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Pushing the boundaries

More than $2 million federal investment for diverse research projects

By Jeff Green

Memorial is welcoming two new Canada Research Chairs whose leading edge work will focus on developing new drugs for cancer treatments and better ways of monitoring the ocean ecosystem.

Dr. Michael Leitges has been named a tier one Canada Research Chair in Cell Signaling and Translational Medicine, Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Heather Reader has been named a tier two Canada Research Chair in Chemistry of the Ocean and Atmosphere, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science.

Tier 1 chairs are seven-year awards for $200,000 each year with the possibility of one seven-year renewal; while tier two chairs are five-year awards for $100,000 each year with the possibility of one five-year renewal.

“The work of Drs. Leitges and Reader will enhance Memorial’s international status for cutting-edge research.” — Dr. Neil Bose

Both researchers are also receiving funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Fund (JELF) for critical infrastructure for their studies.

Dr. Leitges is receiving $50,000 in CFI funding; Dr. Reader is receiving $89,262.

In total, the Government of Canada is investing $2,039,262 at Memorial. Kirsty Duncan, minister of Science and Sport, announced the appointments on June 14.

Diverse research

“This latest investment by the Government of Canada will allow our newest Canada Research Chairs to lead diverse research projects that will anticipate important scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, and help train our next generation of innovators,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research) and a former tier one Canada Research Chair in Offshore and Underwater Vehicles Design at Memorial.

“The work of Drs. Leitges and Reader will also enhance Memorial’s international status for cutting-edge research in the areas of health care and the environment. I thank the Government of Canada for this significant support and I look forward to seeing the outcomes of Drs. Leitges and Reader’s research leadership.”

New cancer treatments

Dr. Michael Leitges
Dr. Michael Leitges
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Leitges is joining Memorial from Norway’s University of Oslo.

He is establishing a new laboratory and research program at Memorial aimed at identifying new drugs for cancer treatment with less side effects. He brings more than 25 years of research experience to the Faculty of Medicine.

“One of the advantages of my research is the huge potential of interactions with other scientific groups.” — Dr. Leitges

Dr. Leitges’ research is in the field of signal transduction, with a focus on protein kinase C signalling in health and disease. He’s spent 15 years examining the functional analysis of individual protein kinase C isoforms during cancer development.

“I hope that my research group will be able to provide within the first seven-year time frame two or three new drug targets for a more specific cancer treatment and that at the end of the term we are ready to screen for such drugs. That is definitely my prime focus.”

He also says he’s eager to set up his research program and partner with members of the university research community.

“The appointment provides me the opportunity to re-establish a lab that is focusing on the identification and characterization of promising drug targets I earlier have linked to cancer development,” he explained.

“I hope that the scientific community at the Memorial University is very open and supportive for scientific collaborations since one of the advantages of my research is the huge potential of interactions with other scientific groups based on the broad functional spectrum of kinases. Kinases are intracellular proteins with pivotal roles for a healthy cell.”

Unravelling the puzzle

Dr. Heather Reader
Dr. Heather Reader
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Reader’s research focuses on developing better ways of monitoring the ocean ecosystem and enhancing our understanding of the global ocean carbon cycle.

“Dissolved organic matter is a pool of carbon that is largely derived from biological processes,” she told the Gazette.

“Around 97 per cent of all of the organic carbon in the oceans is in this dissolved form; far more than all the living things in the ocean combined. Despite being so big, we know very little about the individual chemicals that make up this reservoir of carbon.”

What we do know, she says, is that some fractions are easily and rapidly biodegraded, used as “food” for microbial communities. A much larger fraction resists degradation and acts as a form of “carbon storage” in the ocean.

“The Canada Research Chair is an excellent platform for me to launch my career in Canada and contribute to our understanding of the world we live in.” — Dr. Heather Reader

Dr. Reader uses combinations of chemical analyses to “fingerprint” different sources and reactive histories of dissolved organic matter, with a goal to be able to trace different processes in the ocean system.

Dr. Reader says her appointment will allow her to expand her research and hire exceptional grad students.

“It also allows me to continue working with my great international colleagues as well as build new scientific relationships here at home,” she said. “As an early career researcher, the Canada Research Chair is an excellent platform for me to launch my career in Canada and contribute to our understanding of the world we live in.

“I will focus on investigating the carbon cycle in both coastal systems and the open ocean and how organic matter becomes stored over the long-term in the ocean system,” Dr. Reader added.

With the two latest appointments, Memorial is now home to a total of 22 CRCs, with several nominations pending.


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