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UM launches program to ignite research excellence and innovation

$5.25 million invested in five cutting-edge projects

March 11, 2024 — 

UM has launched a new program to support groundbreaking, high-risk, high-reward research that will help solve complex challenges at home and around the world.

The Ignite Program will provide $350,000 per year over three years to five research projects that will push the boundaries of knowledge through creativity and innovation.

An initiative of the Office of the Vice-President (Research and International), the Ignite Program is a new internal grant program designed to support bold, forward-thinking research to tackle pressing challenges through interdisciplinary collaboration. The program will foster new partnerships by uniting experts from across disciplines with external partners to identify impactful solutions that will improve the lives of Manitobans and beyond.

“The Ignite Program is designed to support bold, forward-thinking research to position UM as a leader on the world stage in key strategic priority areas,” said Mario Pinto, Vice President (Research and International). “This program will ignite research excellence by uniting teams who will then be more competitive in major external grant competitions – all while inspiring the next generation of ambitious research leaders ready to tackle real-world problems.”

Ignite project leaders will establish diverse teams with expertise from at least three faculties, bringing together the strengths and perspectives of various disciplines to undertake bold research exploration. The impacts of these projects will elevate the reputation of UM research and serve as a testament to the value of public scholarship in solving complex issues facing society.

The Ignite Program projects include:

Project: Arctic Community Connectivity for Equity, Sustainability, and Service (ACCESS)

Project Leader: Philip Ferguson, Price Faculty of Engineering

Equitable access to fast and reliable internet presents an ongoing challenge for many northern and remote communities across Canada’s Arctic. Ferguson’s team will explore solutions to improve connectivity in Canada’s north by developing a drone airship to act as a satellite communications hub and provide connectivity for local communities. The airship will improve safety for community members venturing away from their towns while simultaneously informing them of local environmental hazards such as unsafe ice conditions or looming storms.

Project: An interdisciplinary approach to understanding how mental health, nutrition, multi-omics, and the microbiome interact in CLL to improve patient care

Project Leader: Versha Banerji, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences

The Truth about Gut Feelings: what is the connection between mental health and the gut? Banerji’s team will explore the connection between mental health, gut health and nutrition in Chronic lymphocytic leukemia to improve patient care. The multidisciplinary team will analyze data and explore new therapies including nutrition and mental health supports to slow disease progression and improve health

outcomes. The team also aims to create tools for patients to help manage their care and develop a model to help understand the nutrition/gut axis and its impact on cancer progression and treatment response.

Project: Toward Bedside Bio-Printing of Orthopaedic Devices: Bridging Interdisciplinary Gaps in Automation of Personalized Treatments

Project Leader: Yunhua Luo, Price Faculty of Engineering

Personalized orthopedic devices could be the key to effectively treating bone fractures and defects. However, the high costs and lengthy production timelines pose significant barriers to accessibility. Dr. Luo’s multidisciplinary research team is dedicated to developing innovative solutions that improve access to personalized devices, from the initial diagnosis to bedside delivery. By bridging interdisciplinary gaps and challenges, the team aims to significantly advance the healthcare system toward the full automation of personalized treatment options.

Project: Engineering Innovative Skin Substitutes for Treating Burn and Chronic Wounds

Project Leader: Song Liu, Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences

For many Canadians, lack of viable donors is significant barrier to recovery from burns and complex wounds. Liu’s research team will explore innovative solutions to this pressing issue by engineering skin-like substitutes to support wound treatment and healing. The creation of a universally accepted skin substitute that is immune-resistant and readily available has the potential to revolutionize care options for burn and chronic wounds and drastically improve health outcomes. This project addresses one of the top priorities identified by burn survivors in Canada.

Project: Just Waters: Thinking with hydro-social relations for a more just and sustainable world

Project Leader: Adele Perry, Faculty of Arts

Despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of water, many issues including unsustainable water use, industry development and colonial governance continue to threaten both the environment and communities. Perry’s research team will explore new interdisciplinary research by incorporating Indigenous knowledge, connecting the global and the local, and communicating information that is crucial to achieving water rights and social justice.

For more information on the Ignite Program, visit the website.

The Ignite program leaders will provide an overview of their projects at a live event on March 19th, 2024. Event details below:

Date: March 19, 2024 Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm Location: Room E2-229 EITC (Engineering), Fort Garry Campus Attendance is available in-person and virtually. Please RSVP by March 14, 2024.

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

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