Young researchers get boost from provincial honour

Five up-and-coming Western researchers will share in $700,000 in research funding, thanks to the Early Researcher Awards, all part of a larger $10-million provincial program supporting 77 researchers at 17 institutions across Ontario.

“Ontario’s current and future prosperity and quality of life depend on how well we innovate, which is why our government partners with institutions across the province to support leading researchers,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “Through the Early Researcher Awards program, new researchers will be able to develop their teams and conduct world-class research that will draw investment, boost our economic strength and ensure Ontario remains at the forefront of the global knowledge-based economy.”

Institutions and the private sector will contribute an additional $3.85 million to support research work under the program.

To date, Early Researcher Award recipients have provided more than 31,500 opportunities for people to enhance their knowledge, training and skills; supervised the completion of nearly 6,000 undergraduate and graduate degrees; and generated more than 13,000 peer-reviewed publications.

Western researchers receiving Early Researcher Awards include:

Samuel Asfaha

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Characterization of intestinal stem cells in colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada. A major risk factor is chronic inflammation; however, the precise mechanism by which inflammation predisposes to cancer is not known.

In the rapidly dividing intestine, long-lived stem cells responsible for normal regeneration are also presumed to be the cell of origin for cancer. Asfaha recently developed a novel colitis-associated cancer model in which he identified the cell of cancer origin. He now aims to determine how inflammation targets these cells in cancer initiation and further identify novel targets for CRC therapy in Ontarians.

Richard Booth, Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing

Evaluating the impact of social media technology on mental health awareness and health system use in youth

The rates of mental-health system use in youth are currently increasing. Booth’s research aims to evaluate the effectiveness of social media technology used for mental-health promotion and its impact on health system utilization. Little is known regarding the efficacy of online mental-health interventions, despite its increasing use.

To address these issues, a multi-staged, pragmatic mixed-methods study will be conducted in order to develop a social media evaluation framework sensitive to outcome and system indicators; and the evaluation of a social media-enabled, mental-health literacy/first-aid intervention for youth, complemented with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences data.

Louis Ferreira, Mechanical & Materials Engineering, Surgery

Development of Mechatronic Systems for Joint Replacement Surgical Applications

Orthopaedic joint replacements are becoming more frequent in our aging population, and patient-specific implants are gaining momentum. These can be highly successful, yet remain technically challenging. Computer and image guided methods can assist even the most experienced surgeon to achieve more accurate implant placement, translating into better joint function and durability.

Goals of Ferreira’s research include the development of robotic and mechatronic systems for joint replacement procedures to improve treatment outcomes; the design of virtual training simulations to improve learning and competency-based assessments; and the development of minimally-invasive tools and techniques in order to reduce or eliminate post-surgical hospital stays.

Sheila Moodie, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

The Eyes Open/Ears On initiative for parents with children wearing hearing aids and/or cochlear implants

Many young children wear their hearing aids less than half their waking hours because parents lack awareness of the benefits of consistent use. Hearing aids enable auditory stimulation crucial for brain development, especially in infancy.

Children require consistent hearing aid use all waking hours to have access to the 20,000 hours of listening and hearing of 46 million words research says they need to be ready for school. Moodie proposes to develop/evaluate a video intervention (Eyes Open/Ears On) to promote consistent hearing aid use through parent and professional education and examine if positive parenting behaviour impacts hours of use.

Catherine Neish, Earth Sciences

Radar remote sensing of the Earth and Planets

Radar remote sensing is a powerful tool for monitoring planetary surfaces. Since it is capable of observing landscapes at night, and through thick cloud cover, it provides round-the-clock access to even the most remote areas, including the surface of other worlds in the solar system.

One of the handful of experts in the field of planetary radar, Neish and her team will use radar images to remotely characterize the geology of the Earth and other planets. This research will benefit Ontario by training people in the growing field of remote sensing and bring international visibility to the province.