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Big boost

$2 M investment kicks off New Year

By Jeff Green

Better understanding – and hopefully one day preventing -- some pregnancy-associated diseases got a major boost this month as Memorial welcomed the latest round of funding from the Research & Development Corporation (RDC).
Through its Industrial Research and Innovation Fund (IRIF), the Crown agency is pumping $2 million into 15 research projects at the university focusing on areas such as archaeology, library sciences, medicine, biochemistry and ocean technology.

The investment was made on Jan. 12 and allows researchers to leverage an additional $4.2 million from other funding sources including the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Canada Research Chairs Program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes for Health Research-Regional Partnership Program (CIHR-RPP) and others.

The funding will support a series of innovative projects which have far-reaching implications.

One of those is the work of Dr. Daniel MacPhee, an associate professor of reproductive and developmental biology from the Division of BioMedical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine.

He has received $158,814 for research that will aid in identifying the origin, in whole or in part, of some diseases during human pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, that are a result of improper development of the placenta – the disk-like organ attaching baby to mother.

Preeclampsia is a medical condition where hypertension, sometimes severe, arises in pregnant women.

“In order for such diseases to be resolved in the clinic or perhaps even be prevented, a better understanding of how the human placenta develops in the first place is required. This is our goal,” said Dr. MacPhee.

“We will study a signalling molecule and several of its partner proteins that we believe are critical for development of the placenta. These molecules may then be potential future targets for drug development or useful as ‘markers’ for screening pregnant women who could be susceptible to such diseases of pregnancy.”

Dr. MacPhee’s IRIF funding is matched by $158,814 from CIHR.

He said support from the province helps drive “high-quality” research programs.
That sentiment is echoed by Dr. Craig Purchase, assistant professor, Department of Biology.

He has been awarded $90,716 in IRIF funding to create a new fish ecology research laboratory at Memorial. This leverages $81,456 he has received in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Dr. Purchase said the IRIF funding will allow his research team to further investigate a number of ecological, evolutionary and conservation issues.
“Relatively little research is invested into how populations might adapt to their environments or how changing environmental conditions would influence both their ecology and evolution,” said Dr. Purchase.

“These are some of the voids my group will make progress on filling. I am particularly interested in how local adaptation among populations – within the same species – influence productivity of that species as a whole. Most of our research would be impossible without the support of IRIF, as the equipment necessary to collect these data would not be accessible.”

In addition to the Faculties of Science and Medicine, researchers from the Faculty of Arts, the Queen Elizabeth II Library, the Ocean Sciences Centre and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science have also received financial support through IRIF.

“The Industrial Research and Innovation Fund is an important funding resource for research and development in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president (research) pro tempore. “The ability to leverage additional investment allows a researcher to increase the scale of their project and improve the quality of their research through collaboration with key figures at the local, national and international levels.”

The provincial government established the IRIF program in 2004 to build R&D capacity in Newfoundland and Labrador’s post-secondary institutions and other not-for-profit research facilities that support research and development, innovation and commercialization in areas relevant to industry and the local economy.

In April 2009, the provincial government transferred administration of the fund to the Research & Development Corporation.

“The investment from the Industrial Research and Innovation Fund supports innovative research at Memorial University that is relevant to local industry and the provincial economy,” said Glenn Janes, chief executive officer of the RDC. “Strategic investments in R&D at post-secondary institutions are essential for attracting and retaining the best researchers and building the infrastructure and capacity in support of research and development in the province.”

Memorial researchers interested in learning how to apply for funding through RDC, including IRIF, should contact the Office of the Vice-President (Research).

Funding innovation

The following Memorial researchers received IRIF funding on Jan. 12

Leverage R&D category. This program element leverages incremental R&D investments from regional, national and international sources by providing investments toward eligible costs of a specific project proposal.

Dr. Ralf Bachmayer, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

Drs. Matthew Rise and Kurt Gamperl, Ocean Sciences Centre

Dr. Christopher Kozak, Department of Chemistry

Dr. Craig Purchase, Department of Biology

Dr. Martha Traverso-Yépez, Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Andrew Lang, Department of Biology

Lorraine Busby, Library Sciences

Dr. Lisa Rankin, Department of Archaeology

The following research projects were approved under the memorandum of understanding with the Canadian Institute for Health Research-Regional Partnership Program. Under this MOU RDC co-funds 50/50 on projects approved within CIHR-RPP.

Dr. Simon Lamarre, Department of Biochemistry

Dr. Mark T. Collins, Department of Biochemistry

Dr. Daniel MacPhee, Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Qi Yuan, Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Ahmed Mostafa, Faculty of Medicine

IgniteR&D category: This program element is intended to establish new R&D capacity in support of research and development, innovation and commercialization in areas relevant to both industry and the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Ralf Bachmayer, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science

Dr. Joel Finnis, Department of Geography

For complete details on these projects -- including further information about the IRIF categories of funding -- visit