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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

March 04, 2003

CFI invests in 'New Opportunities' at U of G

Two University of Guelph professors will have "New Opportunities" to conduct innovative research on the behaviourial side of drug use and relapse and photoreceptors in plants and fungi, thanks to a $346,671 investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Guelph professors Francesco Leri, Department of Psychology, and Leonid Brown, Department of Physics, are among 97 researchers from 26 Canadian universities receiving more than $17.7 million in research infrastructure support from CFI. The announcement was made today in Halifax by Industry Minister Allan Rock and Carmen Charette, CFI’s senior vice-president.

Guelph’s projects fall under CFI's New Opportunities Fund, designed to help launch the careers of new and talented faculty members and help institutions recruit scholars of exceptional quality in priority areas for research. The fund, which accounts for $13.7 million of today’s allocation, covers 40 per cent of the infrastructure costs of a project, with the remaining funds coming from the research institutions and private-, public- and voluntary-sector partners.

“A major difficulty for young investigators like myself is to establish a new laboratory from nothing, but CFI makes it possible,” said Leri, who received $148,126 to study drug-motivated behaviour in rats. Leri, who has developed animal models of human drug addiction, will use the funding to purchase crucial laboratory equipment to help him examine the neurological processes involved in drug relapse.

“It is well known that relapse is a central problem in drug addiction, but little is known about the neuroanatomical mechanisms involved,” he said. “Drugs induce changes in the brain, but those changes are modulated by behaviour.” Behaviourial and environmental factors such as stress and initial drug use often trigger cravings in addicts, whether they are rodents or humans, he said.

Leri hopes to determine what mediates the transition from the first instance of drug use after a period of abstinence to complete re-addiction. He will examine the responses of rats that have been exposed to drugs such as heroin, methadone, cocaine, amphetamines and benzodiazepines. Rats used in the study will have had reversible lesions of brain regions that are involved in episodic, emotional or habitual associations, which are thought to influence drug use and behaviour.

The rats will be housed in chambers that will allow them to self-administer drugs intravenously. The chambers will also be equipped with light, sound and other sources of stimuli, which are used to model cue-induced and stress-induced drug relapse. Leri will also purchase special apparatus and a video tracking system that will allow researchers to monitor the drugs’ effect on the rodents’ exploratory behaviour. “The outcome of this research will contribute to our understanding of the problem of relapse in humans,” he said.

Brown will use his $198,545 in CFI funding to create one of the most advanced biospectroscopic facilities in North America at Guelph. He will use various modern biophysical and biochemical methods to determine how photoreceptors function in plants and fungi. The life cycles of many plants and fungi are regulated by sunlight, and the organisms possess various photoreceptors – photosensitive proteins – that detect and use the light.

Brown noted that a new family of photoreceptors has recently been found in fungi that have both agricultural importance (they are parasites of wheat and grapes) and medical relevance (one of the fungi causes life-threatening complications in humans with AIDS-weakened immune systems).

“The information we uncover will help us understand how minor changes in protein structure result in dramatically different functions,” he said. “The relationship between structure and function is the central issue in modern structural biology.”

He will use his CFI funding to purchase modern biophysical equipment that will allow researchers to characterize the proteins. “Revealing how the new photoreceptors work will contribute to a better understanding of the biology of these parasitic fungi, which may help in improving resistance to their effects,” he said. “It may also be important for better understanding of vision in humans, because it involves very similar proteins.”

Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research), said Leri and Brown’s CFI projects are “great examples of the diversity of research that is taking place at the University of Guelph. These most recent investments will play a vital role in building research capacity across a spectrum of the university’s strengths and will help faculty carry out the research that underpins innovation.”

The CFI was established in 1997 by the federal government to address the urgent needs of Canada's research community. It has a capital investment budget of $3.15 billion, and its goal is to strengthen Canada's university research and training environment through partnerships with the research institutions, the provinces and other levels of government, as well as the private and voluntary sectors. To date, more than 1,600 new faculty researchers have received CFI support under the New Opportunities Fund.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338, or Rachelle Cooper, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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