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Research revenue ripens

Feds pump nearly $10 million into innovative projects

By Jeff Green

Diverse research projects – ranging from medical genetics to fish technology – got a major boost from the federal government on Sunday, Jan. 31, as Ottawa announced almost $10 million in funding for Memorial-led research and development during a news conference at the Marine Institute.

The Faculties of Medicine, and Engineering and Applied Science, along with the Marine Institute received funding under Round VII of the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) announced by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
C-CORE, a separately incorporated entity of Memorial, also received significant funding.

In total, the units netted $9.6 million in funding.

The investment was made by Peter MacKay, the federal minister of Natural Defence, and the minister responsible for this province.

“The Atlantic Innovation Fund is an important catalyst for building research and development capacity in our region,” Minister MacKay said. “This latest round of funding ensures that more research will continue to be undertaken and more innovative ideas commercialized, so that Atlantic businesses continue to grow, adapt, diversify and become more competitive.”
Dr. Christopher W. Loomis, president and vice-chancellor pro tempore welcomed the minister and other dignitaries, and congratulated the researchers who are receiving funding.
“As the most successful university in Atlantic Canada in securing AIF funding, Memorial takes pride in partnering with businesses which rely on research and innovation to advance their competitiveness, productivity and access to their respective markets,” Dr. Loomis said. “This includes working closely with technology-based industries to successfully commercialize the innovations emerging from our laboratories, as well as assisting in the growth of business-led research and development in the province. The AIF has become an indispensible program in achieving these goals.”

One of those innovative projects focuses on genetics.

The Population Therapeutics Research Group (PTRG), a not-for-profit team within the Faculty of Medicine, will receive $1.8 million from the AIF over a three-year period.

Researchers will develop a state-of-the-art information technology platform able to generate large sample groups – family trees – to conduct studies on the genetic contribution to specific disease states, drug efficacy and adverse events.
“The system will be able to link a detailed, existing Newfoundland genealogical database to information regarding drug exposure and clinical outcomes,” said
Dr. Proton Rahman, a rheumatologist and genetic epidemiologist who heads up PTRG. “It will provide support for new gene discoveries linked to diseases, genetic causes for adverse drug reactions, pharmacogenetic (drug-genetic interactions) studies, and personalized medicine.”

Two innovative projects from the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science received substantial funding to further position Memorial an international leader in oceans-related research.

Dr. Dan Walker is the principal investigator on a project involving the university’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that will receive $2.1 million over a four-year period.

The funding will help integrate sonar and advanced feature-based navigation and adaptive mission control systems for the university’s Explorer AUV.

“This project will enable high-quality seabed surveys with real-time changes during the AUV mission to focus on areas of interest, thereby reducing time, energy, cost, and risk of vehicle loss,” said Dr. Walker.

“The advancements will enable the AUV to look at its environment, determine its position, and be able to autonomously decide which areas of the seabed to survey in greater detail.”

The other project, involving the use of high frequency radars to monitor ocean activity, was awarded $1.7 million over a four-year period from AIF.

Memorial will develop new software for high frequency radar signals that could be used in a variety of oceans-related research including identifying the path and speed of ships and icebergs, assisting search and rescue planning, and supporting meteorological applications such as weather forecasting.

“The funding will be critical in enabling the production and deployment of high frequency radars for collecting oceanographic data over a very large area,” said Dr. Eric Gill, a professor of engineering.

The Marine Institute’s Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources will receive roughly $1.8 million from the AIF over a five-year period to develop and commercialize new bottom trawl fishing technology.

The centre aims to use new technology to catch commercial quantities of finfish and shellfish with reduced seabed contact compared to traditional systems, thereby reducing significant environmental impact on the seabed.

Researchers will undertake the design and computer simulation of innovative fishing systems, the evaluation of physical models using the Marine Institute flume tank, and the construction and evaluation of full-scale prototypes.
“It will help the Canadian fishing industry reduce seabed contact while also maintaining economically sustainable catch levels,” said Dr. Paul Winger, director of the centre. “The result will be the development and commercialization of new innovative fishing systems that are low impact, fishery-specific and industry relevant.”

Meanwhile, C-CORE, a separately incorporated entity of Memorial and an international leader in the development and application of innovative engineering technologies for natural resource sectors, will receive $2.2 million from AIF over a four-year period to go towards research in radar-based satellite monitoring.

It will research into areas such as the next generation of satellite imaging and radar technology aimed at predicting subsurface ground movement.

This latest round of AIF funding will allow researchers to take their projects to a higher level, said Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president (research) pro tempore at Memorial.

“I applaud ACOA for its vision and commitment to advance research that is having a real impact in our communities,” he noted.

“This funding will fuel leading-edge projects in engineering, medicine, at the Marine Institute and at C-CORE which position Memorial as a world leader in these fields of research.”

Memorial researchers looking to learn more about how to apply for AIF funding should contact the Major Research Partnerships (MRP) office. It promotes, positions and provides post-award administration to Memorial-AIF projects.