Image: Doctor Tom ChauImage: Child playing

Bloorview Research Institute

News: Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards announced at Bloorview

Research and Innovation Minister John Wilkinson announced funding of 22 Toronto-area research projects worth over $3 million through the Early Researcher Awards program Aug. 27 at Bloorview Kids Rehab.

The program supports gifted, recently-appointed Ontario researchers in building their research teams of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and research associates.

“We don’t have to look any further than Bloorview to find extraordinary examples of inspirational and pioneering innovators,” Minister Wilkinson said, noting that Bloorview scientist Dr. Tom Chau is one of the award recipients.

Dr. Chau received funding for his body talk research, which aims to give children who are unable to speak or move a way to express themselves and control their environment through subtle body processes like breathing pattern and heart rate.

Karen Castelane spoke about what it will mean to her son Max, 15, who attended the event and is participating in the research. “Max is trapped in a body that doesn’t reliably or consistently work,” Karen said. “The body talk research is the first and the closest we’ve come to unlocking the door to Max’s world: his needs, feelings, opinions, observations, learning and independence.”

“The Early Researcher Award will enable us to continue to attract and retain the most passionate graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from around the world,” Dr. Chau said.

One of those is University of Toronto PhD student Stefanie Blain. Blain is training a computer program to decipher body signals – such as breathing pattern, heart rate and skin temperature – then translate them into electronic speech or computer commands. “Children who are ‘locked in’ don’t have any way to express their identity,” she said. “If we can find a way for these children to convey their thoughts and intentions, what’s possible will only be limited by their imaginations.”

Other ERA recipients and guests from the University of Toronto, Toronto Rehab, University Health Network, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Ryerson University, York University and Women’s College Hospital attended the celebration.

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