conference (NHRC) regarding this research and the development of the vaccine. The NHRC will take place in Sioux Lookout in collaboration with the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre on June 6-7, 2014.