Western’s ground-breaking project to develop a suite of molecular profiles for complex, chronic diseases, which can potentially lead to innovative treatments, has been given more than half a million dollars in federal funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).
The project is among four Western research projects that received close to $1.25 million in new funding through CFI’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), which included more than $30 million worth of investments in 136 research infrastructure projects across 31 universities in Canada.
“This new funding underscores the top research priority areas for Canada and for Western’s department of medicine and the Bone and Joint Institute,” said Dr. Tom Appleton, principal investigator, and a professor in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “The research themes of arthritis, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal cancers encompass a massive burden experienced by Canadians with unmet needs for new treatments. We are very excited to push these research areas ahead and to bring this world-leading technology that will be available to all researchers in the London biomedical community for the first time.”
Using molecular spatial profiling technology, investigators can interrogate the behaviour of cells within tissues, including from patients with life-threatening diseases, at an incredibly high resolution, explained the project’s co-investigator Dr. Geoffrey Pickering, a professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and co-director of the vascular biology group at Robarts Research Institute.
Molecular spatial profiling technologies allow researchers to develop a molecular profile of cells by studying the tissues with high-resolution imaging. By microscopically “mining” ultra-small regions of cellular tissues for their genetic profile, researchers can get an “unprecedented window” into many disease processes, Pickering said.
Backed by more than $531,000 in JELF investment, the new project aims to unlock the biological complexity and the mechanisms that cause osteoarthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular disease, by examining tissues collected from hundreds of patients with these diseases.
More than 44 per cent of Canadians are dealing with at least one complex chronic disease, most of which has no cure and lacks adequate treatment options.
“We will capitalize on biobanks of tissues that we are generating to unravel the spatial patterns of thousands of genes that underlie complex conditions, including osteoarthritis, heart and vascular disease, and gastro-intestinal tumours.
“The goal is to generate new strategies for defining the precise risks that these diseases carry for individuals and inform strategies for therapeutic innovations,” Pickering said.
Appleton and Pickering are also working with gastroenterologist and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry professor Dr. Samuel Asfaha on the project.
The JELF funding is part of nearly $45 million in new federal government research funding through CFI announced Tuesday.
“Over the last seven years, our government has taken concrete action to restore the role of science and researchers, and we will continue to support this sector by adding action to attract and retain the best and brightest Canadian talent at institutions across the country,” said Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. He added the investments, “will ensure that researchers at our colleges and universities have the equipment and spaces they need to flourish and tackle our most pressing challenges, like climate change, health care and economic security.”
Other Western projects receiving JELF funding include the following.
Impact biomechanics lab
Led by engineering professor Haojie Mao, Canada Research Chair in Head Mechanics, the project will establish an impact biomechanics lab that combines advanced computational modeling and experiments to understand traumatic injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries. The goal of the project, which received $155,884 in funding, is to understand human body responses and injury mechanisms during these impacts through hybrid experimental and computational tools, and design safer protective gear. Traumatic brain injuries can result from playing contact sports, vehicular accidents or falls.
Next-generation all-solid-state lithium-ion batteries
With $346,296 in JELF funding, engineering professor Yang Zhao and his team will develop safe and low-cost next-generation all-solid-state lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) with high-energy density. LIBs are considered the most promising energy storage system, particularly for portable electronics and electric vehicles. However, lithium is not regarded as an abundant element in the Earth’s crust and the costs of lithium compounds have rapidly increased in recent years, resulting in increased prices for LIBs. Due to its high abundance and low cost, sodium (Na) batteries have emerged as the ideal alternative to conventional LIBs. Among different Na battery systems, solid-state Na batteries (SSNBs) demonstrate high-energy density and high safety by replacing the flammable liquid electrolytes with nonflammable solid-state electrolytes. However, the current development of SSNBs is still mostly limited by the battery lifetime. The objective of this project is to apply advanced atomic layer deposition/molecular layer deposition techniques to improve the interface between battery anode and cathode for next-generation SSNBs that is of high-energy density, safe and low-cost.
Movement and applied imaging lab for knee osteoarthritis
Health sciences professor Derek Pamukoff has received $213,098 from JELF to conduct research on knee ostheoarthritis (OA) with the aim of further understanding its mechanical etiology and ultimately developing and implementing evidence-based interventions. Knee OA is a chronic condition that affects a third of older adults and is associated with comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Because there is currently no known cure for knee OA, early intervention is key, but current imaging technology used for diagnosis lacks the sensitivity for early detection, according the Pamukoff. There is also a need to further understand the relationship between mechanical wear-and-tear and joint health that confuses clinicians’ understanding of knee OA development. When completed, the research will (1) produce new knee imaging methods at a lower cost with greater accessibility, (2) provide clarity on the role of weight-bearing activities on joint health, and (3) provide innovative solutions for patient care.