SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

June 22, 2015 13:41 ET

UCalgary awarded $14.5 million in NSERC support

Ninety-three awards recognize national research leadership

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - June 22, 2015) - A record number of research programs at the University of Calgary have received prestigious Government of Canada funding through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

"A key pillar of our government's updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy is ensuring Canada develops, attracts and retains the world's most talented researchers. Today's investment in more than 3, 800 researchers at 70 universities across the country ensures Canada has a broad base of talented men and women whose research continues to push the boundaries of knowledge, creates jobs and opportunities while improving the quality of life of Canadians," said Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) at the announcement made today, demonstrating UCalgary's ongoing research leadership.

Dr. Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary underlines the value of funding discovery focused research.

"The value of basic research cannot be understated. It is the foundation upon which we create new knowledge and make discoveries, and it is what fuels applications and innovation," says McCauley. "Our scholars are focused on addressing critical basic research challenges, and with NSERC's support we are setting them up for success."

Dr. David Hansen received both the Discovery and the Accelerator awards, which will help drive his stem cell research. An associate professor of integrative cell biology in Biological Science and an adjunct professor in Medical Genetics, Hansen is working with a team that includes PhD candidate Pratyush Gupta and Lindsay Leahul, a Master of Science graduate student, to understand stem cell behavior.

"We're trying to better understand how proteins degrade in stem cells because we know this is an important regulatory mechanism," said Hansen. "Understanding the mechanisms behind this degradation could lead to breakthroughs in medical treatment for many of our most devastating degenerative diseases."

Stem cells are essential for proper development and for the replacement of aging and damaged tissues. Stem cells are able to fulfill these functions, in part, due to their unique ability to produce both self-renewing and differentiating cells. Differentiating cells form the desired tissue, while self-renewing cells maintain the stem cell population. A balance must be maintained between self-renewing and differentiating cells for stem cells to function properly. Without this balance, potential treatments could do more harm than good.

"If self-renewing stem cells proliferate too much, that's one of the causes of cancer," said Hansen. "So there's a fear that we could potentially introduce tumors if we don't get the balance just right. We have to be able to control that."

By understanding how these proteins help regulate the balance between self-renewal and differentiation, and how the activities of these proteins are regulated through protein degradation, researchers will better understand how stem cells contribute to the development of organisms. They may one day learn how to control stem cell behavior allowing for the therapeutic potential of stem cells to be fully realized.

"We are doing the basic research, figuring out how these things work," said Hansen. "Hopefully others will be able to take our findings and develop effective treatments for disease."

Some of the other programs benefitting from today's awards include Ian Gates' work in the Schulich School of Engineering. Gates is using simple chemistry to significantly reduce emissions in oil sands recovery by converting carbon and Sulphur emissions into minerals which can be left in the ground as the oil is extracted.

Also in the Schulich School of Engineering, Uttandaraman (U.T.) Sundararaj is working to better understand the structure and properties of polymers to synthesize stronger materials using nano composites and polymer blends.

Research led by associate physics professor Joern Davidsen brings together the fields of seismology, brain research and physics, and could lead to breakthroughs in earthquake forecasting and drug development for neuronal diseases such as epilepsy.

In moving towards internet communications security to prevent the breakdowns that plague corporations, governments, celebrities and regular citizens alike, Physics professor Christoph Simon is working on an entanglement network using quantum optics

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation's most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada's top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.'

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