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A photo of Michael Benarroch.

Michael Benarroch photo by Ms. Alia Youssef.

Research resilience

March 1, 2021 — 

A message from UM President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Benarroch:

Learning, discovery and community engagement are at the core of the University of Manitoba’s raison d’être. As our province’s only research-intensive post-secondary institution, we strive to live up to our responsibilities and serve as a model of flexibility and innovation during these especially turbulent times. I am now more than six months into my position as the 12th president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba, a role in which I am honoured to serve. As with every other jurisdiction on the planet, we have faced challenges we could not have foreseen a year ago: we have also found opportunities amidst the turmoil. Humans are resilient, and as they are the backbone of every organization, working together, we are forging ahead with resolve.

Work continued remotely, with a phased resumption of those activities deemed essential, as the pandemic allowed. This has not been easy; the challenges associated with continuing research work in our current circumstances are considerable. I am proud of the way our research enterprise has found a way to continue its work, and excited about the many innovations and contributions that have resulted.

“Our research enterprise has risen to the occasion to continue the research, scholarly work and creative activities necessary for discovery and to contribute to the local, national and international diaspora.”

Community and collaboration are at the forefront of UM research activities. During the current health crisis, research related to COVID-19 is essential to both find treatments, including a vaccine, as well as the compounded impacts on communities here and around the world, many of them already known to be vulnerable and at-risk due to socioeconomic factors. One example, the project kitatipithitamak mithwayawin: an Indigenous-led planning and response to COVID-19, undertaken with professors Stephane McLachlan and Indigenous scholar Myrle Ballard at UM, is a collaboration that has developed innovative and culturally appropriate countermeasures to the pandemic to better serve Indigenous communities.

Another example is the work of RESOLVE Manitoba at UM, under the leadership of Kendra Nixon. The centre coordinates and supports research aimed at ending violence, especially vio­lence against girls and women. She is undertaking research that partners with the Family Violence Prevention Program locally to explore the issues and impacts of the pandemic on intimate partner violence experiences in a rigorous way—creating a body of knowledge for use by service providers and government policy­makers to mitigate these impacts.

Microbiology professor Brian Mark, who is a leading expert in the structural biology of viral proteins, is collaborating with colleagues in Toronto and the Neth­erlands, to develop antiviral drugs to fight the COVID-19 outbreak. Building on their previous research with viruses of the same family—SARS and MERS—Mark will use these blocking proteins to find candidates that block the activity of the viral enzyme in infected cells, which can then be developed as therapeutics.

Our collective contribution to the local and national economy is significant, with more than $2.4 billion in economic impact to the Province of Manitoba annually and $1.4 billion to the GDP. In 2020, we launched a new Manitoba Industry-Academia Partnership that brings together academic researchers and industry to discuss challenges they are facing and find solutions together. They held their first AIM™ Day event in October—focused on digital agriculture—resulting in new part­nerships between companies and scientists who will use this new knowledge to create economic advantages and to help move knowledge out of the university into the community. Additional round-tables are underway with focuses on sectors such as heavy equipment, social sciences, aerospace and film and media.

My focus for the remainder of 2021 and beyond is to continue to support our research community, to strengthen our ties with industry to forge new paths that will further contribute to Manitoba’s economy and growth, and to respond to our world’s changing needs – locally, nationally and internationally.

 

To read learn more about the COVID-19 research underway at UM, read the latest issue of ResearchLIFE at https://umanitoba.ca/research/researchlife

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