Canada Excellence Research Chairs

Canada Excellence Research Chairs

May 17, 2010 14:00 ET

New Government of Canada Investment Attracts Top Minds to Canadian Universities

Inaugural Canada Excellence Research Chairs Introduced at University of Alberta Ceremony

EDMONTON, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - May 17, 2010) - The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, welcomed to the University of Alberta Dr. Michael Houghton, Dr. D. Graham Pearson, Dr. Patrik Rorsman and Dr. Thomas Thundat, four of 19 world-renowned researchers who have chosen to pursue their leading-edge research at universities across Canada. The event followed the announcement of the recipients of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program made earlier today at the University of Toronto by the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry.

"The Canada Excellence Research Chairs program is an important part of the Government of Canada's science and technology strategy," said Minister Ambrose. "By helping our universities attract and retain the world's best and brightest minds, these programs are helping northern Alberta develop leading-edge knowledge, grow a world-class workforce and position Canada as a true destination of choice for the world's top students and researchers."

For each Chair, universities will receive up to $10 million over seven years to support chairholders and their research teams in undertaking ambitious research programs. The complete list of chairholders, including the 13 universities where they will be working, is available on the CERC website (

Dr. Michael Houghton, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology, will work to develop low-cost prophylactic vaccines against hepatitis C and therapeutic vaccines against hepatitis B. Dr. Houghton's commitment to developing low-cost vaccines could have enormous benefits for hepatitis sufferers in Canada and around the globe, helping them overcome these diseases and reducing the costs and impacts on both sufferers and the health care system.

"I'm very pleased to be at the University of Alberta because they have excellent experimental and clinical researchers in the diseases that I'm interested in, including viral hepatitis and inflammatory bowel disease," said Dr. Houghton. "The goal of my research is to advance the development of a vaccine to protect people against hepatitis C. We also want to try to develop a vaccine to help treat patients who already have the disease. I'd also like to contribute to existing efforts at the U of A to identify a cause of other diseases by new viruses."

Dr. D. Graham Pearson, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Arctic Resources, will develop the first detailed picture of rock formations hidden deep under the Earth's crust in Canada's Arctic region, revealing new data on the land masses where diamonds are formed. Dr. Pearson's geological snapshots will revolutionize our understanding of the age and evolution of current and potential diamond mines. This knowledge will help boost Arctic exploration and expenditure by identifying new prospective areas to mine diamonds and other mineral deposits.

"I know of no other country able to offer the magnitude of backing available from the CERC program," said Dr. Pearson. "It's simply unique — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attack a major research problem with the latest approaches and in the process train the next generation of research scientists."

Dr. Patrik Rorsman, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Diabetes, will study how both healthy and diseased human pancreatic cells function. A world leader in diabetes research, he will develop new treatments that preserve, regenerate and transplant these insulin-producing cells, thereby restoring the healthy functioning of the pancreas.

"The goal of my research is to try to understand why people get diabetes. The hope is that we will identify molecules or mechanisms that we can target with new drugs to treat diabetes," said Dr. Rorsman. "The U of A, and particularly in my case, the Alberta Diabetes Institute, is known for the pioneering sort of work they have been carrying out here over the last 15–20 years. The Edmonton Protocol is known all over the world. I regard this as a fantastic opportunity and great honour to be invited to be part of such a vibrant and dynamic research community."

Dr. Thomas Thundat, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering, will develop new detection and extraction technologies to improve the overall efficiency of the way Canada's oil sands are processed. Dr. Thundat's work will lead to more sustainable techniques for oil extraction and refinement, greatly reducing the environmental impact of the oil industry and helping Canada better meet its emissions reduction targets.

"Exciting and innovative research on oilsands — ranging from basic science to applied engineering — is presently underway at the University of Alberta," said Dr. Thundat. "I am eager and equally excited to join the stellar colleagues at the U of A in developing and applying novel tools and techniques for challenging interfacial problems associated with oilsands research."

"The arrival of these globally respected researchers will have multiple benefits for Canada," said Dr. Chad Gaffield, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Chair of the Tri-Agency Steering Committee. "Research chairs of this calibre working together with other researchers, students and post-doctoral fellows already in Canada will create meaningful new opportunities."

The CERC program was announced in Budget 2008 as part of the government's Science and Technology Strategy to help build expertise in strategic areas. Research conducted by the chairholders will focus on the areas of environmental sciences and technologies, natural resources and energy, health and related life sciences and technologies, and information and communications technologies.

"I am thrilled that the University of Alberta has been awarded four Canada Excellence Research Chairs, the highest number at any university in the country," said Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta. "We at the university saw the CERC competition as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the extraordinary investment in the U of A previously made by the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta. During the submission process, we made it a priority to put our best foot forward. We have succeeded in attracting world leaders who will help push the U of A's excellence in these four areas of research from national prominence to global pre-eminence."

The CERC program is administered jointly by Canada's three research granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

For more information, visit the CERC website (

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