Congratulations to four member of the CHAIM Centre who were successful in this year’s competitions at the Canadian Institutes for Health Research!
Alex Wong, from the Dept. of Biology, was the recipient of a CIHR New Investigators Salary Award to support his research on antibiotic resistance and bacterial adaptation. While antibiotics have been used for decades to fight bacterial infection, the evolution of antibiotic resistance has emerged as a critical public health threat. In this research, Wong will study the evolution and genetics of antibiotic resistance, and of pathogen adaptation more generally. He will use laboratory and clinical populations of infectious bacteria, including E. coli and bovine tuberculosis, to identify mutations that confer resistance or that contribute to increased fitness during infection. In addition, he has developed an innovative genetic screen that will enable him to identify novel therapeutics targeted towards antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Alfonso Abizaid, from the Dept. of Neuroscience, received funding to better understand the hormonal mechanisms by which stress responses alter behavioral and metabolic processes associated with obesity. Obesity is related to a variety of pathologic conditions that include cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and renal insufficiency, all of which can lead to an early death and poor quality of life. While it is clear that there are genetic factors that are closely associated with obesity, environmental factors also play an important role. Stress, for example has been associated with a number of metabolic changes that ultimately can lead to obesity, insulin resistance, and cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, a number of symptoms that are seen following exposure to different types of stressors are also seen in animals exposed to chronically elevated levels of the hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin, a stomach derived hormone, is commonly associated with the stimulation of appetite and food intake (particularly the intake of high calorie foods), as well as the accumulation of body fat. Ghrelin appears to be released following exposure to stressors, and thus it is possible that the behavioral and metabolic alterations that are seen following chronic stress paradigms are mediated in part by ghrelin. This research seeks to provide evidence that this is the case, and to determine the parts of the brain directly affected by ghrelin to mediate these effects.
Shawn Hayley, from the Dept. of Neuroscience, was successful in acquiring funding to support his research assessing the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s Disease. The vast majority of cases of Parkinson’s disease (PD) are of unknown origin, and environmental influences have been repeatedly implicated. That said, certain genetic changes, such as those involving a gene that appears to influence the inflammatory immune system (called LRRK2), might engender a vulnerability to the impact of environmental toxicants. In this research, it is suggested that activation of LRRK2, along with immune system messenger proteins, called cytokines, together give rise to PD. We will test this hypothesis using genetically modified mice (that either lack LRRK2 or express abnormal levels of this gene) and administering certain cytokines, immune agents (e.g. compounds that mimic viral and bacterial infections) and environmental toxicants (e.g. pesticides linked to PD).
Paul Villeneuve, from the Dept. of Health Sciences, together with his research collaborator, Dr. Warren Foster of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at McMaster University were awarded an operating grant to study a novel clinical marker of endometriosis. Endometriosis is an estrogen dependent disease of unknown etiology that affects between 10-15% of reproductive age women which can result in significant pain and interference with everyday activities including work and social interactions. Clinically useful markers of endometriosis are lacking and many women are symptomatic for 8-12 years before achieving a definitive diagnosis. Hence, novel clinical markers of endometriosis are urgently needed. The proposed study will investigate whether brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a clinically useful marker of endometriosis that has the potential to offer women with pelvic pain more appropriate, effective, and less costly medical therapies compared to surgery.
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