Campus News

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

News Release

March 15, 2005

Scientists Get $1.2 Million for Health Research

The University of Guelph today received more than $1.2 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to fund three projects aimed at advancing research on multiple sclerosis and immunity infections.

The announcement was made in Toronto by Carolyn Bennett, minister of state (public health). The U of G projects are part of a $91.8-million investment for research initiatives at Ontario universities and health research institutions. Nationally, CIHR is investing more than $222 million in 571 research projects, 219 of them in Ontario.

“It’s great to again see University of Guelph researchers recognized by their peers for the contributions they are making to Canada's medical research efforts,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “Their new funding will be targeted at research projects in areas where each of these people has clearly excelled."

Currently, more than a dozen U of G professors are heading research projects supported by CIHR. In fact, Guelph receives more than $1.1 million annually from the federal agency for specific research projects, more than any other Canadian university without a medical school.

All of the latest U of G projects are led by professors in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Prof. George Harauz received $482,170 for a five-year study on the structure of myelin basic protein. This important protein is involved in maintaining the integrity of the myelin sheath of the central nervous system, which insulates nerve endings. Myelin helps the nerves receive and interpret messages from the brain quickly.

Harauz will collaborate with physics professor Vladimir Ladizhansky to help understand the process of demyelination in MS. Demyelination is the term used for a loss of myelin. When nerve endings lose this substance, they can’t function properly, leading to patches of scarring or “sclerosis.” Demyelination is the root cause of the symptoms that people with MS experience.

Prof. Rod Merrill received a five-year $466,785 grant to determine the three-dimensional structure of bacterial toxins secreted by human pathogens. The most problematic bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, produces exotoxin A (ETA) — one of the most potent protein toxins known — which functions by inactivating protein synthesis in infected human cells. It’s particularly troublesome in hospital environments because immune-compromised individuals can’t combat the arsenal of virulence factors produced by the organism.

Merrill will use his CIHR grant to investigate the mechanism of the interaction between the bacterial toxins and the protein factors required for protein synthesis. “Ultimately, we hope the research will lead to the design of compounds to inhibit the interaction and minimize the damage caused by the toxins during bacterial infections in both animals and human patients,” he said. Already, Merrill has been working to develop a new treatment for combatting the effects of bacterial lung infections from P. aeruginosa in people with cystic fibrosis.

Prof. Ray Lu will receive more than $290,000 over three years to continue his research on two human genes (Luman and Zhangfei) he has identified. The biological functions of these genes have been linked to animal stress responses that are implicated in many diseases and cellular processes such as herpes virus, and both genes are also regulators of other gene activities.

“The CIHR funding is critical for us to carry on our research at an internationally competitive level,” Lu said, adding that the grant will enable him to use experimental tools that would otherwise be unaffordable. “In addition to its impact on my research program, the funding will help create a better training environment for graduate students and post-doctoral researchers alike in the lab.”

Launched in 2000, CIHR is Canada’s premier health research funding agency, supporting more than 8,500 researchers in universities, teaching hospitals, and research institutes nationwide.

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

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