Feb 17, 2022

How Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology supported a Polanyi Prize in Physics

Research: Artificial Intelligence in healthcare, Research: Human development, aging & regenerative medicine
Dr. Eno Hysi

Physics may not necessarily be the first thing to come to mind when you think about the fields of laboratory medicine and pathobiology, but the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology (LMP) at the University of Toronto is a center for collaboration across many fields of science.

When St. Michaels Hospital Postdoctoral fellow and biomedical physicist, Dr. Eno Hysi, approached the department in support of his application for a Polanyi Prize, LMP was happy to do so. Under the supervision of Dr. Darren Yuen, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at U of T, and cross-appointed to LMP, Hysi’s research into non-invasive imaging methods for the detecting of fibrosis, particularly in kidneys, won the 2022 Polanyi Prize in Physics.

Fibrosis is the excessive deposition of collagen, resulting in scarring, and can affect virtually every organ system, including heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

To keep up with the increasing demand for organ donations, physicians are being forced to accept kidneys from sicker and older donors. Some of these kidneys have a significant amount of scarring present, which reduces their longevity. Using a technique called photoacoustic imaging, Hysi has developed a non-invasive approach which detects the presence of kidney fibrosis with remarkable accuracy.

In addition to this clinical application, Hysi and his collaborators have also investigated its feasibility in laboratory settings imaging kidneys and livers ex-vivo and recently developed approaches that can image fibrosis in-vivo, in small, live animals. This permits them to study fibrosis progression in the native setting, something that is not possible with other techniques. Until now only histological evaluation of the tissue can provide accurate measurements of fibrosis, but this requires sacrificing the animals, or in the context of transplants, using up the entire kidney donation. 

In December of 2021, the team performed their first-ever scan of a living donor renal transplant at St. Michael’s Hospital. Their trial will examine the degree of donor kidney fibrosis and by following up with the patients post-transplant, will assess how predictive their fibrosis score is to clinical outcomes.

“At LMP, we are a bridge between the basic sciences and clinical care. Eno’s work is a perfect example of the kind of translational research we celebrate – making a difference to clinicians and patients. Eno’s application was so strong, we were delighted to support it through the School of Graduate Studies,” commented Brandon Wells, Graduate & Life Sciences Education Officer in LMP.

“I am extremely grateful to LMP for supporting such a multidisciplinary project. It speaks volumes to the department’s willingness to be encouraging of projects that don’t fit a single umbrella but could still achieve impact” commented Hysi.

“I am very interested in using physics to help clinicians deliver better care and outcomes for their patients. The Polanyi Prize recognizes the potential for fundamental physics concepts such as photoacoustics to achieve something that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. In assessing kidney donation quality, nephrologists will have a better understanding of the degree of fibrosis present in the next transplant which can help them better manage these scarce resources, thus maximizing their societal use". 

"On a personal level, as a researcher, this is a tremendous honor to receive the Polanyi Prize. I am very grateful for the environment Dr. Yuen created for me – I am a physicist in a sea of clinicians – as it has enabled me to aim for things that were not possible before. The Prize is a recognition of those efforts and I am even more encouraged to push forward with our work”.

Read more about Dr. Hysi and the other Polanyi Prize winners at U of T