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New funding for innovative health sciences research

New funding for innovative health sciences research

This article was originally published in the Queen's Gazette.

Cutting-edge health sciences projects played a starring role in attracting $3M in new research funding to Queen’s.

Queen’s Health Sciences researchers are responsible for over half of the university’s projects selected as part of the Government of Canada’s investment to support high-risk, high-reward research through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams. The $45 million announcement was made Monday by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health. Queen’s researchers received a total of $3 million in support.

Pushing the boundaries of research

The 2021 Exploration stream grants funding for programs that propose exciting new areas of research with an interdisciplinary approach. Five Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000 each, including four collaborative projects featuring QHS researchers:

  • The genetic and epigenetic origins of cancer are the root of a program led by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal (Biology). The team will investigate the role of mutations in histone genes in the genesis of cancer using an integrative in silico/ in vivo platform. Histones are proteins that help form the structure of chromosomes and might have the potential to be used as diagnostic biomarkers or targets for therapeutic intervention.

  • Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are partnering to develop a microsensor to help test novel drugs with potential to treat bacterial infections without causing antibiotic resistance. They will work with a family of compounds that, instead of killing the bacteria, reduce their virulence. The immediate application of the research would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacterium known for causing severe disease, particularly in immunocompromised patients and those with cystic fibrosis.

  • A team led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing), experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will work together to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities. Their idea is to use robots to improve quantity and quality of social interactions, helping children overcome the challenges posed by impaired speech and mobility.

  • Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) and Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) are looking into the potential of digital technology to protect people from the bodily effects of social isolation – experienced, for example, during the pandemic lockdowns. They aim to understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and test how virtual interactions – like video chats – can reduce them. The team expects results could be used to rethink digital technology applications (e.g. remote education, telemedicine) and social policy (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).

Seeing the pandemic impacts and opportunities through multiple lenses

Seven research projects at Queen’s received funding from the 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context competition, a program that encourages scholars to pioneer innovative solutions to research challenges brought on by the pandemic. Each project was granted $250,000 and included two from QHS researchers:

  • Infants born with complex health conditions require ongoing neonatal follow-up visits to track their health and development to ensure their future wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have compounded the myriad of geographic and socioeconomic factors posing significant barriers for families to access the care they need. Sandra Fucile (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and her team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are proposing the creation of a parent-administered, virtually guided standardized tool for evaluating developmental milestones of at-risk infants. This study has potential to allow for equitable health service delivery to all children across Canada.

  • The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the world’s second largest after Syria. Researchers Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) and  Amanda Collier (Emergency Medicine) are proposing the use of an app (Balcony.io) to help migrants and humanitarian responders communicate even when travel is restricted, while simultaneously collecting important research data to inform responsive decision making and resource allocation during crises. If successful, this study on the use of Balcony.io in Latin America’s migration crisis will bring the voices and needs of migrants to the forefront, while allowing response teams to pivot in real time to rapidly changing circumstances.

"The NFRF programs challenge researchers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex global problems," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to our funded research teams for their novel ideas and creativity. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and evolve."

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