U of A gets $4.9M for innovation

(Edmonton) University of Alberta researchers are the recipients of $4.9 million in funding—more than any other Canadian university—thanks to 18 grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Leaders Opportunity Fund.

Rona Ambrose, minister of public works and government services and minister for status of women, and Tim Uppal, minister of state (democratic reform), were on campus Sept. 1 for the announcement of new funding aimed at support cutting-edge equipment and facilities at Canadian universities.

“Our government is investing in science and technology to create jobs, improve the quality of life of Canadians and strengthen the economy,” said Ambrose. “This investment will make sure that our scientists have the tools they need to be successful, and help Canada develop, attract and retain the world’s best researchers.”

The announcement was made at the new Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science—a first of its kind in Canada in terms of bringing together researchers across scientific disciplines to facilitate a cross-fertilization of ideas and techniques as never before. Established scientists will interact with a new generation of world-class researchers and outstanding students, sharing sophisticated tools and state-of-the-art facilities, to which funding, such as that from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, is essential, said Debra Pozega Osburn, vice-president (university relations).

“Competition for the best and brightest minds is fiercer than ever,” she said. “New faculty members, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students go where they can have the biggest impact. More of these talented individuals will choose the U of A for its excellent laboratories, equipment and other facilities.”

One such individual who chose the U of A was chemistry professor Ratmir Derda, who came to the U of A in February by way of the University of Moscow, the University of Wisconsin and Harvard. Derda received a $229,000 CFI grant for laboratory space within in the centre. The chemist and his team are developing a novel paper-based diagnostics device that does not require power. He said the device can serve as a platform for cell culture in environments with limited resources because cells grow in paper just as they do in a culture dish. Paper-based tests that use bacteriophage, viruses that attack bacteria, instead of antibodies, which can be produced on-site to diagnose diseases like malaria, HIV or tuberculosis. Paper-supported 3-D structures can also be used to create cell-based diagnostic in cancer.

Derda says having his own lab and a team of grad students was one of the big reasons he chose the U of A, as was access to such a large medical school and cancer centre, but was pleasantly surprised by the level of co-operation going on at the U of A.

“The campus is created in such a way that there are so many centres of excellence open to collaboration,” said Derda. “I have been in all sorts of institutions and it is often difficult to build these connections because they don’t have the culture of collaborative work.

“The U of A is pretty awesome in that way.”

The 18 U of A projects funded by new CFI grants include:

Soil, Water, Air, Manure, Plant (SWAMP) Lab: Analytical Infrastructure for Studying Trace Element Cycling at Interfaces: $800,000

Holocene Archeology of Northeast Asia: $793,932

A Prion Imaging Laboratory: $80,000

Advanced Analytical Facility for Environmental Soil Research: $216,458

An Ultra-Sensitive Device for Measuring and Imaging Trace Radioactive Impurities in Materials for Dark Matter Searches: $120,000

Creation of a Laboratory to Study the Role of the Hsp90 Chaperone in Cancer: $333,232

Defining New Roles for Bcl-2 Family Members in Breast Cancer: Implications for Improved Treatment Options and Novel Therapies: $192,573

Infrastructure for Telerobotic & Biorobotic Systems Laboratory: $170,000

Infrastructure for the Environmental Surface Research Laboratory: $105,000

Innate and Adaptive Killer Lymphocyte Responses: $388,594

Innovative Research Infrastructure to Propel Implementation and Evaluation of Comprehensive School Health: $175,399

Laboratory for Investigation of Spatiotemporal Molecular Gradients in Biological Systems: Screening Infrastructure for Dynamic Molecular Tools, Materials, and Synthetic Extracellular Environments: $228,958

Laboratory for Monitoring the Pathogenic Potential of Environmental Bacterial Populations: $100,000

Lipid Metabolic Disorders: $396,157
Preterm Birth: Prediction, Prevention and Technology Commercialization: $291,641

Research Infrastructure for the Characterization of Interfacial Properties, Intermolecular and Surface Interactions in Soft Materials, Nanomaterials and Biological Systems: $100,000

Super-Resolution Imaging of Virus-Host Interactions: $400,000

The Role and Discovery of Bioactive Small Molecules from Marine Microbial Communities: $100,000