Meet the U of A's Fall 2022 Canada Research Chairs

The Government of Canada recently named five University of Alberta researchers among its most recent cycle of Canada Research Chairs.

Fall 2022 Canada Research Chairs: Dr. Sangita Sharma, Dr. Wael Elhenawy, Dr. Amit Bhavsar, Dr. Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez and Dr. Fangliang He
Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez

Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez – Faculty of Arts

Dr. Altamirano-Jimenez’s research will bridge conversations across North/Latin America to examine how different modalities of resource extraction are felt and experienced. The expansion of extractive activities has produced a number of conflicts involving Indigenous communities and nations who are forced to adapt to the changes imposed or find ways to resist these activities, which they see as a threat to their territories and livelihoods. While industries often speak of the economic benefits of their development, more research is needed to understand how different types of resource extraction including oil and gas, wind power generation, and mining are experienced by Indigenous people, particularly women and femme individuals who play key roles in the mobilization against resource extraction.

Through an empirical exploration of two case studies – the Northwest Territories in Canada and Oaxaca, Mexico – this research plan will test an original body-land methodological framework to document whether different extractive activities produce distinctive Indigenous embodied experiences. This research will make an innovative and substantive contribution to knowledge and society by generating an Indigenous feminist theory for explaining how the gendered effects of natural resource extraction is felt at multiple levels; producing an alternative understanding of energy transitions; and strengthening Indigenous and femme individuals' wellbeing by attending to their largely ignored and understudied experiences.

Amit Bhavsar

Amit Bhavsar – Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

When threatened with infection, pattern recognition receptors, such as the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and Nod-like receptors (NLRs), elicit powerful inflammatory responses as defensive measures. However, aberrant activation of these receptors can lead to serious health consequences including treatment-related toxicity, or enhanced infection. Dr. Bhavsar is an emerging leader in understanding how this occurs, and how to develop therapies based on this knowledge. For example, his insightful focus on pattern recognition receptors uncovered new therapeutic targets to combat cisplatin-induced hearing loss in children and Salmonella infection. 

The next phase of Dr. Bhavsar’s research program leverages these exciting mechanistic understandings of the roles that TLRs and NLRs play in treatment-related toxicity and bacterial infection, respectively, to develop unique strategies to prevent these serious health conditions. This innovative research program has the potential to lead to precision health treatments that prevent hearing loss in children and reduce bacterial infection while minimizing the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

Wael Elhenawy

Wael Elhenawy – Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease, affect more than 1 in every 150 Canadians, causing a substantial burden on our health care system. Crohn’s disease is marked by a relapsing inflammation that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, severely diminishing the quality of life. The exact cause of Crohn’s disease is unknown; however, a strong line of evidence suggests that gut bacteria are key players in driving inflammation and propelling the disease. While the majority of bacteria in the gut mediate important functions that promote health, some species can trigger inflammation through their pernicious activity. Thus, disentangling the behaviour of the different bacterial groups in the gut is crucial for the development of new therapies that can specifically eliminate harmful microbes.

Experimental evolution has been shown to be a powerful tool for studying bacteria in their native environment. Dr. Elhenawy’s research will use experimental evolution, as well as state-of-the-art biochemical assays and advanced tissue imaging technology, to advance our understanding of how bacteria evolve in the host to cause disease, and glean a comprehensive view of bacterial virulence and its impact on the host. The project holds great potential in identifying the mechanisms driving inflammation in the gut, uncovering targets for novel antimicrobial therapeutics for Crohn’s disease.

Dr. Fangliang He

Fangliang He – Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences

Knowing how many species are in nature or a given landscape, and understanding how they are assembled in ecosystems, are arguably among the most important questions in ecology. This knowledge is essential for predicting ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic disturbances and informs critical decisions about biodiversity conservation and management. Although numerous methods have been proposed to tally and estimate the number of species in landscapes, there is little consensus about their performance. Also, current data about real world diversity change suggests that we have much to learn about mechanisms that maintain or drive changes in biodiversity. Building on his existing strengths and ongoing work in this field, Dr. He will address these knowledge gaps and develop methods and theory to improve the estimation of species diversity, to synthesize diversity patterns, and to test hypotheses about primary biodiversity mechanisms. 

Dr. He’s project will help understand biodiversity patterns and how they are developed and maintained. It will be based on two long-term forest inventory plots: the global ForestGEO network and the network of long-term national forest inventory plots maintained in Canada, the USA and Europe. This research will contribute new knowledge about mechanisms of biodiversity maintenance and will provide evidence to interpret global biodiversity change in forests across several spatial scales. The concepts, models, methods and syntheses developed will enhance our ability to understand and predict the impact of changes in climate and land-use on forest dynamics and ecological function to guide for better conservation and management of biodiversity in Canada and elsewhere.

Maria Ioannou

Sangita Sharma – Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Dr. Sharma’s research project will focus on identifying and addressing the diverse, ever-changing impacts of COVID-19 (C19) on mental, physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual health in 17 Indigenous communities in Nunavut (NU) and the Northwest Territories (NT). The results will help secure further funding to set up a novel longitudinal C19 research project exploring the medium- and long-term impacts of C19 on the heath of Indigenous Arctic communities and develop community-based programs. The evidence will be utilized to inform, develop, implement and evaluate a community-based and community-led program to improve youth and child health. Identifying the impact of C19 on other diseases and on prevention programs, such as cancer screening services, is essential and will provide critical evidence.

This research will lend additional prominence to territorial and national C19 prevention and management programs, and guide policy and planning decisions to best mitigate C19 and its impacts in the future. Dr. Sharma brings her trusted, long-standing relationships with Indigenous communities and governments in NU and NT to this project, and her co-leads are highly experienced and respected Indigenous researchers. She will partner with the Aqqiumavvik Society in NU, and work with co-lead Hotıì ts'eeda NT SPOR SUPPORT Unit in NT  –  with whom she has set up a Satellite Research Center in Yellowknife. This cutting-edge, culturally relevant research will train and employ over 80 local Indigenous staff and 28 trainees.