U of A hits a CRC high

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta has been awarded seven new Canada Research Chairs to go along with nine renewals and two advancements worth a total of $17.1 million, the second-highest number of CRCs in the country, the federal government announced Oct.12.

“These CRC new appointments, renewals and advancements are a further confirmation of the quality of the faculty members at the University of Alberta,” said Lorne Babiuk, vice-president (research). “We are delighted with these recent announcements and the support they represent.”

Three of the new CRCs were named as Tier 1 awards, worth $1.4 million paid out over seven years, and is given to researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields. The list consists of Tom Hobman, CRC in RNA Viruses and Host Interactions; Evangelos Michelakis, CRC in Applied Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine; and Yunjie Xu, CRC in Chirality and Chirality Recognition.

Hobman, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology, whose research is geared toward understanding virus-host interactions so that novel anti-viral therapies can be developed, says viral infections pose a major health and economic burden on our society and as such, research like his and that of a host of researchers at the U of A’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology is essential.

“Over the last two years, the University of Alberta has been extraordinarily successful in attracting funding from the federal, provincial, private and biopharmaceutical sectors to support virus research,” said Hobman. “I am very grateful for the support from the CRC program and look forward to pursuing our studies in this fantastic research environment.”

Michelakis, a cardiologist in the Department of Medicine, researches how metabolism and mitochondria—the organelles within the cells that produce energy—are involved in the cause of cancer and pulmonary hypertension.

Xu, a professor in the Department of Chemistry who characterizes molecules that are not identical to their mirror images and how they interact with each other by using highly specialized instruments and theoretical modeling, says her work would not be possible without the support of the U of A.

“I am most grateful for the outstanding services provided by the chemistry machine shop and for the strong support of my colleagues and collaborators in the department,” she said.

The remaining four new CRCs were named as Tier 2 CRC researchers, a title that comes with a $500,000 award to be paid out over five years and is given to emerging researchers, acknowledged by their peers as having the potential to lead in their field. The list consists of Sean Bagshaw, CRC in Critical Care Nephrology; Ken Butcher, CRC in Cerebrovascular Disease; Joel Dacks, CRC in Evolutionary Cell Biology; and Sarah Hughes, CRC in Cell Adhesion and Proliferation.

Bagshaw, a professor in the Division of Critical Care Medicine, has begun a program of investigation to better understand and improve the delivery of acute dialysis to sick patients requiring support in an intensive care unit. He says he is thankful the university reconizes the importance of research in this new area of study. "The U of A has been a strong advocate and enabler for the development and expansion of my research program in the emerging field of critical care nephrology."

Butcher, a neurologist in the Department of Medicine, is looking to further recent research discoveries that found that the use of imaging technology to generate a picture of brain blood flow can help doctors make better decisions when it comes to treating strokes.

Dacks, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology, says the mandate of his CRC is to apply computational techniques and billions of years of microbial genomics to find out how human membrane-trafficking compartments and cells evolved.

“Not only are my colleagues helpful and supportive generally, but we have such a research strength in cell biology and in membrane-trafficking, and associated organelles in particular, that it forms a critical mass for intellectual interaction,” said Dacks. “My work is very much evolutionary and in silico and so we benefit greatly from working with the molecular cell biologists who look at the same systems but in completely different ways.”

Sarah Hughes, a professor in the Department of Medicine, researches the molecular mechanisms that link polarity and proliferation in cancerous cells, specifically why the loss of a certain tumour suppressor leads to tumours in the brain and spinal cord. To do her research effectively, Hughes says coming to Edmonton made sense.

“I wanted to work at one of the top universities in Canada,” she said. “Being a part of the excellent research environment in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has been instrumental in the success of my research so far.”
Janet Elliott, CRC in Thermodynamics, and Brian Rowe, CRC in Evidence-Based Emergency Medicine and Health Outcomes, had their Tier 2 chairs advanced to Tier 1.

Tier 1 renewals include Janine Brodie, CRC in Political Economy and Social Governance; Kerry Courneya, CRC in Physical Activity and Cancer; Wolfgang Jaeger, CRC in Cluster Science; and Stephen Norris, CRC in Scientific Literacy.

Tier 2 renewals include Heather Coleman, CRC in Imperial Russian History; Cressida Heyes, CRC in Philosophy of Gender and Sexuality; Patrick MacDonald, CRC in Islet Biology; Bernard Thébaud; CRC in Lung Development, Injury and Repair; and Paul Veugelers, CRC in Population Health.

The U of A now has 94 CRCs (43 Tier 1 and 51 Tier 2) with a total value this year of $13.7 million.