CFI invests $3.9 M in McGill research

15 projects are funded through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund to tackle global challenges, including developing better treatment programs for complex diseases

Announced today by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, 15 McGill researchers received a total of $3.9 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (CFI JELF). The Quebec government will provide matching funds for these awards. Across 40 Canadian institutions, Champagne announced $64 million to support 251 research infrastructure projects.

CFI’s JELF was created to help institutions recruit and retain outstanding researchers and to support them to build or acquire the necessary tools or infrastructure to lead cutting-edge research programs. This enables McGill to remain internationally competitive in areas of research and technology development that align with the university’s strategic priorities.

“Each of the fifteen projects funded today are excellent examples of how strategic investment in university infrastructure and cutting-edge instruments benefits the public,” said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research, and Innovation. “The Canada Foundation for Innovation together with the Government of Quebec has ensured that McGill’s researchers have what they need to push the frontiers of knowledge and to address global challenges, such as those posed by complex and chronic diseases.”

State-of-the-art tools for transformative cancer therapies

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 225,800 people in Canada were diagnosed with cancer last year, and 200 die from cancer every day. McGill’s Hanadi Sleiman is working to change these sobering statistics through precision therapies that target cancer-specific mutations and leverage the patients’ own immune system to kill tumour cells. Therapies for breast cancer would particularly benefit from this strategy.

“Nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) are a new form of therapeutics— they can engage targets that are otherwise “undruggable,” says Sleiman. “Unfortunately, their clinical use is hindered by things such as poor stability and lack of effective delivery into organs other than the liver.  With the purchase of this state-of-the-art infrastructure made possible by the CFI and provincial grants, my lab will be able to optimize nucleic acids for precision oncology.”

Apples or ice-cream?  

Why do we eat the way that we do, and how can we maintain a healthy diet? These are questions McGill Assistant Professor Daiva Nielson of the School of Human Nutrition is seeking to answer. With the support of the CFI and the Government of Quebec, Nielsen will establish the Sensometric Lab to investigate what influences human eating behaviour, for example, genetic predispositions, the role of price promotions and advertising, as well as other sensory stimuli, like smell. The lab will be equipped with novel wearable devices to monitor and map the brain’s activity related to eating. The accumulated data will shed light on how genetic backgrounds and retail experiences shape our food choices. This experimental research will be complimented by a first-in-Canada community food pharmacy initiative that will test the concept of “food as medicine” for the management of type 2 diabetes. Much as one can get a prescription to treat a medical condition, the food pharmacy pilot project will prescribe personalized nutrition for disease management.

Stretching the global communications link

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when many people were suddenly forced to work and study online, calls for increased Internet performance and reduced costs have grown louder. Video streaming and cloud storage applications have only exacerbated the voracious demand for bandwidth. This is a call McGill Engineering Professor David Plant is working to answer. Every time Canadians access the Internet, the optical transmission systems that form the backbone of the global communications network are engaged at incredible speeds. Optical fibre transmission systems are used to transmit information over distances ranging from half a kilometre to thousands of kilometres.

Plant is pursuing scientific and engineering breakthroughs to advance the fundamental design of these systems, thereby increasing their capacity. So optimized, Canadians could expect increased Internet download speeds and reduced costs for usage. “Thanks to the funding from CFI and Quebec, we are in a position to advance the technologies of the ever more important optical fibre transmission systems that power the Internet,” said Plant.

Complete list of CFI Funded Projects in this round (all projects receive Quebec matching funds):

  • Pouya Bashivan, Department of Physiology
    Building a Generalized Model of Working Memory in Human Lateral Prefrontal Cortex
  • Thomas Durcan, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery (The Neuro)
    An Automated High Content Platform for the Rapid Imaging of 3D Brain Organoids
  • Gregory Fonseca, Division of Experimental Medicine
    Application for a FACS for Human Cell Selection
  • Daniele Malomo, Department of Civil Engineering
    A Virtual Reality-compatible Mobile Research Lab for Field-informed Seismic Analysis of Old Buildings
  • Romina Mizrahi, Department of Psychiatry
    Molecular Neuroimaging in Psychosis and Substance Use Disorders
  • Alessandro Navarra, Department of Mining Engineering
    Virtual Reality of the Mining Ecosystem
  • Daiva Nielsen, School of Human Nutrition
    Development of a Sensometric Lab and Community Food Pharmacy
  • David Plant, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
    Systems and Technologies for Ultra-high Capacity Optical Fiber Transmission Systems
  • Natalie Reznikov, Department of Bioengineering
    Cryo-SEM/Cryo-FIB/SEM Preparation System
  • Selena Sagan, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
    Laboratory for the Study of Viral Biomolecular Condensates
  • Xujie Si, School of Computer Science
    Scalable Neuro-Symbolic Reasoning for Software 2.0
  • Jonathan Sievers, Department of Physics
    A Deployable Back-end for Radio Astronomy
  • Hanadi Sleiman, Department of Chemistry
    DNA Nanostructures for Precision Cancer Therapy
  • Michael Witcher, Division of Experimental Medicine
    Platforms to Monitor DNA Damage Repair in Cellulo and Identify Clinically Relevant Biomarkers
  • Elizabeth Zimmermann,  Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences
    Oral Rehabilitation Research Unit of Montreal (ORUM): Advancing Clinical Research in Restorative Oral Healthcare

Read the CFI press release