University of Guelph researchers working to fight cancer and other ailments and create new and sustainable technologies have received nearly $1.3 million in federal support today.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will fund seven U of G research projects spanning four colleges. The announcement was made by Ed Holder, minister of state (science and technology) during an event at the University of Saskatchewan.

In total, the CFI is contributing $27 million for tools and infrastructure through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund to 37 universities across Canada, including U of G. The fund was created to help universities attract and retain leading faculty and researchers. Ontario researchers apply for matching support from the provincial Ministry of Research and Innovation.

An additional $8.1 million will support a portion of the operational costs of CFI-funded infrastructure.

“This vital investment in U of G’s research capacity reflects the quality of our researchers and their dedication to innovation and discovery,” said John Livernois, interim vice-president (research).

Two U of G scientists received CFI grants to study cancer. Jim Uniacke, a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), will use his nearly $125,000 award to purchase Guelph’s first-ever hypoxia system. This “lab-in-a-box” will allow researchers to grow cells under low oxygen.

“Because low-oxygen environments are common in tumours and linked to poor prognosis, understanding how cancer cells adapt to low oxygen is crucial in developing new treatments,” Uniacke said.

He aims to discover and test novel forms of cancer treatment. “It is encouraging to receive federal and provincial support to equip my new laboratory. This award will be fundamental toward establishing a successful research program.”

Clinical studies professor Anthony Mutsaers’s $125,000 grant will help equip a cancer research laboratory at the Ontario Veterinary College. He will look at how types of cancer develop, and seek new treatments for humans and dogs.

“The goal of this research program is to develop a robust drug evaluation platform to comprehensively study and prioritize novel oncology drugs,” he said.

New equipment purchased with this CFI funding will allow him to measure metabolic effects in cancer cells, stem cells and subtypes. The equipment will be available to researchers across campus studying cellular metabolism, Mutsaers said.

“In addition, we can now control oxygen levels to better replicate within the laboratory the environment in which targeted cancer drugs will be exposed once they advance into clinical trials.”

Chemistry professor Kathryn Preuss and engineering professors Emily Chiang and Brajesh Dubey received nearly $400,000 to create the advanced materials research consortium.

They will create molecule-based materials with novel functions to handle waste materials such as e-waste, nanoparticle waste and mining and metallurgical waste. They plan to develop applications and train personnel in these new technologies.

Psychology professor Linda Parker will use a $125,000 grant to study relief of nausea in chemotherapy patients, one of the leading side effects of treatment.

She and other researchers will study whether nausea is triggered by the brain’s release of serotonin, and test drugs and naturally produced chemicals to prevent it.

“The funding will allow members of my laboratory, as well as members of the laboratories of the other behavioural neuroscientists in psychology, to directly measure the release of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in specific brain regions of freely moving animals as they engage in a variety of behavioural tasks,” Parker said.

U of G’s other funding recipients are the following:

• Prof. Tariq Akhtar, MCB, $117,687, plant metabolic biochemistry laboratory;
• Prof. Jonathan Newman, Environmental Sciences, $124,671, biology, agronomy, ecological invasions and climate change.
• Prof. Scott Ryan, MCB, $251,717, neurodevelopment and degeneration laboratory.