NSERC awards help Western, Canada ‘lead in the world’

Adela Talbot // Western News

Ed Holder, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology, left, visited Engineering professor Ana Luisa Trejos’ lab Thursday morning, during the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funding announcement. Joined by Susan Truppe, MP-London North Centre, right, Holder got a demonstration of Trejos’ rehabilitative mechatronic braces, which are funded by a NSERC Discovery Grant.

More than 130 Western researchers will share $15 million in awards from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) over the next five years, announced Ed Holder, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and technology and Member of Parliament for London West.

Holder spoke at NSERC’s Discovery Grants and scholarships national announcement, held Thursday morning at Western.

Nearly 3,800 research awards will be handed out, with more than 2,000 Discovery Grants totaling more than $340 million, in addition to other awards, scholarships and fellowships. The total funding across Canada amounts to nearly $420 million for scientists, engineers, researchers and students, Holder said.

“London has a tradition of scientific and business excellence, and Western is at the heart of that,” he said with a nod to the university’s 57 Canada Research Chairs, Canada Excellence Research Chair and state-of-the-art facilities.

“Canadian research continues to lead in the world. We are so proud of that. (It) is dependent on highly talented researchers who have curiosity and passion to make new discoveries. Today’s investment is just one of the ways our government is investing in science and technology to create jobs, strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life for all Canadians,” Holder continued.

By supporting leading-edge research in Canada, the government aims to preserve Canada’s competitive leadership on the global scale, driving innovation and boosting the national economy, he said.

What’s more, Western researchers’ work and innovation could have worldwide benefits and application, added John Capone, Western’s vice president (research).

The university has set its sights on being one of the leading intensive research facilities in the world, and support from NSERC continues to foster its “outstanding research that makes a difference to all Canadians” and provide “support for outstanding new investigators.”

Funding provided by NSERC “raises the bar for science and engineering excellence in Canada and unleashes the creative potential of our researchers,” added Janet Walden, chief operating officer for NSERC.

“(This) is attracting and cultivating new talent with the skills necessary for the growth of our knowledge-based economy.”

Funding from the Discovery Grants portfolio will help Ana Luisa Trejos, an Engineering professor at Western, who is working on finding solutions to musculoskeletal disorders by designing, testing and creating wearable mechatronic braces for rehabilitation of sprains, injuries and chronic conditions such as arthritis, for which it is hard to find suitable treatment.

With current therapy options and frequent visits to physiotherapy offices, doctors and other healthcare professionals, “you don’t know what’s working or what solution will alleviate the pain. Millions of Canadians suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, many (of them) complex and many struggle to find effective therapies,” Trejos explained.

The braces she is working on designing are light and wearable, and could regularly measure musculoskeletal performance and adjust their motion automatically to provide support and implement therapeutic treatment. The device would adjust the support it provides based on feedback it receives from the body in motion.

It’s sort of like having a physiotherapist with you, all of the time, she said.

“The (braces) can become a communication tool between patients and therapists to objectively determine what therapies are working,” Trejos continued, adding the tools to continue her research are there but much research is needed to proceed.

The braces Trejos is designing would enhance patients’ quality of life, while reducing the burden on Canada’s over-taxed healthcare system by cutting the tethers that tie patients to therapy clinics.