...the many facets of the world around us. This past year research funding at Memorial University increased to $52 million, supporting projects on aquaculture, rural development, health and many other issues tied to our unique location.
Memorial researcher discovers gene linked to psoriatic arthritis
Memorial's Dr. Proton Rahman and Dr. Dafna Gladman of the University of Toronto have discovered a gene linked to psoriatic arthritis, a long-lasting form of arthritis causing skin rashes and painful joint inflammation. This discovery could pave the way for better diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis and potentially provide a therapeutic target for drug development. Psoriasis is a persistent skin disease in which the skin becomes inflamed, producing red, thickened areas with silvery scales. Psoriatic arthritis is normally found in less than one per cent of the population with psoriasis. But, Dr. Rahman says, psoriatic arthritis can occur in up to 20 to 30 per cent of patients with psoriasis in Newfoundland, and at present there is no cure. According to Dr. Rahman, there is a growing body of evidence that psoriatic arthritis has a strong genetic component. "The homogenous population in Newfoundland provided an ideal setting to identify a novel gene for this disease," he said. Memorial has filed for a U.S. patent for the novel gene, which focuses on the use of the gene to diagnose psoriatic arthritis.
Memorial innovators receive almost $22 million from round one AIF
Four Memorial University-led projects received funding from the federal government in the amount of $21.6 million in the first round of the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF).
- A five year project worth $4.1 million went to the Ocean Sciences Centre, and will provide essential research to enhance the establishment of a commercial Atlantic cod aquaculture industry in Newfoundland and assist in the continued development of the Atlantic halibut aquaculture industry in Atlantic Canada.
- The Ocean Sciences Centre will also undertake a $600,000 project using biotechnology to investigate and improve the mechanisms of disease resistance in the brood stock characteristics of Atlantic salmon and other key aquaculture finfish species.
- The Atlantic Innovation Fund awarded $15 million to the Pan-Atlantic Petroleum Systems Consortium (PPSC), a group of oil and gas researchers at Memorial, Dalhousie University, and the University of New Brunswick that intends to harness its physical and human resources to provide an integrated and comprehensive response to the research and specialized skill requirements of the petroleum industry in Atlantic Canada.
- The Electronic Rural Medicine Strategy (TERMS), a project of the Office of Professional Development (OPD) at Memorial's Faculty of Medicine was another AIF recipient for a $1.5 million initiative to complete the design, development, and delivery of online professional development training for rural/remote physicians in Canada.
- Memorial's C-CORE will receive $6 million from the AIF to migrate its expertise and technology to develop technical solutions to industry-identified problems in other natural resource sectors such as mining, forest products and terrestrial gas pipelines.
Exploring loss and memories
Last year an exhibit at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Memorial's west coast campus explored an aspect of Newfoundland history. A graduate of Memorial's visual arts program at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College named her newest creation Better Homes and Gardens - The Resettlement Promise. Shirley Greer says the work evokes loss. "The tightly-coiled neckties in tidy rows speak of abandoned cemeteries and lost memories, or might suggest beds of flowers, and hope. The houses will hang suspended and appear to float above these 'gardens' with their promise of a better life." The work refers to the government resettlement of many homes in Newfoundland outports in the 1960s.
Creating a renewable resource
Researchers at Memorial's Ocean Sciences Centre (OSC) were granted $4.1 million (over a five-year period) from the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) for a project designed to provide essential research to establish a commercial Atlantic cod aquaculture industry in Newfoundland. The project, led by biologist Dr. Joseph Brown and Danny Boyce, is a co-operative effort between university researchers and several industry partners that addresses challenges related to cod broodstock development, larval production techniques, juvenile growth and fish health. Ongoing research activities are currently taking place at industrial demonstration cage sites at Turnip Cove in the community of Pool's Cove and North West Cove in Hermitage Bay, Newfoundland. Broodstock and hatchery production and research related issues are taking place at the Aquaculture Research and Development Facility of the OSC where 180,000 small fish were recently raised and transported to a commercial R&D cage site at Turnip Cove for maturation. In total, the project is expected hatch two million fish for maturation in aquaculture farms in Newfoundland.
Crab processing plants: a source of asthma?
Dr. Barbara Neis, professor of sociology and co-director of Memorial University's SafetyNet: a Community Research Alliance for Workplace Health and Safety, is leading a major three-year study to provide more knowledge about an occupational allergy to snow crab, an emerging health and safety problem in crab processing plants. The study addresses issues related to prevention, prevalence of crab asthma, the quality of life for workers and the socio-economic impacts of the illness. The study has moved from the general understanding that the illness is caused by a process of sensitization to allergens in crab. Researchers will now try to document that these allergens are proteins and that cooking crab changes the molecular weight of these proteins. While most sensitized participants are allergic to both cooked and raw crab, some are allergic only to one or the other. The study also examines whether processing the crab raw would prevent fewer airborne allergens than processing it cooked. These findings have important implications related to prevention and diagnosis. SafetyNet has presented preliminary results at a number of major international conferences. In the fall of 2003, the crab asthma team will be reviewing its findings with industry, labour and government in the province and preparing manuscripts for publication.
Learning how to turn by-products into new products
The Marine Institute's Centre of Aquaculture and Seafood Development (C-ASD) is building a $2.2 million Atlantic Fisheries By-Products Centre to help address key opportunities and constraints to a viable use of by-products from the fishing and aquaculture industries. C-ASD already has a full slate of initiatives to find ways to transform almost 350,000 tonnes of fish waste produced in Atlantic Canada every year into products that will bring commercial and socio-economic benefits to the region.
Memorial builds its research expertise with new Canada Research Chairs
Memorial University received eight research chairs this past year from the Canada Research Chairs Program. The program has allowed Memorial University to attract and retain outstanding researchers at the peak of their careers, as well as those whose careers are ready to take off. Memorial's newest chairs are: Dr. Dale Corbett in Stroke and Neuroplasticity, Dr. Robert F.P. Bertolo in Human Nutrition, Dr. William R. Driedzic in Marine Bioscience, Dr. Paul V.R. Snelgrove in Boreal and Cold Ocean Systems, Dr. Thormod Johansen in Petroleum Reservoir Engineering and Characterization, Dr. Neil Bose in Offshore and Underwater Vehicles Design, Dr. Rangaswamy Seshadri in Asset Integrity Management, and Dr. Paul G. Mezey in Scientific Modelling and Simulation.
Helping cut the lifeblood of crime
New software to curb money laundering created with Memorial ingenuity is catching the attention of banks around the world. After Sept. 11, 2001, a commitment from the financial world to prevent money laundering and other terrorist financing strategies created a cash management crisis. Memorial alumnus David Kelly saw an opportunity for his alma mater to solve the problem by creating sophisticated AML software. Armed with a proposal to fund the research, Mr. Kelly approached Dr. Bob Richards at the P.J. Gardiner Institute for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. The pair drew from the Faculties of Business Administration and Engineering and Applied Science to form a small team of alumni, faculty and students and a company called Verafin was born. Large organizations generating millions of transactions per day can take more than a year to integrate other AML products into their current systems. Verafin's software can be integrated in approximately two weeks. The company is marketing its product, which is ready for purchase, in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.