uOttawa secures $4M in research infrastructure grants to propel health and sustainability innovation

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By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Person in a lab wearing a mechanical arm prosthesis
The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has awarded nearly $4 million in funding to researchers at the University of Ottawa for projects aimed at improving health and sustainable development.

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, publicized the award during a broader funding announcement in support of research infrastructure projects at several universities across the country.

“This funding will provide significant support to state-of-the-art technology and pioneering research, benefitting the health of Canadians while promoting sustainable innovation across several industries,” says Vice-President, Research and Innovation, Sylvain Charbonneau.

The Assistive-device Biocompatibility Lab: Moving into the future

Led by Thomas Uchida, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Ryan Graham, School of Human Kinetics, Faculty of Health Sciences

The Assistive-device Biocompatibility Lab (ABL) aims to increase exercise accessibility for Canadians with limited physical activity. Led by Professor Uchida, the lab will improve medical and assistive devices such as prostheses and exoskeletons. Using a prosthesis emulator system, the lab will develop a knowledge database to better understand human-device interactions. This work promises significant health benefits, including improved mobility and independence, and reduced health-care costs for the elderly and those living with amputations.

Ultra-sensitive biosensors to detect foodborne pathogens 

Led by Xudong Cao, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Faculty of Engineering 

Professor Xudong's research focuses on developing a microfluid-based biosensor to detect foodborne bacteria quickly and accurately. This technology reduces noise, enhances target-capturing efficiencies, and amplifies detection signals, improving the identification of harmful microorganisms in food samples. This biosensor may also have applications in medical and diagnostic tools for diseases, benefiting multiple industries with its advanced detection capabilities.

Identifying the best music education programs for rehabilitation 

Led by Anna Zumbansen, School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences 

Professor Zumbansen explores the benefits of non-clinical group music programs on mental health, speech, cognition, and motor skills for children and older adults. Collaborating with music education expert Gilles Comeau and a multidisciplinary research team from the Royal and the Music and Health Research Institute (MHRI), they will evaluate singing, movement, and instrument-based programs. The expected benefits of incorporating music-making into rehabilitation are promising, spanning improved health and reduced health-care costs.

Perceived effort and automatic behaviors in physical activity 

Led by Matthieu Boisgontier, School of Rehabilitation Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences 

Professor Boisgontier investigates the reasons behind the global health issue of physical inactivity. Using haptic technology and brain stimulation, his team examines whether the automatic tendency to avoid physical activity is due to an overestimation of physical effort. Results will shed light on the interplay between the brain regions that control movement and real-time energy expenditure during sitting, standing, and cycling.

Molecular determinants and effects of new treatment approaches in psychiatry 

Led by Lauri Tuominen, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine 

To tackle mental health challenges, Professor Tuominen uses positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, an advanced technology used to visualize molecular processes within the brain. Focusing on psychedelics, non-invasive techniques to modulate neurons, and treatment targets for schizophrenia, this trailblazing research explores new psychiatric treatment approaches, offering hope for improved mental health solutions and positioning the National Capital Region at the forefront of brain PET imaging.  

Single-Cell Analysis of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Plasticity 

Led by Barbara Vanderhyden, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine 

With a staggering two in five Canadians diagnosed with cancer and over 1% of the elderly population affected by Parkinson’s, the need for effective treatments is pressing. Using next-generation sequencing, Professor Vanderhyden’s research will examine molecular changes in individual cells during disease progression and treatment response. By uncovering disease mechanisms, her research seeks to develop strategies that can block or reverse disease-causing features. This approach has the potential to revolutionize treatments, significantly improving patient outcomes and overall quality of life.

A cryo-EM drug discovery pipeline for the treatment of neuromuscular disease 

Led by John Baenziger, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine 

With a focus on neuromuscular diseases, Professor Baenziger's project seeks to develop more effective treatments. Leveraging the power of cryo-electron microscopy — an advanced atomic resolution imaging technique — scientists will be able to reconstruct the structures of key protein complexes responsible for neuromuscular junction communication. Understanding these complexes under normal and diseased conditions could unlock targeted therapeutic approaches, benefiting patients and reducing health-care costs.  

Large-scale modeling of Lyme disease under climate, environmental, and socio-demographic changes 

Led by Manisha Kulkarni, School of Epidemiology and Public Health, Faculty of Medicine 

Professor Kulkarni's research confronts the escalating threat of Lyme disease in Canada, largely driven by an expansion of tick populations. By building a comprehensive modeling infrastructure, the study evaluates and optimizes prevention strategies under diverse conditions. Integrating data from field and lab studies, the team assesses future scenarios, analyzing health and economic outcomes of interventions. The insights gained will foster better disease control strategies nationwide.

Role of histone chaperones in neurodevelopment 

Led by Gilda Stefanelli, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science 

Professor Stefanelli leads major research on the role of certain proteins in brain development, known as histones. Histone chaperones are crucial for regulating our genes and ensuring proper neurodevelopment. The study focuses on a specific histone variant, H2A.Z, and its chaperones, to investigate their influence on gene expression during brain development. The project seeks to uncover intricate mechanisms behind neurodevelopment and their potential implications for conditions like autism spectrum disorders.

Green landscape with sustainability icons overlay

Zero-carbon building facility 

Led by Miroslava Kavgic, Department of Civil Engineering, Faculty of Engineering 

A team of researchers led by Professor Kavgic are finding eco-friendly alternatives to traditional construction materials. By using waste products from Canadian agriculture and forestry industries, like hemp, flax, and wood shavings, they create a sustainable composite called cementitious lignocellulosic. This composite can replace carbon-intensive Portland cement and produce zero-carbon buildings with excellent thermal efficiency and low heating/cooling demand. The research aims to redefine construction practices and deliver high-performance building materials for changing climates.

Field-based research at the intersection of geologic fluids and society 

Led by Oliver Warr, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science 

Professor Warr’s innovative research examines the impact of underground fluids on Canadians’ lives. Using cutting-edge field technology, the research aims to model fluid processes, migration, mixing, and chemical reactions. The objectives include assessing hydrocarbon-rich fluid migration from abandoned wells and investigating the formation of helium resources, crucial for medical, research, and industry infrastructure. This research contributes to groundwater management, a vital resource for Canadian drinking water.

The composition and distribution of platinum-group minerals in rocks 

Led by Brian O’Driscoll, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science 

This research centers on critical platinum-group metals found in ore deposits, vital for industries and decarbonization. Platinum-group minerals (PGM) are pivotal in metal distribution, but their tiny size in rocks makes grasping their formation and concentration challenging. Professor O’Driscoll’s project aims to transform understanding of PGM formation. Advanced microscopic tools and geochemical tracers will identify PGM, advancing knowledge for the energy transition and sustainable resource use. These efforts will benefit precious metal exploration in Canada and globally.