Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions awards 21 projects around Alberta

Feb. 7, 2013

(Calgary, Alberta) February 07, 2013… Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) researchers at the University of Calgary are investigating new and novel ways to improve wound healing for burn survivors. Jeff Biernaskie, PhD, and Vincent Gabriel, MD, are among the first recipients of the AIHS Collaborative Research and Innovation Opportunities (CRIO) Project funding.

Biernaskie and Gabriel are exploring new ways to use adult stem cells to improve the function of split thickness skin grafts. Skin grafts are currently the best treatment for serious burns, but they lead to loss of skin sensation and function, loss of hair follicles, and altered appearance. The deep layers of skin, known as the dermis, are missing and as a result, patients suffer from chronic pain and itching, limited mobility, and because of the skin graft appearance, psychological issues.

Biernaskie, a researcher in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary, and Gabriel, a physician in the burn unit at the Foothills Medical Centre, formed a collaboration because they were dissatisfied with current burn treatment options. They are looking to regenerate a burn survivor’s own dermis, transplant it to the skin grafted wound area, and restore the skin’s normal healthy function.

“Drs. Gabriel and Biernaskie demonstrate the benefits that result when researchers and clinicians work together to tackle priority health issues. Their dynamic collaboration promises to transform treatments for burn victims and that is what our goal is at AIHS: to make a difference in peoples’ health and wellbeing,” says AIHS’s acting CEO, Pamela Valentine, PhD. “On behalf of our Board of Directors, I want to congratulate all recipients of this year’s CRIO Project funding.”

A critical partner in this research project is the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society (CFBTS). “Firefighters are at great risk for burn injuries and it is exciting to be involved with the front-line researchers who are developing groundbreaking advancements in wound healing,” says Ross Pambrun, a fire fighter with the Calgary Fire Department, and also the treasurer for the CFBTS. The CBFTS has contributed an additional $300,000 dollars to the three year project.

21 successful CRIO Projects were awarded to small research groups around Alberta working on such topics as perinatal stroke, deep brain stimulation to treat resistant depressive disorders, and cell therapy for nerve and spinal cord repair. CRIO Project funding will provide up to $750,000 over three years to the Biernaskie-Gabriel collaboration.



The AIHS Collaborative Research & Innovation Opportunities suite of programs supports research in priority areas of health that produces new knowledge that will enhance the impact on the health of Albertans and/or the health care system.

The first CRIO Projects competition received 234 applications. Of those, 45 of those were invited to submit a full application. AIHS approved 21 CRIO Projects to receive support. This represents a total investment of over $15.5 million over the next 3 years, including one cancer-related CRIO Project supported through the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund (ACPLF).

The Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society, established in 1978, is a registered, non-profit organization consisting of professional firefighters who volunteer their time and energy to raise funds in support of clinical care and research at the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Unit at the Foothills Medical Centre. Our fundraising efforts have contributed over $5.7 million to the Burn Treatment Unit to date. See for more information.

AIHS supports top-quality, internationally competitive health research. Our research seeks to further our understanding of health and disease, and to produce results that will make a difference to the health, economy and societal wellbeing of Albertans and people around the world.

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