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

News Release

March 17, 2003

U of G gains three more Canada Research Chairs

The University of Guelph was today awarded three prestigious Canada Research Chairs that will allow scientists to advance understanding about potential therapies for metabolic diseases, cystic fibrosis infections and global environmental changes.

The announcement was made in Quebec by Industry Minister Allan Rock, who named 106 new Canada Research Chairs at 36 universities. Guelph now has a total of 14 research chairs, worth approximately $23 million when federal and provincial support is included. The university expects to eventually have 35 funded chairs.

All three Guelph researchers are Tier 1 chair holders – acknowledged by their peers as international leaders in their fields of study – and will receive $200,000 annually for seven years from CRC. The chair holders are:

• Prof. Arend Bonen, Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo. He will join Guelph’s Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences as the Canada Research Chair in Metabolism and Health.

• Prof. Joseph Lam, Department of Microbiology, Canada Research Chair in Cystic Fibrosis and Microbial Biology.

• Prof. Barry Smit, Department of Geography, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change.

“We are delighted to welcome professor Bonen to Guelph and add all three of these outstanding scientists to our growing cohort of distinguished Canada Research Chair holders,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “These most recent appointments help strengthen our research expertise across a broad spectrum. This particular announcement draws distinction to our efforts in biomedical and environmental sciences, disciplines in which Guelph is ideally suited to excel.”

Bonen, chair of the kinesiology department at Waterloo, is a leading researcher on transport proteins that act as gatekeepers into the muscle cells and regulate metabolism by controlling substrate entry into the cell. “It is now recognized that these gatekeeper proteins at the cell membrane are intimately involved with the development of metabolic diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes,” said Bonen, the author of six book chapters and whose research group received the Genetech Award from the American Physiological Society. Transport proteins also form an attractive therapeutic target because drugs need only affect them at the cell surface, rather than penetrate the cells, which reduces the potential of undesirable side effects.

Using his CRC funding, Bonen plans to create a state-of-the-art and internationally recognized molecular metabolic research facility at Guelph. The facility will examine how environmental influences of nutrition and muscle activity affect the development of metabolic diseases. His overall goal is to decipher how interventions such as muscular activity and dietary supplements can be used to regulate transport proteins and their functions. “Understanding how transport proteins are regulated and controlled may have important health outcomes, either in the prevention of metabolic diseases or by opening up novel therapeutic strategies to treat the diseases,” he said.

Lam’s research also relates to human health. He is investigating pathogen-host interactions to develop more effective ways to target and treat deadly chronic pulmonary infections related to cystic fibrosis, the most common inherited lethal disease affecting young Canadians. The majority of CF patients suffer from infections caused by the bacterium P. aeruginosa , which cannot be treated successfully and often have fatal outcomes. “We hope to identify bacterial targets for developing more effective drugs to treat these infections,” said Lam, one of the world’s leading experts in the molecular biology of P. aeruginosa. He is also a patent holder and author of 87 papers and the winner of several top science awards, including a Zellers Senior Scientist Award from the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life and increase the life span for cystic fibrosis patients suffering from these often-fatal infections.”

The CRC funding will allow Lam to purchase and modernize equipment in his laboratory for glycoconjugate analysis, protein purification, enzyme studies and microscopic imaging, critical components of his research. Over the past 18 years, he has been looking at how lipoplysaccharide (LPS) is synthesized and assembled as a surface coat. Research has shown that LPS is a potent inflammatory simulator that causes increased mucous production and damage to lung tissues in CF patients. Lam has already made significant progress in advancing fundamental knowledge about LPS and identifying several key enzymes required to produce it as a surface coat. “Understanding how to shut down its production should aid in the development of new therapies,” he said.

Smit is examining the social and economic implications of global climate change and how to manage the associated risks and opportunities. Until recently, most research related to global environmental changes (GECs) has concentrated on the physical and biological processes involved. “Working with international collaborators, I intend to enhance the understanding of the human dimensions of GECs,” he said. “These are issues that world leaders are currently debating furiously and for which there is a desperate demand for research.”

A world expert on adaptation to climate change, Smit was a lead author on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and directs the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network-Agriculture, which facilitates information exchange on climate change adaptation in Canada’s agricultural sector. He has wide international experience working on projects dealing with flooding in Bangladesh, water resources in Vietnam, climate and sea level hazards in the Pacific, sleeping sickness in East Africa and deforestation in the Philippines. He plans to use the CRC funding to acquire equipment for laboratory and field research, and to develop a Global Change Modelling and Analysis Laboratory and a Global Change Research Centre for data collection, spatio-temporal analysis, conceptual and numerical modelling and communications with national and international collaborators.

The Canada Research Chairs program was established in 2000 as a way of enabling Canadian universities to become world-class centres of research excellence by providing them with funds to attract and retain excellent faculty. Federal CRC funding is enhanced through contributions in support of research infrastructure from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) through its Ontario Distinguished Researchers Award. “The Canada Research Chairs program is one we can be proud of,” Rock said. “It will serve three generations of scholars and scientists: the senior researchers, the younger ones and the graduate students who will benefit greatly by being able to work with world-class researchers in a high-profile environment.”

The organization is governed by a steering committee made up of the presidents of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, CFI, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as the deputy minister of Industry Canada.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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