Improving human health is the common theme of two Canada Research Chairs (CRC) – one new, the other being renewed – at the University of Guelph that were included in a cross-Canada research infrastructure announcement today.
Dr. Clara Cho, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, will receive a new CRC in Precision Nutrition. Today’s announcement also renewed support for the existing CRC in Food Nanotechnology held by food science professor Dr. Michael Rogers.
The CRC program is intended to attract and retain promising and accomplished researchers in various fields.
Both of U of G’s awards announced today are Tier 2 CRCs for potential leaders in their field. Rogers will receive $100,000 a year for five years; Cho will receive $120,000 a year for five years.
Francois-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced that Ottawa will invest more than $125 million in 105 new CRCs and 51 renewed chairs at 36 institutions across Canada.
“I am delighted to see the University of Guelph continue to lead in food technology, solving nutritional and health challenges through innovative research,” said Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield. “Providing solutions through their One Health strategy aligns with federal strategies linking human, plant, animal and planet health.”
In partnership with the CRC program, the Canada Foundation for Innovation will contribute nearly $6.4 million through its John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) to 29 CRCs at 19 universities. This funding will help maintain research equipment and laboratories.
“The University of Guelph is grateful for the exceptional support of the prestigious Canada Research Chairs program, recognizing two of our many outstanding researchers,” said Dr. Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).
“These Canada Research Chairs will elevate and accelerate the impact of Dr. Cho’s and Dr. Rogers’s critical research in human health, which will lead to groundbreaking advances that will improve life in Canada and beyond.”
Cho will receive $124,675 in JELF support for infrastructure for her studies of micronutrients in metabolic disorders that cost the Canadian health-care system as much as $7 billion a year.
She studies mechanisms underlying metabolic disorders, notably micronutrients such as folate, choline and betaine involved in complex metabolic pathways. Metabolic disorders can lead to overweight or obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The relationship between diet and disease risk is complicated by individual differences in genetics, microbiome (gut microbes), physiology, lifestyle and other factors.
But current dietary recommendations are based on what she calls a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Cho hopes her work will help to refine dietary policy and regulations to tailor recommendations for individuals.
“We know that people respond differently to nutrients. You and I can eat the same meal, but maybe I will get Type 2 diabetes and you won’t,” said Cho, who arrived at U of G this spring from Utah State University.
“These differences may be due to methylation reactions that program our DNA, gut microbiome and genetics.”
Earlier, she completed post-doctoral training at Cornell University and studied at the University of Toronto.
She said she’s pleased to return to Canada. “The University of Guelph is a world-class, forward-thinking institution that leads in biomedical research, and I wanted to be part of that.”
Today’s announcement also included renewal of the Canada Research Chair in Food Nanotechnology held by Rogers. He studies new food technologies to curb diet-related chronic illnesses.
Equipped with a robotic simulated gastrointestinal tract – the TIM-1, one of only three at Canadian universities – his lab studies nanotechnology to replace saturated and trans fats with healthier unsaturated oils while maintaining desired physical properties of the original foods.
Rogers looks at impacts of food processing on chemistry and bioavailability of food materials, including digestion and absorption of nutrients from manufactured and processed foods.
“By understanding food physical structures, we will be able to design processed foods with the primary aim to make them digest similar to whole foods,” he said.
“Bread and cookies are designed to taste good, but they’re not necessarily designed to be wholesome. Can we make wholesome foods out of those refined ingredients?”
In another project, he aims to improve bioavailability and delivery of phytochemicals, including cannabinoids, to ensure greater control over drug amounts while accounting for digestion and metabolism.
A U of G grad, Rogers belongs to the University’s Centre for Sustainable Nanomaterials Innovation, which brings together academics and industry partners to look at nano-based materials for food uses as well as applications in biomaterials and contaminant cleanup.