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Kristine Cowley received funding for the Human Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre for Health, Balance and Motor Control, which will -- among other things -- identify how neurons in the human spinal cord contribute to movement and how we can enhance this function after spinal cord injury.

Kristine Cowley received funding for the Human Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre for Health, Balance and Motor Control, which will—among other things—identify how neurons in the human spinal cord contribute to movement and how we can enhance this function after spinal cord injury.

$2.7-M investment from provincial and federal governments for new research infrastructure

March 3, 2017 — 

The provincial and federal governments have announced $2.7 million towards research at the University of Manitoba.

“Investments like today’s in Canada’s research infrastructure are incredibly important to the nation’s future. They give Canadian researchers the tools they need to make new discoveries that will better the lives of Canadians today and for years to come,” says federal Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.

The investment made by the Government of Canada is part of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund. This fund helps universities attract and retain the best and brightest researchers from around the world by giving them access to cutting-edge research tools.

“These investments will inspire a new generation of young explorers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” says federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr.

“These diverse investments will support researchers in a wide range of cutting-edge scientific endeavours that will help solve problems and benefit people from this province and beyond,” says Manitoba’s Minister of Growth, Enterprise and Trade Cliff Cullen.

Canada is committed to providing strong support for new research innovation and infrastructure and University of Manitoba researchers tackle issues that matter to the lives of everyday Canadians—from spinal cord research to near real-time electromagnetic imaging that will expand the capabilities of Canada’s healthcare, agricultural, and wireless technology industries.

“This funding provides important infrastructure to allow the University’s research laboratories to be both state-of-the-art and world-class. It also enhances the educational experience for students by giving them the opportunity to work and learn from some of the best researchers in Canada and, indeed, the world,” says Digvir Jayas, Vice-President (Research and International) and Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba.

The funded nine

Researchers: Kristine Cowley (and Katinka Stecina), Physiology
Funded: Human Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre for Health, Balance and Motor Control

spinal-cord-grays-anatomyImpact: Research in the proposed Human Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre for Health, Balance and Motor Control will identify how neurons in the human spinal cord contribute to movement and how we can enhance this function after spinal cord injury (SCI). Thus a major goal of this research program is to develop novel training and rehabilitation strategies based on a better understanding of spinal cord function. Another important goal is to reduce obesity and thereby improve health after SCI. This will be achieved by developing and scientifically validating novel exercise-based strategies designed for those with impaired motor function.

Thus, “state of the art” testing facilities will be developed, including non-invasive brain stimulation, muscle recording, and a suite of specialized exercise equipment designed for use by those with reduced muscle function. This program will also train highly skilled researchers. The knowledge gained will lead to new rehabilitation guidelines and be translated to health personnel and Canadians living with SCI, ultimately reducing societal costs related to SCI: There are over 80, 000 Canadians living with SCI and the average paralyzed person requires over $1.5 million in health care because of medical issues stemming from lost basic functions like standing and walking and running.

Researcher: Rebecca Davis, Chemistry
Funded: Laboratory for Asymmetric Organocatalysis 

Impact: Living organisms are comprised of chiral molecules including amino acids, proteins, and sugars. These molecules are typically present in only one three-dimensional form (enantiomer), and as a result, biological organisms can respond differently to the two enantiomeric forms of a compound. In terms of drug development, this means that the two enantiomers of a single compound can have vastly different activities and side effects. It is an ongoing challenge and requirement to develop robust and reliable catalytic processes that produce a single enantiomer of a compound. With the state of the art equipment requested in this proposal, Dr. Davis proposes to overcome this challenge through the development of novel methods for converting cheap, abundant organic substrates into industrially relevant, single enantiomer compounds. The results of this work will serve to expand the toolbox of enantioselective organic reactions, providing the foundational knowledge and techniques necessary for the efficient production of a wide range of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals.

Researcher: Chuang Deng, Mechanical Engineering
Funded: In-situ Nano-mechanical and Nano-electrical Characterization of Low-dimensional Nanomaterials

Graphene nanofabric. SEM micrograph of a strongly crumpled graphene sheet on a Si wafer. Note that it looks just like silk thrown over a surface. Lateral size of the image is 20 microns. Si wafer is at the bottom-right corner.


Impact: The requested equipment will be used to perform state-of-the-art mechanical and electrical characterization of 1D and 2D nanomaterials. When materials are reduced to nanoscale, many novel properties emerge. As an example, 1D metal nanowires and nanotubes have the potential to exhibit strength up to 1000X than that of conventional bulk metals. Many novel electronic or photonic properties also emerge in nanowires or nanotubes, which make them ideal for constructing “miniature” devices like nanosensors, nanorobots, and nanogenerators. Nanogenerators, for example, could potentially exploit human body movement to power wearable electronics. Graphene, which is 2D sheet made of a single layer of carbon atoms, holds great promise in the design of flexible batteries that charge faster and last longer than conventional batteries. There is an urgent need to understand how the structures of these materials define their properties, but their small size makes them hard to handle and characterize.

The work enabled by the requested instrumentation will reveal the mechanisms that lead to an extraordinary mechanical and electrical properties of nanomaterials. This will make it possible to optimize their physical properties so that they can be used as building blocks for nano-devices like sensors, transistors for superfast computers, and high efficiency solar cells and battery systems. This will have a direct impact on Canada’s emerging nanotechnology industry.

Researcher: Joseph Gordon, Nursing/CHRIM
Funded: Comprehensive in Vivo and Culture-based Exercise and Metabolic Analysis Platform

Impact: Exposure to maternal diabetes during development is now recognized as a risk factor for early-onset type 2 diabetes in youth. However, the reasons why this occurs are not completely understood. The new equipment will allow research on: 1) how exposure to maternal diabetes causes insulin resistance in developing muscle by changing fetal metabolism; 2) the mechanisms responsible for the higher cardiovascular risk associated with exposure to maternal diabetes during development; and 3) development of several new treatments to prevent youth-onset insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease associated with type 2 diabetes.

This research will improve cardiovascular health and quality of life for youth with type 2 diabetes and benefit the Canadian economy and health care system.

Researcher: Ian Jeffrey, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Funded: Near Real-time Electromagnetic Imaging

Impact: This research concerns three applications of electromagnetic imaging: low-cost and safe microwave imaging for frequent breast cancer screening and monitoring, radio-frequency monitoring of stored grain to prevent spoilage losses, and source reconstruction methods for faster and cheaper testing of new antennas. Electromagnetic imaging algorithms involve huge amounts of computation, and can take hours to produce an image even with powerful and expensive distributed, high-performance computing hardware. This is not cost effective, and because computer systems like this are large and cannot be directly integrated with imaging hardware, electromagnetic imaging is not currently commercially viable.

Gordon’s research will develop entirely new high-order fast algorithms that are compatible with co-processor (graphics card) acceleration. This will result in state-of-the-art software that can produce accurate, 3D images in near realtime (i.e. minutes) on relatively inexpensive, 64-core computers with high end graphics cards that can be fully integrated with imaging system hardware. Gordon and his research team at the University of Manitoba’s Electromagnetic Imaging Lab have over a decade of experience developing tools of this type. New, state-of-the-art imaging algorithms will make electromagnetic imaging technology commercially attractive and unlock its potential to expand the capabilities of Canada’s healthcare, agricultural, and wireless technology industries.

Researcher: Sachin Katyal, Pharmacology/RIOH-CCMB
Funded: Identification of Novel Therapeutics to Modulate DNA Damage Repair in the Treatment of Cancer

DNA Animation


Impact: Malignant glioma (MG) is one of the most devastating forms of brain cancer. This deadly disease has a dismal survival rate of approximately one year after diagnosis. Treatment includes surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy of choice only enhances patient survival by 3 months, mainly due the tumour cell becoming resistant, tumour recurrence and metastasis. Despite advances in drug delivery, there is a lack of effective anti-MG therapies and patient treatment ultimately becomes palliative. Furthermore, MG treatment regimens are very taxing on the Canadian public and its health care system.

CFI-sponsored infrastructure will enable Katyal to study the over-activity of the brain tumour’s cellular DNA repair mechanisms using methods that allows analysis of each individual cell’s DNA repair activity. Through these studies, Katyal will be able to discover how these tumours are able to resist chemotherapy. Katyal will also identify new drugs that can combat both the initial brain tumour and subsequent brain tumours that recurs due to resistance to commonly used anti-cancer chemotherapies.

Researcher: Peter Pelka, Microbiology
Funded: Studies of Cellular Reprogramming by Adenovirus

Impact: Adenoviruses are a family of small DNA viruses that cause a variety of diseases in humans, and, importantly, were shown to cause cancer in animals. One of the genes responsible for these properties of the virus is the E1A gene, which is the first gene expressed after cells are infected with the virus.

Pelka will exploit this property of E1A to investigate how E1A modulates the activities of cellular hub regulators, proteins that frequently are involved in cancer and carcinogenesis. The proposed work aims at identifying novel modulators of the cell cycle and differentiation, processes deregulated in cancer. Understanding these processes on a fundamental level, which the proposed experiments enable us to do, is crucial to developing new cancer therapies.

Researcher: Qiuyan Yuan, Civil Engineering
Funded: Infrastructures for Zero Waste Research Program

Landfill. Photo: Alan Levin, Flickr

Photo: Alan Levin, Flickr

Impact: Solid waste in Canada represents both a growing problem as well as an opportunity for economic growth. Solid waste is traditionally disposed of in large landfills. Approximately 24 million tonnes of municipal solid waste are sent to landfills annually. The decomposition of the material being sent to these sites is posing environmental challenges in terms of toxic compounds leaching into and contaminating groundwater, and the production of greenhouse gases like methane, which exacerbate the progression of climate change. In fact, about 20 per cent of Canada’s methane emission comes from landfill. 

CFI has invested in infrastructure to establish a Zero Waste Research Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. This will support the development of new techniques that would allow diversion of the waste materials away from landfills and into processing streams that can produce commercially valuable end products like compost and biogas. As a result, this program will 1) benefit the environment by decreasing the greenhouse emissions from the landfill, 2) promote solid waste industry growth; and 3) advance the technology and training of more high qualified personnel in the solid waste treatment.

Researcher: Adrian West, physiology
Funded: A Tissue Engineering Platform for Fibrotic and Developmental Diseases

Impact: Asthma is a major concern for child health. Severe asthma is difficult to treat because irreversible structural changes in the lung significantly change the way that lung cells function. The effects of these structural changes are difficult to study, because traditional cell culture experiments use stiff plastic substrates that do not accurately replicate the in vivo environment in health or disease.

Three dimensional (3D) bioprinting is an exciting new technology that allows us to build better experimental models of structurally remodelled lung tissue. CFI’s latest investment will allow West to purchase a 3D bioprinter to produce rings of airway smooth muscle, a tissue comprised of cells that are important in the development of asthma. Making these rings softer or stiffer better represents the structural differences between healthy and diseased lungs. The rings will then be tested using a powerful new analysis system to determine why airway smooth muscle behaves differently in asthma.

West will then use the 3D bioprinter to develop disease models of other structurally remodelled tissues including blood vessels, skeletal and heart muscles. These new bioprinted models will allow us to better study how cells behave in healthy and diseased tissue, which will increase our understanding of how changes in organ structure affect cell function. This is an important step towards developing new treatments that improve the health of patients.


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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