The New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams have received a $45 million grant from the Canadian government to fund high-risk, high-reward research. The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, made the announcement on Monday. The researchers at Queen’s have received a total of $3 million in funding.
“The NFRF programs push researchers to think outside the box to solve difficult global challenges ranging from climate change to how we might use lessons learned from the COVID-19 epidemic,” Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal, adds (Research). “Our supported research teams deserve kudos for their innovative ideas and inventiveness. I’m excited to watch how these initiatives develop and advance.”
Taking science to new heights
Programs that propose intriguing new fields of study with an interdisciplinary approach will be funded under the Exploration stream in 2021. Each of the following Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000:
Cao Thang Dinh and Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) will collaborate with a team of experts in electrochemical engineering, computational system biology, and microbiology to find ways to improve the efficiency of bioprocesses – that is, processes that use living cells to convert carbon dioxide, renewable, non-food biomass, and waste into chemicals with industrial applications – by using renewable electricity such as wind and solar to power them with an electrochemical preheater. Their discovery has the potential to cut energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enable cost-effective, large-scale biodegradable bioplastic production to minimize plastic waste.
A program coordinated by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal focuses on the genetic and epigenetic roots of cancer (Biology). Using an integrated in silico/in vivo platform, the researchers will examine the significance of histone gene alterations in cancer formation. Histones are proteins that aid in the formation of chromosomal structure and might be exploited as diagnostic biomarkers or therapeutic targets in the future.
Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) have teamed together to create a microsensor that will aid in the testing of new antibiotics that have the ability to cure bacterial infections without generating antibiotic resistance. They’ll use a class of molecules that, rather than killing bacteria, diminish their pathogenicity. The research’s immediate use would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacteria notorious for causing severe sickness, particularly in immunocompromised and cystic fibrosis patients.
Experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will collaborate to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities, led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing). Their plan is to deploy robots to increase the frequency and quality of social encounters, assisting youngsters with speech and mobility issues.
Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) and Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) are investigating the potential of digital technology to shield individuals from the physical impacts of social isolation, such as those encountered during pandemic lockdowns. They want to learn more about the complex neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and see if virtual connections, such as video chats, might help. The researchers hope that the findings will be utilized to rethink digital technology applications (such as remote education and telemedicine) as well as social policies (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).