Brain health researcher wins Mitacs award
December 5, 2018
HALIFAX – A PhD student at Dalhousie University has earned the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation – PhD, awarded by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia. Lyna Kamintsky (pictured) applied machine learning and analysis of MRI images to demonstrate the direct correlation between blood vessel leakage in the brain and symptoms reported by patients.
The game-changing technology is leading to more accurate diagnoses of brain and retinal vascular injuries, ultimately leading to more targeted, personalized treatment of brain and retinal disorders. This includes the prevention of sight loss in people affected by diabetes and new therapies for people suffering from traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other neurological conditions.
Kamintsky is working under the supervision of Professors Alon Friedman, Steven Beyea and Chris Bowen.
Her first-of-its-kind algorithm is being used by principal investigators at Halifax-based Emagix Inc., an early-stage biomedical company, to develop more personalized, predictive diagnostic tools, starting with the launch of a unique tool for ophthalmologists that identifies patients at risk of losing their eyesight due to diabetes.
“This is life-changing work,” said Kamintsky, who works in the Emagix labs alongside company founder Alon Friedman and collaborates with psychiatrist Dr. Cynthia Calkin. “Not only are we helping to prevent blindness in diabetics, but we’re also developing a clinical decision support tool to help psychiatrists better diagnose and treat their patients.”
As Kamintsky explained, psychiatrists primarily rely on interviews with patients to diagnose psychiatric disorders and it can be difficult to distinguish between different illnesses, such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder. The diagnostic tool being developed by Emagix accurately correlates blood vessel damage in specific parts of the brain to specific neurological symptoms.
“Not only does this breakthrough allow us to start thinking about new, better treatments in the future, but it also gives patients the comfort of understanding that they’re not just imagining a disease, and that we can diagnose their illness using an MRI,” said Kamintsky.
The groundbreaking work is also being applied to better understand and treat cognitive decline and the onset of epilepsy in patients who suffer a traumatic brain injury. Emagix is currently working to commercialize the novel approach and is already collaborating with ophthalmologists on a worldwide scale to advance its diagnostic retinal tool.
The Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–PhD is presented to a PhD student who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation during their Mitacs-funded internship. Kamintsky is one of six Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining five recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation, exceptional leadership or commercialization in other areas of research.
“Mitacs-funded research continues to fuel the economy and create a more innovative Canada by strengthening connections among industry, post-secondary institutions and government,” said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “The work these award winners represent is truly remarkable and Mitacs is honoured to help them realize their ideas by supporting their partnership and projects.”
For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit www.mitacs.ca.