Meet the U of A's Spring 2020 Canada Research Chairs

This spring, the Government of Canada named seven University of Alberta researchers among its most recent cycle of Canada Research Chairs.

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This spring, the Government of Canada named seven University of Alberta researchers among its most recent cycle of Canada Research Chairs.

Congratulations to all of the new and renewed CRCs!

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Catherine Field - Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences

An expert in nutritional immunology, Catherine Field focuses on how diet affects maternal and infant immune health, infant immune development, and dietary fat and breast cancer. Her work also provides dietary recommendations for lactating mothers, infants, and women with breast cancer.

Field was the first to demonstrate the immunological benefits of supplementing infant formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA). This contrasted with the medical community's consensus that this would be detrimental to a developing immune system. Her pioneering work was cited in a U.S. Federal Drug Administration application that led to the approval of LCPUFA as an infant formula supplement in North America.

Most recently, Field demonstrated that n-3 fatty acids inhibit breast tumour growth in cultured cells and pre-clinical animal models. Her research also confirmed a beneficial interaction of DHA with a common chemotherapy drug in an animal model. A randomized control trial is now underway with women who have breast cancer.

The results of Field's research will directly affect policy, health services and clinical guidelines aimed at improving the health of women and infants globally.

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Cindy Gaudet - Campus Saint-Jean

Knowledge production continues to be dominated by colonial ideologies determining what knowledge counts and what knowledge doesn't count. This has constructed deficit views of Indigenous women, undermining their ways of knowing that directly influence the wellness of their kinship systems and the continuity of living and being well.

Cindy Gaudet, University of Alberta Canada Research Chair in Métis Kinship and Land-based Wellness examines the correlation between theory and practice of wellness methodologies upheld by Métis women. Her research makes visible how Métis women have resisted colonial domination and, more importantly, the ways in which their stories, values, knowledge, leadership and creativity positively inform culturally-inspired initiatives, knowledge making and identity for future generations.

Indigenous research methodologies and methods have been gaining respect and scholarly recognition when working with and for Indigenous communities. Privileging Indigenous women's knowledge and re-affirming their vital contributions are critical to move towards regenerating socially just and decolonial approaches to wellness.

Grounded in community-engaged research, Gaudet and her research partners will story with Métis women and their kinship. The aim is to share an understanding of Métis women's knowledge of the land, food sovereignty, social inequities, roles and responsibilities and special women-centered kinship relationships.

This research program will explore land-based wellness initiatives that unify and build community between many generations, in the classroom and in everyday life.

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Stephanie Green - Faculty of Science

The health and sustainability to our ocean and marine ecosystems is vital and has a ripple effect on communities and economies worldwide. Marine species supply protein for billions of people around the world, produce over half the oxygen on our planet and are key ingredients in medicinal compounds. As climate change, overfishing, and habitat loss continue to affect these vital marine systems, finding new and creative solutions to address these issues is of utmost Importance.

Leading the charge is the University of Alberta's Stephanie Green, Canada Research Chair in Aquatic Global Change Ecology and Conservation. Green's research focuses on three major streams: biological invasion, climate change and oceanic restoration. She has a specific interest in marine ecosystem biodiversity loss and understanding how it changes marine food webs. Her ultimate goal is developing science-based solutions for conservation problems.

Ocean studies requires a dynamic, multi-tooled approach. Green's research program aims to bridge the gap between climate change science and remediation efforts. She and her research team are working to ensure that ocean systems continue to support future generations.

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Danielle Peers - Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation

Disability is often experienced by those facing multiple other equity challenges. Danielle Peers' research strives to make sport, recreation and art programs more accessible by challenging common understandings of disability inclusion. Peers confronts the often unintentional ableist, racist, colonial, sexist, and homophobic barriers woven into "inclusive" programs.

As Canada Research Chair in Disability and Movement Cultures, Peers is examining the practices that enable or constrain wide participation in various recreation and sport contexts, including parasport. Parasport - and specifically, the Paralympics - was a postwar creation in the 1940s. It catered predominantly to white, male veterans with specific injuries such as spinal cord damage, amputations and vision loss. Yet today, Peers estimates that such injuries would account for less than 10 per cent of people with a disability in Canada.

Peers' influential parasport and arts research draws on their experiences as a Paralympian, coach and disabled artist. They spark change through collaborations with national sport leaders, local disability communities and Indigenous communities. Peers amplifies research findings through accessible videos, practitioner training, policy consulting and knowledge-sharing workshops across North America.

Peers' work in the multidisciplinary field of critical disability studies centres on thinking of disability not as a problem of individual bodies, but as a socio-cultural or political issue.

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Edith Pituskin - Faculty of Nursing

Cancer survivors are a rapidly increasing population thanks to dramatic improvements in cancer treatments. However, that survival may come at a high cost, as the life-saving treatments can cause long-term harm to major organs including the heart. In fact, cardiovascular disease is now a major cause of death for many cancer survivors, rivalling cancer recurrence. For example, breast cancer patients have a heart failure rate three times that of age-matched controls within only three years of chemotherapy completion.

Edith Pituskin, Canada Research Chair in Chronicity, is leading research in the emerging clinical and research field of "cardio-oncology." Her research program at the University of Alberta takes an innovative whole-body and precision health approach to the multiple and complex physiological and psychological events that contribute to cardiotoxicity across cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival.

Precision health aims to integrate multiple types of individual data like biomarkers, lifestyle factors and treatments to identify efficient and effective care for each person. Pituskin will assess the cardiovascular risks of cancer treatment, identify high-risk groups, and develop and test precision approaches to preventing and treating the development of cardiovascular and other disease. This will ultimately improve the quality and length of life for thousands of cancer survivors in Canada and beyond.

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John Ussher - Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Approximately 60 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese, which greatly increases their risk for diabetes and heart disease. What if there were a drug that could reverse or even prevent these risks?

Research in John Ussher's lab at the University of Alberta has shown that cells in overweight and obese individuals do not properly burn fuels like sugar or fat. This malfunction is a key contributor to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Ussher, Canada Research Chair in Pharmacotherapy of Energy Metabolism in Obesity, is focused on understanding the reasons behind these fuel burning malfunctions. Researchers in his lab have discovered that fuel burning in both skeletal muscle and the heart is highly prone to malfunctioning in overweight and obese individuals. He now aims to determine whether correcting these fuel burning inefficiencies may lessen the risk of diabetes and heart disease for these individuals.

The answers to these questions will ideally lead Ussher to develop new drugs to prevent or reverse diabetes and heart disease in overweight and obese individuals.

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Lingyun Chen - Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences

Nutraceuticals - such as unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants - are key in providing Canadians food that can help keep them healthy and reduce the incidence of chronic diseases.

Foods that include nutraceuticals, such as omega-3-enhanced milk and probiotic yogurt, have become easier to find in recent years, but they aren't always easy to produce.

Dr. Lingyun Chen, Canada Research Chair in Plant Protein Structure Function and Nutraceutical Delivery, wants to eliminate the roadblocks that prevent the widespread production of these nutritionally enhanced foods.

Nutraceuticals are vulnerable to changes in the environment during food production and storage, as well as to the adverse conditions of the human digestive system. Chen and her team are exploring using plant proteins - from common crops like barley, oats and pulses - to create plant-based delivery systems that are strong enough to withstand adverse conditions but can still be easily absorbed by the human body.

By making it easier to include nutraceuticals in food products, Chen hopes to encourage Canadian public health strategies to place more emphasis on nutrition­ - and improve Canadians' health in the process.