Communications - News at Medicine - May 2019 - Researchers from all divisions get funding boost


Researchers from all divisions get funding boost
May 29, 2019
Regenerative medicine, sugar molecules and stroke, and music to help hearing loss in the elderly are three Faculty of Medicine projects that recently received funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).
 
They are:

Jessica Esseltine, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Connexins in Mouse and Human Stem Cell Pluripotency:

"Nearly every single cell in the body communicates with nearby cells to locally organize activities with their neighbours; especially crucial during development when cells must determine what type of mature cells they will become. 

“Pluripotent stem cells also heavily rely on cell-cell communication and they have the capacity to differentiate into any cell type in the embryo. Because induced pluripotent stem cells, generated through cellular reprogramming, can be generated from both healthy adults as well as those with inherited or acquired diseases, they represent an especially powerful tool to investigate cell fate decisions under normal and diseased conditions. With the development of straight-forward gene editing techniques we can also easily delete genes or correct genetic mutations in a patient's own cells, resulting in a potential tool for regenerative medicine.”
 
Curtis French, Discipline of Genetics, Assessing defects in embryonic development due to loss of protein fucosylation:
 
“Protein fucosylation is the process whereby sugar molecules (fucose) are added to proteins. Many proteins require the addition of fucose sugars in order to function properly. Defects in this process have been linked to many diseases, and my recent work has demonstrated that protein fucosylation may affect the risk for having a stroke. In my laboratory, we study the process of protein fucosylation using zebrafish, a small animal that genetically very similar to humans. Larval zebrafish are great model animals for these studies and they are translucent, allowing us to directly visualize stroke like phenotypes such as cerebral hemorrhages in living animals.
 
“It was obvious that in addition to high rates of stroke, these fish also had problems with hearing and balance. The zebrafish ear contains hair cells that are almost identical to those found in the human ear, providing balance and the ability to hear. With support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, we can now pursue multiple avenues of research to try and understand how protein fucosylation affects hearing and balance in addition to stoke and vascular biology related research.”
 
Benjamin Zendel, Community Health and Humanities, Individual differences across the lifespan in auditory perception:
 
“Age-related hearing loss is one of the most commonly reported health issues in older adults. Part of this decline is due to changes in how the brain processes and organizes the auditory environment. For example, older adults have greater difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise. There is a growing body of evidence that music training can improve hearing abilities in older adults by improving how sound is processed and organized in the brain.
 
The goal of this NSERC Discovery grant to twofold: first to identify what aspects of music training make the strongest contribution to improved hearing. Is it how an individual practices music performance? Is it the type of instrument they practice on? Does practicing in a group matter? The second is to identify what pre-existing factors contribute to success in music training and the associated improvement in hearing abilities, particularly for those individuals with hearing difficulties. Are there genetic patterns that contribute to hearing loss or susceptibility to music-based forms of auditory rehabilitation? Do other cognitive or personality factors contribute to susceptibility to hearing loss and music-based forms of auditory rehabilitation? The long-term goal is to develop individualized forms of music-based auditory rehabilitation.” 
 
 
The funding is coming from NSERC’s Discovery Launch Supplement, funds for early career researchers as a one-year extension to provide additional time for them to establish their research programs before re-applying to the Discovery Grants Program as established researchers. The Discovery Grants Program is NSERC's largest and longest-standing program.
 
Researchers in the faculties of Science; Engineering and Applied Science; the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation; Grenfell Campus; and the Marine Institute are also benefitting from this recent investment.
 
For a full list of Memorial awards, visit: https://gazette.mun.ca/research/solid-foundation/.