Quality and impact: $1-million federal investment strengthens Memorial's health research capacity

Jan 13th, 2022

By Jeff Green

Chairs (CRCs), which are five-year awards for $100,000 each year.
Quality and impact: $1-million federal investment strengthens Memorial's health research capacity

Two researchers at Memorial are receiving a significant boost for their leading-edge studies.

Drs. Daniel Fuller and Benjamin Zendel have been renewed as Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs (CRCs), which are five-year awards for $100,000 each year.

Their reappointments were announced by the federal government on Jan. 12.

Dr. Fuller, associate professor, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, continues his work as the Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity.

Dr. Zendel, associate professor, Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, has been renewed as the Canada Research Chair in Aging and Auditory Neuroscience.

Both researchers were initially appointed as CRCs in 2016.

Expanding research

Dr. Fuller says he’s grateful to continue the work he started in 2016.

“Honestly, I mostly felt relief when I found out my CRC had been renewed,” he told the Gazette.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging with respect to research, graduate students and teaching. I’m very happy to still have funding for my staff and students for another five years.”

Working with municipalities and community organizations, Dr. Fuller and his team use mobile health technologies to examine the best ways to design and build cities and towns that equitably increase physical activity for the entire population.

“We are planning on conducting a series of studies to develop methods that will better measure sleep, sedentary behaviour and physical activity.”— Dr. Daniel Fuller

Dr. Fuller says his renewal provides flexibility to expand that work across Canada and internationally.

“We are planning on conducting a series of studies to develop methods that will better measure sleep, sedentary behaviour and physical activity for different populations including children, older adults and people who use mobility aids,” he explained.

Dr. Fuller says the majority of research for measuring physical activity using wearable devices has been done on healthy adult men, which is a limitation.

He and his team are also developing web-based tools and mobile apps to help researchers collect wearable device data and apply the new models they are developing in his lab.

“The scalability piece is definitely something that will be facilitated by my CRC renewal.”

Building profile

Dr. Zendel says the CRC investment allows him to continue building a team of high quality researchers made up of undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral trainees and staff.

It will also support growth of the Aging Research Centre–Newfoundland and Labrador (ARC–N.L.). Dr. Zendel is a member of the centre’s core leadership team.

“Together we have built the Cognitive Aging and Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, which is gaining recognition as a state-of-the-art auditory neuroscience lab with specialization on both aging and music perception,” he explained.

“The renewal of the CRC will allow me to further build the lab’s profile locally, nationally and internationally.”

The ARC–N.L. is the only centre in the province dedicated to studying issues impacting older adults.

Dr. Zendel says the CRC support will help further grow the centre as part of Memorial’s research infrastructure.

“We want to better understand what parts of music training provide the most benefit.”— Dr. Benjamin Zendel

Over the next five years, he plans to continue researching music and aging in the brain.

“In the first term of the CRC, we demonstrated that music training can improve hearing abilities in older adults, specifically, the ability to understand speech when there is loud background noise,” Dr. Zendel explained.

“In this second term we want to better understand what parts of music training provide the most benefit, and who is most likely to benefit from music training.”

He says he and his team also want to know why music perception seems to be preserved in older adults and what changes in the brain to support music perception.

“This knowledge will be critical for developing auditory rehabilitation programs.”

Innovation leader

“Drs. Fuller and Zendel are committed to shedding new light on critical health-related issues and challenges facing our world. Their work will help to elevate Memorial’s international reputation as an innovation leader,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research) and a former CRC.

“For more than 20 years, the Canada Research Chairs Program has provided critical support to kick-start and enhance cutting-edge research programs and studies here at Memorial. I thank the Government of Canada for that support and congratulate Drs. Fuller and Zendel on their successful reappointments.”

The Canada Research Chairs Program invests up to $295 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

Memorial’s active Canada Research Chairs are leading studies such as neuroscience and brain repair, ocean mapping and coastal environmental engineering.

Jeff Green is manager of communications in the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at jeffg@mun.ca.