Western scholars named among CRC ranks

Two Western researchers have been named Canada Research Chairs (CRC), a program which recognizes the country’s best scholars across disciplines, while a third researcher saw his chair elevated from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1. This brings Western’s total number of CRCs to 41.

The Chairs program has been designed to encourage and promote top research and innovation in universities. Tier 1 Chairs are awarded $200,000 annually for seven years to fund their research and are awarded to outstanding researchers who have developed reputations as world leaders in their fields.  Tier 2 Chairholders are awarded $100,000 annually for five years and are recognized as exceptional and emerging researchers with the potential to lead their respective fields.

This year’s new CRCs are:

Chantelle Richmond

Geography professor Chantelle Richmond’s research strengthens Indigenous health research practice and training environments by describing and evaluating the relationship-building processes which occurs between Indigenous Peoples and the academia, particularly among interdisciplinary teams.

Addressing the complexity of contemporary Indigenous health inequity requires a fundamental reorientation in the ways universities conduct and think about research. It is no longer acceptable to undertake Indigenous health research merely as an academic or theoretical exercise; health research must be done with a greater ambition of applied outcome, by working with Indigenous communities on matters which are locally relevant and hold the promise of positive change.

With the complexity of research problems before us so vast and complex, Richmond added, conducting impactful research will necessitate interdisciplinary approaches that bridge skills, methodologies and passion.

This CRC builds upon the concept of relational accountability – the social, cultural and spiritual practices in which research partners and communities engage to build and maintain ethical and culturally safe research spaces. Developed and applied largely within the disciplines of Education, Law and Native Studies, this concept holds tremendous promise for the field of Indigenous health, particularly in the context of improving research processes between scholars and communities.

David Armstrong
Political Science

Political Science professor David Armstrong’s work will provide a set of statistical tools enabling researchers to better test theories about the causes and consequences of political phenomena.

The ‘big data’ is driving development of more and more flexible techniques to analyze large data files. One of the biggest questions for researchers is: How does what we learn from these new methods relate to what we have learned through other methods in the last 75 years of data collection and analysis?

Armstrong’s research has broad implications across the medical, natural and social sciences. There are many fields where experiments (the gold standard of understanding causality) are not possible. These new methods will allow researchers to make more causal statements with observational (non-experimental) data.

In a ‘big data’ world, the importance of theory is diminished in favour of sophisticated software that can uncover the important factors relating causes to consequences in a flexible way. The focus is not on a test, but on trying to predict the political outcome of interest.

Armstrong’s research is aimed at integrating these two approaches. His work merges the flexibility of methods for discovering relationships in big data with more conventional methods, allowing for a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of how political phenomena work.

Shawn Li
Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Shawn Li saw his CRC in Molecular and Epigenetic Basis of Cancer renewed and moved from a Tier 2 to a Tier 1.

Despite our improved understanding of the genetic basis of cancer, the disparity between the enormous amount of data and the limited treatment options at our disposal calls for innovative strategies for research and drug discovery. To identify new drugs and enable better utilization of existing drugs, functional proteomics approaches are badly needed.

While genomic sequencing can identify gene alterations with a predisposition to cancer, it is the aberrant changes in the function and connectivity of the encoded proteins that are the real causes of the disease and, therefore, the targets for intervention. Li’s research looks to uncover critical nodes in the regulatory protein network that underpin cancer pathogenesis, progression or therapeutic resistance.

Rather than using surrogate markers such as DNA mutation or transcription status to infer signaling pathway activation in cancer, Li’s innovative proteomic technologies allow for the direct measurement of the activity of key drivers of cancer and the associated signaling networks with unprecedented sensitivity.