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At the Edge

November 27, 2012

By Eleni Kanavas

Three scientists at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) have been awarded Leaders Opportunity Fund grants by the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Altogether, Drs. David Andrews, Simon Graham and Stanley Liu will receive $1,266,130.

"These awards are a huge benefit to our institution and will facilitate the discovery work of our scientists," said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at Sunnybrook and SRI. The awards pay for infrastructure to help attract researchers to Canadian institutions and enable them to do cutting-edge work.

Andrews is the new director of biological sciences at SRI. He will receive $697,765 to buy equipment that will enable him to study protein-protein interactions in cellular membranes. His research focuses on how certain membrane proteins, those from the Bcl-2 family, interact and can be manipulated during programmed cell death, or apoptosis. This biological process is the means by which cells are genetically programmed to live or die if they are no longer needed.

The award will help Andrews establish his lab. He plans to buy a confocal microscope for fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, which measures protein-protein interactions in live cells. He says the microscope will allow his team to study those interactions.

"The instruments that we're buying will allow us to identify sites of potential therapeutic interaction between the proteins that regulate cell death and validate those as actual targets," he says. "In addition, we can use this equipment to study the mechanism of existing drugs, so that we're able to say what the drug does in a living cell as opposed to a test tube."

Graham, a senior scientist in physical sciences, will receive $499,952 to study advances in magnetic resonance neuroimaging technology. As a scientist within SRI's Centre for Research in Image-Guided Therapeutics, his research focuses on developing better imaging techniques to measure brain activities.

He will purchase a parallel radiofrequency transmission console and coil hardware to modify an existing 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. This equipment aims to improve functional MRI of the brain in patients with Alzheimer's disease or stroke. This award will also promote collaborative projects among SRI scientists in areas such as noninvasive MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery of cancers in the brain and prostate.

Liu, a scientist in biological sciences, will receive $68,413 to study the role of DLL4-Notch signaling blockade as a novel strategy to improve tumour radiation response. His goal is to translate the findings into an early-phase clinical trial in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. He will purchase a state-of-the-art, quantitative, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine that reproduces copies of a particular DNA sequence. This system will allow his team to analyze tumour samples to confirm the effect of DLL4-Notch blockade and radiation treatment on identified pathways.

The Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation usually matches the Leaders Opportunity Fund awards. Results of that competition are pending.