News at Medicine - October 2013 - RDC invests $3.7 million in research


RDC invests $3.7 million in research
October 1, 2013
The Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC) is investing $3.7 million in Memorial University to support 34 academic-led research projects aimed at solving technical challenges and closing knowledge gaps. The research is being conducted in a range of areas, including 10 projects led by Faculty of Medicine researchers.
 
These projects have secured additional investments totalling $6.3 million through federal funding, private sector investment and other sources.

“Investment in academic research provides the groundwork to enhance opportunities here in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Keith Hutchings, minister responsible for RDC. “Memorial University has consistently been a strong contributor to new knowledge and innovation. Investments like this can lead directly to long-term economic benefits to the province.”

“The Research & Development Corporation is one of Memorial’s strongest allies,” said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, president and vice-chancellor. “Its support for our researchers and students fosters the creation of new knowledge that helps Memorial continue to serve the public good in our communities and beyond.”
Funding is distributed through four of RDC’s academic programs, designed to strengthen institutional R&D capacity through supporting business-academic collaboration, providing funding for new researchers and by leveraging against other funding sources.
 
“Research drives innovation, which drives a strong knowledge- and technology-based economy,” said Glenn Janes, CEO, RDC. “By investing in highly-qualified researchers at Memorial University and focusing on research that is relevant to the province, we are building a foundation for future economic prosperity. The resulting R&D capacity will position Newfoundland and Labrador to leverage other funding sources and foster business-academic collaboration.”
Research projects in the Faculty of Medicine supported through the RDC's academic programs include:
 
Analysis of the role of the p7 protein in the hepatitis C virus life cycle, Ali Atoom, Division of BioMedical Sciences. Hepatitis C virus infects 170 million people worldwide, causing liver cirrhosis and cancer. This research is investigating the role of a small protein in the virus called p7, about which little is known. The results may help explain what this protein does and why it is so crucial to the virus. The identification of a critical function for such a small viral protein could present a new strategy for targeting this virus by antiviral agents. RDC investment: $24,375. Leveraged investment: $24,375 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.
 
Genetic and epigenetic determinants for juvenile-onset ovarian tumourigenesis, Dr. Ann Dorward, Division of BioMedical Sciences. Much of our understanding of cancer susceptibility comes from investigations of heritable cancer syndromes. However, identification of the genetic risk factors for cancer is challenging if the cancer is rare in the population. Dr. Dorward’s lab is investigating the genes that contribute to spontaneous ovarian granulosa cell tumour susceptibility in a model organism, for translation to the human disease. The overall research goal is to better understand genetic factors that lead to tumour susceptibility, while exploring interventions that will prolong life, preserve fertility, and ensure the long-term health of infants, young girls and women who develop this subtype of ovarian cancer. RDC investment: $179,771. Leveraged investment: $179,771 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

The role of FGF23 in fetal phosphorus metabolism, Dr. Christopher Kovacs, Division of Endocrinology, Faculty of Medicine. Phosphorus is critical in the formation of the skeleton. Without phosphorus, calcium cannot bind, and the skeleton is deformed and weak (rickets or osteomalacia). The growth factor called FGF23 plays a critical role in regulating phosphorus processes in adults, but nothing has been known about whether it regulates phosphorus metabolism during fetal development. This research examines the role of FGF23 in regulating fetal-placental phosphorus metabolism. Once the normal role of FGF23 has been clarified, the data will be used to identify if human disorders involving FGF23 will alter phosphorus and skeletal metabolism before birth. RDC investment: $176,772. Leveraged investment: $176,772 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program and $30,000 from other funding sources.

Discovering the neuroendocrine features of obesity with food addiction, Daniel Wadden, Faculty of Medicine. Newfoundland and Labrador has one of the country’s highest rates of obesity, which is associated with conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The new concept of food addiction suggests that food can induce an addictive process and lead to overconsumption. This research hypothesizes that obesity caused by food addiction is a specific type of obesity with unique hormonal features that influence appetite. This study expects to define this subgroup (obesity with food addiction) and offer better treatment and prevention plans. RDC investment: $8,750. Leveraged investment: $8,750 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

PAR2-calcium signaling in vascular endothelium, John Hennessey, Division of BioMedical Sciences. High blood pressure is associated with dysfunctional blood vessels, which in turn can make some blood pressure control drugs less effective. This research involves applying live cell imaging techniques to measure specific cellular communication signals that affect blood vessels. The goal of the research is to uncover new strategies to counter blood vessel dysfunction in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases. RDC funding: $8,750. Leveraged investment: $8,750 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

Identifying intervention to increase breastfeeding duration in Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Julia Temple Newhook, Faculty of Medicine. Breastfeeding rates in Newfoundland and Labrador are among the lowest in the country and nearly 90 per cent of women who wish to breastfeed discontinue prematurely. This project focuses on gathering detailed information on why this occurs. The goal is to use this information to identify proven, evidence-based interventions that may help Newfoundland and Labrador breastfeeding women overcome difficulties so they can continue to breastfeed for a longer period of time. RDC investment: $22,500. Leveraged investment: $22,500 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

Mechanisms of Ras-dependent oncolysis, Dr. Kensuke Hirasawa, Division of BioMedical Sciences. Oncolytic viruses are engineered or naturally occurring viruses that replicate in cancer cells, but not in normal cells. Clinical studies have shown these viruses to be quite promising for cancer therapy. This research will provide insight into the molecular mechanisms of viral oncolysis as well as the future development of new oncolytic viruses with improved efficacy and safety. RDC investment: $167,329 from RDC. Leveraged investment: $167,329 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Regional Partnerships Program.

Role of neuroinflammatory mediators in energy homeostasis, Maria Licursi, Division of BioMedical Sciences. Obesity is believed to be largely due to the Western-style diet suppressing the mechanisms within the brain that control food intake. A diet rich in fat induces inflammation of the brain and other tissues. However, it remains unclear how brain inflammation modulates appetite control. This project investigates how the inflammatory response in different brain areas influences body weight and food intake control mechanisms. Improved understanding will allow for the development of strategies that could be applied to obesity treatments. RDC investment: $22,500. Leveraged investment: $22,500 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

A cross-sectional and case-control analysis of physically independent and physically dependent cohorts of octogenarians: Part one of the life after 80 study, Dr. Marshall Godwin, Division of Family Medicine. The health, living situations and activity levels are wide ranging for those over the age of 80, the fastest growing population group in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some reach 80 having accumulated many medical problems while others are healthy, active and alert. This project will identify the differences between these groups, including life circumstances and experiences, to help improve our understanding of health outcomes and the needs of the aged. RDC investment: $89,653. Leveraged investment: $89,653 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.

Identification of novel copy number variants (CNVs) using a custom genome-wide microarray chip for diagnosis of familial spondyloarthritis, Dr. Proton Rahman and Dr. Darren O’Rielly, Faculty of Medicine. Spondyloarthritis (SpA) represents a collection of chronic inflammatory conditions primarily affecting the spine and peripheral joints. It also exhibits extra-articular features, particularly psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and uveitis. SpA constitutes a major health challenge because of its prevalence in Canada (affecting 400,000 Canadians), its propensity to affect young adults, and the necessity for lifelong medical management. Despite a high heritability for SpA, only a fraction of the entire disease heritability is explained. This research is expected to help identify the missing heritability in SpA families and lead to better diagnostic tools for these diseases. RDC investment: $146,389. Leveraged investment: $146,389 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Regional Partnerships Program.
 

From left: Dr. Richard Marceau, vice-president (research), Drs. Christopher Kovacs, Ann Dorward, Darren O’Reilly, Proton Rahman, Dean James Rourke, Minister Keith  Hutchings and Glenn Janes. (Photo by Chris Hammond)