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By Jeff Green

A federal investment of nearly $3 million will advance important health-related studies led by Memorial researchers.

Six researchers are receiving a total of $2,858,375 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to enhance the research capacity in areas including cancer therapies, genetics, hepatitis B and rural health care. Four of the researchers are receiving funding over five years, while two are receiving one-time funding.

“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is a strategic partner of our university,” said President Gary Kachanoski.

“Through this significant federal investment, Memorial researchers will continue to lead groundbreaking innovative health studies, which will benefit all Canadians. I am grateful to the Government of Canada for its ongoing support of Memorial-led research studies.”

The six researchers are featured in the photo essay below.

1/ Dr. Kensuke Hirasawa

Dr. Kensuke Hirasawa, professor of immunology, Division of BioMedical Sciences, is receiving $573,750 over five years for his project focusing on cancer therapy and anti-viruses. Dr. Hirasawa studies molecular mechanisms of viral oncolysis — viruses that infect and destroy cancer cells. Dr. Hirasawa's research will improve efficacy and safety in treating cancer.

Photo: HSIMS

2/ Dr. Michiru Hirasawa

Dr. Michiru Hirasawa, professor of Neurosciences, Division of BioMedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, is receiving $531,675 over five years to study obesity. She’s trying to figure out why high fat diets-induced inflammation of the hypothalamus can lead to obesity. The goal of her work is to discover novel therapeutic targets for obesity.

Photo: HSIMS

3/ Dr. Thomas Michalak

Dr. Thomas Michalak, University Research Professor and professor of molecular virology and medicine (hepatology), Division of BioMedical Services, Faculty of Medicine, is receiving $761,175 over five years to further advance his research on hepatitis B virus. He utilizes the woodchuck animal model for his research and has discovered the characterization of occult hepatitis B viral persistence in people whose disease was thought to be resolved. As part of his new study, the CIHR funding will allow him to reactivate occult infection in woodchucks by commonly used drugs. By doing so, it’ll allow him to predict if reactivation may occur and what to do to prevent it.

Photo: HSIMS

4/ Dr. Guangju Zhai

Dr. Guangju Zhai, professor, Discipline of Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, is receiving $791,775 over five years to study osteoarthritis, a common form of arthritis which affects about 10 per cent of the world’s population aged 60 or older. He wants to better understand if novel genetic and metabolic markers for osteoarthritis can be used to predict disease risk.

Photo: HSIMS

5/ Dr. Stephen Bornstein

Dr. Stephen Bornstein, professor, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Division of Community Health and Humanities of the Faculty of Medicine, is a principal investigator on a project that’s receiving $100,000 for one year from the CIHR’s Bridge Grant Program. The funding is going toward an inter-provincial partnership examining ways to improve health systems in rural Canadian communities, including those with Francophone, First Nations, Métis, Innu and Inuit populations.

Photo: Dave Howells

6/ Dr. Maria Mathews

Dr. Maria Mathews, professor of health policy and health care delivery, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, is principal investigator on a project that’s receiving $100,000 from the Bridge Grant Program for one year. Her project is examining the contributions of visa trainees and postgraduate medical fellows on the physician workforce in Canada.

Photo: HSIMS

‘Advance our understanding’

“Memorial is recognized internationally for significant medical discoveries and life sciences research,” said Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president (research) pro tempore.

“The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funding is allowing Memorial health-science researchers and their teams to undertake research toward new clinical therapies, investigate novel disease treatments, examine health policy issues and advance our understanding of critical health-related issues. I congratulate the researchers and wish them well in their studies.”

‘Dedicated to transforming health care’

“Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine plays a vital role in ensuring that we address the health of our people and communities,” noted Dr. Margaret Steele, dean Faculty of Medicine.

“Our researchers are dedicated to transforming health care for a healthier Newfoundland and Labrador through world-class research and the projects funded through these CIHR grants are a great example of that.”

The CIHR announced the latest results of its Project Grant and Bridge Grant programs on May 16. The Project Grant Program supports researchers at any career stage to build and conduct health-related research and knowledge translation projects. The Bridge Grant Program provides funding to researchers, enabling them to apply to subsequent competitions.

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