A boost for cutting-edge research

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has awarded McGill researchers over $4.5 million for state-of-the-art research equipment and facilities. The funding will enable our world-class researchers to further innovate in areas as diverse as personalized medicine in the fight against ovarian cancer, 3D printing to generate artificial organs, developing responses to environmental pollution and manufacturing better devices for clean energy generation and storage.
L to r: Christopher Manfredi, Provost; Alexander Theil; Audrey Moores, Mark Miller, MP for Ville‑Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs; Olivia Wilkins; and Tony Mittermaier at today's announcement. / Photo: Owen Egan
L to r: Christopher Manfredi, Provost; Alexander Theil; Audrey Moores, Mark Miller, MP for Ville‑Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs; Olivia Wilkins; and Tony Mittermaier at today’s announcement. / Photo: Owen Egan

By Meaghan Thurston

Canada Foundation for Innovation awards McGill researchers over $4.5 million for state-of-the-art research equipment and facilities.

It’s a given that Canada’s top researchers are innovative. Without the right tools however, it can be difficult to test novel ideas to old or emerging problems, and to translate research results into real-world solutions. At the University of New Brunswick this morning, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, announced $51,968,051 for 223 projects at 39 universities across the country, including over $4.5 million across 14 projects at McGill, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund. The Fund was established to help universities like McGill to innovate, as well as to attract and retain top research talent, by giving them access to cutting-edge research equipment, laboratories and tools.

The announcement of McGill’s 14 funded projects totalling $4,610,039 was also made earlier today at McGill by Marc Miller, Member of Parliament for Ville‑Marie–Le Sud-Ouest–Île-des-Soeurs.

McGill’s share in the funding will support the purchase of valuable pieces of research technology, enabling our world-class researchers to further innovate in areas as diverse as personalized medicine in the fight against ovarian cancer, 3D printing to generate artificial organs, developing responses to environmental pollution and manufacturing better devices for clean energy generation and storage.

“Today’s investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will provide McGill’s top researchers with the vital equipment and labs they need to take scientific knowledge to new levels,” said Rosie Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and Innovation). “The impact of this investment will reach far beyond the University, supporting not only research and inquiry, but helping to translate discoveries into applications that will be tremendously beneficial to all Canadians.”

The McGill projects being supported through this latest round of CFI funding include:

Mathieu Brochu, Department of Mining and Materials Engineering

Pulse Additive Manufacturing of Advanced Materials, $309,500

Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, refers to a class of manufacturing technologies that incrementally build objects layer-by-layer in a wide range of materials directly from digitized geometrical information. The proposed research program, will address some of the key AM materials research challenges for further enhancing the adoption of this technology in many sectors, including the aerospace and biomedical industries, facilitating a reduction in the CO2 footprint of industrial manufacturing, thereby improving the sustainability of Canada manufacturing industry.

Jessica Head, Department of Natural Resource Sciences

McGill Ecotoxicology Laboratory, $123,197

This research investigates the effects of early-life exposure to a class of environmental chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on birds. These chemicals originate from natural processes like forest fires, and man-made processes like oil spills and burning of fossil fuels. The overall objective of this work is to increase our understanding of developmental and epigenetic processes involved in the response to early-life exposure. By improving our understanding of how these chemicals cause toxicity, we can better assess the harm that they cause to the environment.

Corinne Hoesli, Department of Chemical Engineering

Stem Cell Bioprocessing Laboratory, $128,500

CFI funding will enable the purchase of bioprocessing equipment required to engineer artificial organs in the Cellular Therapy Bioprocess Engineering Laboratory. The lab will include a 3D printer capable of combining cells with biomaterials to generate artificial organs. The objective of this project is to develop new technologies for cell-based manufacturing in a predictable and controlled manner. This project has already attracted collaborations with major industrial partners to study the interactions between cells and biomaterials and the new infrastructure will be used to train the next generation of bioengineers needed to bring cellular therapy from the lab to the clinic.

Brigitte Keiffer, Department of Psychiatry

Identifying Brain Connectivity Signatures in Living Mouse Models of Psychiatric Disorders, $163,300

Understanding how mental illness manifests in the human brain often means starting with animal models; however, developing models that accurately reflect results in humans is an ongoing challenge. This project will conduct highly innovative research on the receptor genes relevant to addiction and autism (mu opioid receptor), mood disorders (delta opioid receptor) and hyperactive behaviours (GPR88 receptor). Building on recent breakthroughs in the laboratory, this project will bring our understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying mental illness to the next level, and revitalize drug discovery. With the support of new equipment, the project will develop datasets truly translatable to human research.

Carlos Telleria, Department of Pathology

Laboratory for Gynecologic Cancer Research, $218,640

With this CFI funding boost, this research project will acquire instrumentation to establish a cell culture space with imaging capacity, to optimize the preclinical and translational research led by Dr. Telleria, who is researching ovarian cancer (OC), the deadliest gynecologic malignancy. His research focuses on discovering better therapies to treat the disease when it spreads to the abdominal cavity. Dr. Telleria will utilize human tissues and animal models of OC to explore novel biomarkers of disease progression, as well as to reposition drugs used for other diseases to treat OC. His bi-directional approach to discovery brings together health professionals with complementary expertise in OC, bridges research collaborations among McGill teaching hospitals, and develops partnerships across Québec and Canada while training the future cadre of biomedical scientists.

Rosemary Bagot, Department of Psychology

Integrating Gene Networks & Brain Circuits to Understand Affective Behavior, $200,000 

Dr. Bagot’s research focuses on the mechanisms of altered brain circuit function in depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and existing antidepressant therapies have limited efficacy. To uncover key mechanisms of depression susceptibility, Dr. Bagot’s research will employ a multi-disciplinary approach integrating advanced neuroscience techniques in robust animal models of depression. Elucidating the changes in brain circuits that drive maladaptive behaviours and the gene expression networks that underlie altered circuit function will provide the knowledge necessary to develop new, more effective treatments for depression, reducing the enormous societal costs and improving the lives of millions of Canadians struggling with depression.

Arezu Jahani-Asl, Department of Oncology

Glioblastoma Pathogenesis: Molecular Targets and Therapies, $68,000

Glioblastoma (GB) are the most aggressive type of brain tumours in adults. Studies in the laboratory of Jahani-Asl are focused on developing new therapeutic approaches for GB based on a better understanding of the signalling pathways that drive GB growth. Jahani-Asl has made two recent discoveries: a new protein, called OSMR, a key regulator of GB tumour growth, and a core network of genes that are highly active in GB patients. Based on this research, she now aims to design drugs that can reverse tumour formation in mouse models with the aim of eventually developing therapies for human patients, and to investigate the functional relevance of this core gene network in GB growth. This research program can potentially result in better therapies for GB patients, and it also promises to shed light on treatment of other cancers.

Rustam Khaliullin, Department of Chemistry

High-Performance Computing Equipment for Fundamental Studies of Energy Conversion in Nanomaterials, $160,000

Transitioning from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a major challenge facing society today. In this work, a new class of theoretical and computational methods will be developed to model the quantum behaviour of electrons in nanomaterials, research that promises to manufacture better devices for clean energy generation and storage. Being broadly interdisciplinary, this research will contribute to the economic development of Quebec and Canada in several important areas, including: the environmental and energy sectors, and in the areas of information technologies and high-performance computing.

Anthony Mittermaier, Department of Chemistry

Mapping the Energy Landscape of Biomolecular Function by NMR, $796,551

Most human diseases are caused by malfunctions in the fundamental molecules of life: proteins, DNA, and RNA. Studying the structure and flexibility of the molecules at the atomic level therefore helps us to understand diseases and find cures, much in the same way that the blueprint of an engine can help us to fix it when it is broken. One of the best ways to obtain these “molecular blueprints” is nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), which measures the signals given off by atoms when placed in a strong magnetic field. This funding will support the purchase of a new magnet, which will allow us to perform NMR studies of biological molecules related to several diseases, including ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Audrey Moores, Department of Chemistry

Transmission Electron Microscope for Materials Characterization $799,825

This funding will support the purchase of a new high resolution and high sample throughput transmission electron microscope (TEM) to enable a cutting-edge research effort in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnology, with applications in strategic areas including green chemistry, catalysis, energy, nanoelectronics, environmental remediation, drug delivery, and nanomedecine. The new infrastructure is the best uncorrected TEM on market and allows visualization of individual atoms, as well as chemical composition mapping of analyzed samples. These features will enable the researchers to tackle some of the most pressing scientific challenges in their fields, including studying the oxidation of iron at the molecular and nanolevels, the seeding and growth of metal nanoparticles, both in liquid and solid phases, and the interaction between nanoparticles and DNA in self assembled structures.

Nahum Sonenberg, Department of Biochemistry

Translation Control: Bridging the Molecular and Cellular Gap Through Optics, $548,026

Making proteins is the most energy-consuming process in a cell; therefore there are a number of checkpoints to control this process. Regulation of protein synthesis is critical for key physiological processes such as learning, memory formation and development. This event is disturbed in many cancer cells and has also been linked to autism and Fragile-X syndrome. Hence, a better understanding of how proteins are made and how protein synthesis is controlled is essential for building a knowledge base from which to translate research into medical applications. This research project will apply the power of genome engineering to link genotype/phenotype relationships to the process of protein synthesis, while gaining unprecedented insight through the use of non-invasive, next generation microscopy.

Thomas Szkopek, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Vector Magnet, Dilution Refrigerator and AFM for Advanced 2D Materials Engineering, $588,900

The energy efficiency of computation has been a driving force for revolutionary and evolutionary change. Nonetheless, approximately 10 per cent of global electricity production is consumed by electronics. Improving energy efficiency while maintaining functional density is widely acknowledged as the most important technological challenge in electronics for the 21st century. The strategic research vision of this research team is to apply 2D materials to the grand challenge of electronics, and contribute to the advancement of Canadian excellence and leadership in the burgeoning field of 2D materials.

Alexander Thiel, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery

New Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Methods: From Magnetic Fields to Sound Waves, $368,000

Each year 50,000 Canadians fall victim to stroke. Only the rapid removal of the blood clot which blocks the brain artery and causes the stroke in a specialized centre is considered effective. Since the time window for this treatment is narrow, less than 20 per cent of Canadian stroke victims will reach such a stroke centre on time. The infrastructure acquired with CFI funding will be used to develop new strategies to treat stroke-related disabilities by reshaping the way human brain cells reconnect after a stroke. This equipment will also allow direct monitoring of treatment effects on brain circuits and to ultimately guide therapeutic interventions. The outcomes are expected to improve the quality of life of stroke survivors and decrease the costs of stroke rehabilitation in Canada.

Olivia Wilkins, Department of Plant Science

Reprogramming Regulatory Networks in Cereal Crops to Improve Stress Tolerance: From Interaction to Phenotype, $137,600

Reprogramming gene regulatory networks is a major goal of plant breeding and biotechnology because these networks play a fundamental role in defining plant response to environmental stressors like drought. This goal is largely unmet because the identities of the relevant transcription factors are largely unknown, robust methods for genetically editing the genomes of cereal crops have been lacking and methods for characterizing the phenotypes of the engineered plants have been limited. With the assistance of new infrastructure, this research will advance the study of regulatory networks in cereal crops by addressing three interconnected themes: exploration of regulatory diversity across ecotypically divergent cereal crop varieties; examination of cell type specific regulatory networks; characterization of gene regulatory networks in agricultural settings.