Grants Accelerate U of G Research

July 21, 2009 - News Release

Three University of Guelph faculty will be able to take their research to the next level thanks to grants of $120,000 each from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Engineering professor Michele Oliver, pathobiology professor Dorothee Bienzle and integrative biology professor Kevin McCann will receive the funds over three years.

The grant, called the Discovery Accelerator Supplement, provides additional resources to accelerate progress and maximize the impact of leading research programs.

“This is wonderful news,” said Oliver, director of the Biophysics Interdepartmental Group. “I have a number of related research streams ongoing, and this grant will allow me to merge some of them.”

Her work is geared toward reducing repetitive strain injuries. She focuses on joystick design and mobile machine operator biomechanics, the effects of whole-body vibrations, and the development of virtual tools to help design better equipment to protect the health of industrial workers.

Oliver plans to use the grant to support a graduate student to help develop a new simulator using advanced robotics, graphics and hand controls with haptic feedback, “so it feels and looks like you’re operating the real machine.”

Her research team is also working on design protocols for joysticks that will be put to the test in the simulator to see what stresses and strains develop on the operator.

A vital component of this project will be 3-D computer models of the hand and wrist, which Oliver will work on with colleague Prof. Bob Dony. She’s also collaborating with engineering professor Karen Gordon to get more accurate determinations of the mechanical properties of various soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons, information that will then be entered into the computer models.

“This work will eventually allow us to test industrial tools before they are in general use and prevent injuries caused by poor design,” Oliver said.

McCann, a theoretical ecologist interested in the role and function of biodiversity in ecosystems, will use his NSERC funds to support lab and field studies of hundreds of lakes from Algonquin Park to Muskoka and the far North.

“Many people are interested in how biodiversity is changing due to the impacts of human activities, including the effects of climate change,” he said. “But more than simply counting species, we are documenting how all the species in an ecosystem interact to make the system work.”

His team is monitoring the food web in the lakes to understand how northern lakes will be influenced by a variety of factors associated with climate change, including shifting patterns of human activity and population, and the migration of invasive species.

Bienzle will use her grant to advance her research on the interaction of retroviruses with their hosts. Retroviruses such as HIV replicate inside cells they have invaded, turning RNA into DNA as a way of evading the body’s immune defence mechanisms. She and her research team use feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) as a model to explore how the host responds to infection at the cellular and molecular levels.

“The cat and FIV present the best natural animal model for studying the relationship between humans and HIV,” said Bienzle, who plans to hire a post-doc to help run a research program that has published more than a dozen papers on retroviruses, particularly FIV, in the last six years, and advanced the field of retroviral immunity in general.

For more information, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120 Ext. 53338, or Barry Gunn at Ext. 56982,

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