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Accelerating discoveries

More than $345,000 in federal funding for state-of-the-art scientific infrastructure

By Jeff Green

An investment of more than $345,000 for specialized tools and high-tech equipment will transform cutting-edge projects led by two early-career researchers.

On Feb. 22, François-Philippe Champagne, minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced close to $45 million in Government of Canada funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to ensure research teams have the labs and infrastructure they need to carry out world-class research and technology development.

The investment includes more than $30 million through CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), which is designed to help institutions attract and retain the very best of today’s and tomorrow’s researchers.

Memorial projects

Drs. Lindsay Cahill, project leader, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science; Sukhinder Cheema, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science); and Christopher Kovacs, Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Faculty of Medicine, are receiving $172,290 for their project, The Micro-Ultrasound Lab: A Platform for Translational Preclinical Imaging.

Drs. Jessica Esseltine, project leader, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine; Graham Fraser, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine; and Curtis French, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, are receiving $173,670 for their project, Advanced Imaging Facility for the Visualization of Live and Complex Biological Specimens.

Interdisciplinary research

Dr. Lindsay Cahill wears glasses, a white shirt and patterned blazer.
Dr. Lindsay Cahill
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Cahill says CFI’s support is “incredibly valuable” and will allow Memorial to acquire a state-of-the-art high-frequency ultrasound system.

She and her collaborators are focusing on pregnancy research and fetal and maternal health.

“This funding will transform preclinical research at Memorial.” — Dr. Lindsay Cahill

Dr. Cahill studies placental development and function, which is critical for a healthy pregnancy; Dr. Cheema studies the role of maternal dietary fats on pregnancy outcome and offspring metabolism; and Dr. Kovacs studies mineral absorption during pregnancy.

“This funding will transform preclinical research at Memorial,” Dr. Cahill told the Gazette.

Increased capacity

The ultrasound imaging system will be the first of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador and will allow non-invasive measurements in animal models to be compared directly with measurements in humans.

Dr. Cahill says the ultrasound system will enable research in areas that span metabolomics, developmental biology, nutritional biochemistry, neuroscience, cancer and cardiovascular research.

“This new funding will allow our team to see how cells behave normally and what goes wrong during disease.” — Dr. Jessica Esseltine

She says her lab is specifically interested in developing novel ultrasound methodologies to predict common pregnancy complications such as prematurity and stillbirth. She will also use the ultrasound to determine how exposure to stressors such as environmental toxicants impact fetal and placental development.

In addition to training highly-qualified personnel, the team’s research will provide insight on early interventions to support at-risk pregnancies, improving outcomes for infants and the quality of life for those at risk of osteoporosis.

“I’m so excited. Feeling very lucky,” Dr. Cahill added proudly.

Visualizing cells

Dr. Jessica Esseltine wears glasses, a patterned shirt and grey sweater.
Dr. Jessica Esseltine
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Esseltine and her research partners will use a sophisticated microscope to understand how human cells, tissues and organs function, and what goes wrong when we get sick.

She studies how cells communicate with each other and rare genetic diseases; Dr. Fraser examines cardiovascular sciences; and Dr. French uses zebrafish to understand the fundamental mechanisms of disease.

Thanks to CFI funding, they will be able to examine cells inside living tissues or even animals, giving them new insights into how diseases develop and how they may be treated.

“When cells do not work properly, this can cause organs to fail, leading to disease,” Dr. Esseltine said. “For example, I study a disease called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, where a person’s heart cells are replaced by fat cells. With so much fat in the heart, it can no longer pump blood effectively and these individuals end up with heart failure.”

Through collaboration with clinicians at Memorial and across Canada, information gained using the new microscope has the potential to inform new clinical practices and therapies.

Critical questions

“Drs. Fraser, French and I are all in the early stages of our career, where funding investments like this can really determine our success as future researchers,” Dr. Esseltine noted.

“This new funding will allow our team to see how cells behave normally and what goes wrong during disease. We will finally be able to ask questions about individual cells and simple model systems to imaging live tissue and even capturing entire organisms.”

‘Pushing the boundaries’

“Through the ongoing support of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund, Memorial is able to attract and retain highly skilled researchers and ensure they have access to the critical infrastructure they need to advance their important work,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research). “This investment allows interdisciplinary teams to lead dynamic health-related research and push the boundaries of scientific knowledge and innovation. Big congratulations to our researchers on their success.”

For 25 years, the Canada Foundation for Innovation has been making financial contributions to Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research organizations to increase their capability to carry out exceptional research. Learn more about the CFI, and its 25th anniversary, online.


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