May 22, 2020
Queen’s researchers receive support from the New Frontiers in Research Fund.
Seven Queen’s research projects have been funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) 2019 Exploration competition, a program that fosters discovery and innovation by encouraging Canadian researchers to explore, take risks, and work with partners across disciplines and borders.
Queen’s will receive $1.7 million of the $46.3 million in funding allocated to support 186 research projects across Canada. The competition provides grants of up to $125,000 a year for two years for teams of two or more researchers.
The 2019 Exploration grants support a wide range of research projects at the university — from developing a micro-scale antibiotic discovery platform to community-led policy engagement on Vancouver’s housing crisis. A full list of funded projects is below:
- Breakthroughs in robotics and machine learning have the potential to have a significant impact on the way chemical synthesis is performed, and to dramatically accelerate the pace of discovery and optimization. Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) and collaborators have received $250,000 to apply machine learning-based chemical optimization to the synthesis of metal nanoclusters, which form a key link between molecules and materials.
- Jeffrey Masuda (Kinesiology and Health Studies) and co-applicants, including Audrey Kobayashi (Geography and Planning), have received $248,960 to generate a creative space for community-led policy engagement in the heart of Vancouver’s housing crisis. Using materials from archival, qualitative, and humanities-based methodologies gathered through four years of SSHRC Insight participatory action research, they will develop a permanent exhibit that will tell the histories of governance, activism, and inhabitance surrounding single room occupancy (SRO) hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
- The spread of cancer beyond the initial site (metastasis) occurs frequently and is the cause of 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths. P. Andrew Evans (Chemistry) with John Allingham (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Andrew Craig (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), , will leverage $250,000 from the NFRF to develop small molecule inhibitors inspired by marine macrolide natural products, which target the cellular engine that drives cancer metastasis.
- Stephen Lougheed (Biology), Yuxiang Wang (Biology) and collaborators are developing new, real-time, community-based environmental DNA protocols for assessing freshwater ecosystem health with $249,363 in support from the NFRF. Their platform will combine eDNA approaches with community capacity building, focusing on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as test cases.
- Environmental bacteria are an excellent source of new antibiotics. However, when cultivated in the laboratory, they frequently fail to produce the vast majority of their encoded molecules unless very particular and specific conditions are used. Avena Ross (Chemistry) and Richard Oleschuk (Chemistry) will use $250,000 in support from the NFRF to develop a microfluidics platform to identify new antibiotics from bacteria, enabling them to rapidly identify/prioritize new antibiotic drug leads.
- Michael Rauh (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Susan Crocker (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) have received $240,500 for their work in profiling blood for genomic instability associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). With their combined expertise, they will demonstrate how changes in cell-free and cell-contained DNA in blood contribute to AD pathophysiology.
- Amber Simpson (School of Computing and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Sharday Mosurinjohn (School of Religion) have received $250,000 to develop a cancer digital twin from 400,000 medical images that predicts the pattern of cancer spread while considering the bioethical implications raised by the technology. Their project will bring to bear combined expertise in AI, oncology, religion, philosophy, and cultural sociology to analyze AI’s existential risks and rewards.
The NFRF’s 2019 Exploration competition supports research that defies current paradigms, bridges disciplines, or tackles fundamental problems from new perspectives. A key principle of this stream is the recognition that exploring new directions in research carries risk but that these risks are worthwhile, given their potential for significant impact.
“Through the NFRF, researchers at Queen’s are bringing disciplines together in nontraditional ways to explore new research directions in social, cultural, economic, health and technological areas that may benefit Canadians,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Thank you to the Government of Canada for their support of this work.”
The NFRF is an initiative of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee and is managed as a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. For more information, visit the website.
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Note: This article originally appeared in the Queen’s Gazette.