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Salary awards for new investigators in biomedical science

Dr. Qi Yuan and Dr. Rod Russell are the recipients of New Investigator Awards.

By Sharon Gray

Two researchers in the Faculty of Medicine have been selected to receive New Investigator Awards from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Dr. Rod Russell, an assistant professor in the Immunology and Infectious Diseases Program, and Dr. Qi Yuan, an assistant professor in the Neuroscience Program, will receive salary support for the next five years through CIHR. In recognition of these awards the Faculty of Medicine will provide the two researchers with a significant amount of additional research funding annually. These additional funds will be used to purchase equipment and recruit graduate students.

Dr. Yuan is researching the fundamental processes underlying learning and memory.

“This work will help build a basis in understanding how these processes may be disrupted in pathological conditions,” she explained. “Such a deeper understanding of memory through the use of animal models has implications for the treatment of memory dysfunction in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or other age-related disorders, which significantly diminish the quality of life of millions of people.”

Dr. Yuan said the brain uses a variety of strategies to maximize its capacity to form new memories and retrieve old ones.

“Recent advances in neuroscience suggest that external events are represented in the brain as spatial and temporal patterns of neuronal activity. Input to the brain arrives as a sensory stimulus that activates a population of neurons in particular brain regions. The population of neurons activated by a given stimulus forms a neuronal ensemble, a read out which is the representation of the sensory input in the brain. Memory is thought to be formed by enhanced communication between neurons.”

The main focus of Dr. Russell’s research is how the hepatitis C virus (HCV) assembles itself into infectious virions within an infected cell. “Through understanding this process better, my team hopes to identify putative drug targets for HCV and contribute to the development of novel antiviral therapies.”

To achieve these goals the members of Dr. Russell’s group use laboratory-based virus culture systems to study the function of a number of HCV proteins. Other ongoing projects include a collaborative study with Dr. Matthias Gotte from McGill University aimed at understanding the development of drug resistance in HCV-infected individuals, as well as a recently initiated local collaboration with Dr. Michael Grant, also from the Immunology and Infectious Diseases Program, that will focus on understanding aspects of the immune response against HCV.