On May 6, 2021,  a research project with the potential to revolutionize the opioid addiction recovery process won the Bradshaw Audience Choice Award at VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s BMO Capital Markets Innovators’ Challenge, presented in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

In 2020 alone, over 1700 British Columbians lost their lives to opioid overdose. Despite current treatment options, overdose deaths have increased over 22 times in the last decade because of high potency illicit opioids like fentanyl. Withdrawal can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience, making Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT), in which increasingly smaller amount of drugs are used to ease withdrawal symptoms a popular treatment option. Accurately gauging a proper starting dose is a difficult balancing act, as starting too low can increase a patient’s chance of leaving treatment.

Dr. Martha J Ignaszewski’s team is developing a device that is better able to measure an individual’s salivary opioid load, which could then be safely paired with an effective OAT dose.

“The goal is that by reducing treatment initiation times, adherence to medications will improve and overdoses will be minimized. Put simply, we hope that these efforts and your support will save lives,” says Dr. Martha J Ignaszewski

The audience choice prize provides Dr. Ignaszewski’s team with $50,000 in funding to accelerate their work.

“The funding from the Bradshaw Audience Choice Award represents an important step towards launching the device from the academic and laboratory settings into the clinical setting,” explains Dr. Ignaszewki. “Laboratory and clinical trials are both time and resource intensive. A mere thank you cannot fully encompass our appreciation to dovetail a passion project into the clinical setting and for the recognition about the widespread and important impact that opioid use disorder can have on lives.”

The BMO Capital Markets Innovators’ Challenge registered over 600 guests online, raising over $186,000. The virtual event is now available to watch online:

“Taking events online has been an innovation in itself over the last year, and it’s proven to be both a challenge and an opportunity,” says Angela Chapman, President & CEO, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “We were able to invite more people to participate in our Innovators’ Challenge than ever before, opening the voting to over 600 registered guests. It’s so meaningful for us to be able to share these types of innovations with the public, and for them to be able to have a direct impact on accelerating the winning project.”

“Opioid misuse and related overdoses have become a public health crisis with devastating consequences,” says Dr. David Granville, Executive Director, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. “Research with patient partners on the community impact of opioid addiction will enable effective resource allocation and improve existing health services. The continual support and funding for health research will nurture BC’s talent pipeline and sustain our innovation capacity.”