Funding fuels advanced biomedical engineering research

    Research to help mend bones, visualize heart disease and treat perinatal brain injury receives major funding support

    By Staff on January 31, 2018

    (Edmonton) Three Faculty of Engineering professors have been awarded a total of $1.3 million in federal funding for biomedical research projects that could lead to major improvements in health care.

    Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering professors Hasan Uludag and Larry Unsworth, along with Department of Biomedical Engineering professor Richard Thompson, received the funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

    Unsworth’s $218,000 funding award will help develop platforms for treating perinatal brain injury in newborns, which cause neurological impairments classified as cerebral palsy. These injuries account for 27 per cent of all childhood disability. 

    “We want to develop peptides that allow for the safe release of drugs targeted to the earliest signs of the brain being in distress. With this tool, we will then be able to screen multiple drugs for understanding their effect on the treatment of the brain,” Unsworth said.

    At present, there are no therapies that address perinatal brain injury. At the outside, a 30-minute window exists following the interruption of blood flow, when living, but in-danger, brain tissue will die if left untreated. Targeted treatment to these injured cells could dramatically improve outcomes of surviving children. 

    “It’s heartbreaking to think that so many infants world-wide suffer brain injury and acquire a spectrum of motor, behavioural and/or intellectual impairments that so drastically affect their entire lives, and those of their families. Their plight is even more astounding when you consider that these infants have little to no treatment and diagnostic options available to them.”

    Uludag has been awarded $505,000 for research he is leading into gene therapy that holds the promise of a fast and permanent cure for a wide range of bone disorders.

    “It’s gratifying to be given the means to tackle this problem—as in any research project, there are some risks in our approach; we are proposing a new approach to regenerate bones that is different from conventional methods. Unforeseen obstacles are probably waiting us, but I have complete trust in my colleagues and our research team,” he said.

    He added that engineers have unique skill sets that help them solve problems in virtually any field.
    “We can generate unique solutions beyond the boundaries of traditional medicines,” he said. “Engineers are problem solvers and we can bring a unique perspective to a problem as well as a tool set. Being solution oriented is the strength that engineers have.”

    A professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Thompson has been awarded $608,000 for medical imaging research exploring MRI imaging of pulmonary edema, with applications in acute heart failure.