Faculty researchers receive federal funding to fuel discoveries

A dozen Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researchers have received millions in operational funding grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Raquel Maurier - 28 February 2013

The researchers included Adetola Adesida, Troy Baldwin, Tom Hobman, Peter Light, Richard Long, Todd McMullen, Evangelos Michelakis, Gavin Oudit, Rich Rachubinski, Yves Sauvé, Maya Shmulevitz, Marcello Tonelli, Lorne Tyrrell, Sara Davison, Jason Dyck, Peter Smith, Ellen Toth, and Justine Turner. The funding will help these faculty members launch research projects related to such topics as thyroid cancer, hepatitis C, viruses, diabetes and pulmonary arterial hypertension. Some of the projects will assess whether new initiatives are making a difference, like mobile units meant to promote breast cancer screening in rural Alberta communities.

Tonelli, a researcher with the Department of Medicine who is cross-appointed to the School of Public Health, is leading the latter research initiative. He hypothesizes that breast cancer screening rates in rural Alberta have gone up thanks to the launch of the mobile screening units initiative, and this may have led to a decrease in breast cancer rates in these regions,. His study will take three years.

"In Alberta, there has been a concerted effort to help those living in small, rural communities where no mammogram equipment is nearby," says Tonelli, a Canada Research Chair. "For more than a decade, mobile units have visited remote communities to provide screening services. Our grant will see if these services are making a difference."

Tonelli noted one of the co-investigators on the project is director of cancer screening with Alberta Health Services. One of the advantages of conducting health research in Alberta, says Tonelli, is the opportunity to work with key decision-makers from the beginning to come up with research questions that are relevant and demonstrate a return on investment.

CIHR funding is crucial to medical research noted Tonelli, and "a complement to the funding we receive from Alberta agencies."

Meanwhile, Tom Hobman, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology, is using his five-year CIHR grant to study West Nile and Dengue viruses, in hopes of identifying new targets to inhibit viral infections. What's unique is that his group is looking at cellular targets, as opposed to viral targets.

"It's a new way of looking at how to deal with viral infections," Hobman says. He says it's important to study Dengue virus because approximately one-third of the world's population is at risk of infection. And with global warming, mosquitoes carrying the Dengue virus have been moving north. Hobman's team will also continue their research to determine how the West Nile virus breaches the blood-brain barrier, allowing the virus to infect the central nervous system.

Hobman echoed Tonelli's sentiments that CIHR funding is vital.

"We couldn't do our work without their support," he says. "We're just thrilled about the funding, which is very generous. Their funding allows expanded training of PhD students and post-doctoral fellows who will one day conduct their own research. So these grants will have a critical impact on the next generation of medical researchers too."