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Six premier Government of Canada Research Chairs awarded to UCalgary scholars

New awards support research for energy transitions and improved health
May 17, 2017
Clockwise, from left: Joule Bergerson, Nils Forkert, Marco Gallo

Clockwise, from left: Joule Bergerson, Nils Forkert, Marco Gallo

 Clockwise, from top left: Amanda Melin, Peter Tieleman, Arthur Kuo

Clockwise, from top left: Amanda Melin, Peter Tieleman, Arthur Kuo

The University of Calgary has been awarded six new Canada Research Chairs. The awards support exceptional research in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

The Canada Research Chair program is considered a cornerstone in Canada’s national strategy to lead in international research and development, and the new awards will support University of Calgary scholarship in the high-priority areas of energy and health innovation.

“The Canada Research Chairs program plays a critical role in supporting Canada’s most accomplished and promising scholars,” notes Ed McCauley, vice-president (research) at the University of Calgary. “We join the Government of Canada in celebrating the accomplishments of these researchers who are contributing to our shared global challenges. We look forward to all they will achieve with this support.”

The new University of Calgary Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) include energy researcher Joule Bergerson, awarded for her economic and environmental assessments that are guiding energy transitions as governments and industry move to adopt more aggressive carbon mitigation technologies.

And in health, Nils Daniel Forkert has been awarded for applying advances in medical imaging across disciplines, to more accurately diagnose and treat cerebrovascular and neurological diseases. Also in brain health, Marco Gallo has been awarded for his epigenetic cancer research aimed at overcoming knowledge gaps to treat currently untreatable brain cancers.

Arthur Kuo has been awarded for his ongoing work to advance our understanding of mobility impairments and to develop new rehabilitation technologies. And Amanda Melin has been recognized for her primate research on evolutionary adaptations to environmental change. Peter Tieleman’s award will support his advanced applications of high performance computing that is revealing the intricate cellular interactions taking place within all living things.

Two CRCs have also been renewed: Charlene Elliot for her social research on how marketers influence children’s food choices and ultimately their health, and Grant Gordon for his research advances in how brain cells communicate to control cerebral blood flow.

Newly awarded Canada Research Chairs at the University of Calgary

The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development. Established in 2000, chair holders in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences improve our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthen Canada's international competitiveness, and help train the next generation of highly skilled people through student supervision, teaching, and the co-ordination of other researchers' work. The University of Calgary currently has 56 active Canada Research Chairs. 

Joule A. Bergerson, Canada Research Chair in Energy Technology Assessment, Schulich School of Engineering
Guiding energy transitions to meet global climate change concerns

Professor Joule Bergerson has been awarded a new Canada Research Chair for her leadership in technology assessments in the energy sector. Her research informs infrastructure and research investment decisions for energy technologies as governments and industry move to adopt more aggressive carbon mitigation technologies.

Her assessments of energy system life cycles track both the economic and environmental performance of these technologies, overcoming current limitations that often fail to capture the complexities of a technology's life cycle. Her refined approach utilizes novel simulation tools for dynamic systems modelling to encompass systemic effects, resulting in the broader uptake of life cycle assessment in the energy sector.

To extend the value of her research to global markets, she has also played a key role in developing a number of international projects. For example, in 2015, Bergerson released the Petroleum Refinery Life Cycle Inventory Model as an open source tool. This innovative tool allows for a more detailed evaluation of the impact of crude quality and refinery configurations on greenhouse gas emissions. This model has been adopted as part of the Oil Climate Index, released in June 2015 by Bergerson and her colleagues. The report was incorporated into the 2015 Alberta Climate Leadership report, playing a key role in guiding Alberta’s progressive energy policy framework. In recognition of her leadership, Bergerson was invited to present on this report at the COP21 meeting in Paris.

Bergerson’s research in unconventional hydrocarbon resources is addressing global energy challenges as part of the Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow Research Strategy.

Nils Daniel Forkert, Canada Research Chair in Medical Image Analysis, Cumming School of Medicine
Advancing computerized medical image analysis for better neurological health

Nils Daniel Forkert has earned international recognition for his advances in medical image analysis to improve the diagnosis of disease and damage to the brain, and develop computer-aided diagnosis systems to enable patient-specific treatments.

Forkert’s progress hinges on new technologies that help to interpret and analyze large volumes of medical imaging data — making it possible for medical researchers to more study the damage and repair processes in neurological diseases.

Given that neurological and cerebrovascular diseases currently cost the Canadian economy several billion dollars each year — while placing a heavy social burden on patients and their families — finding ways to prevent these brain impairments is a national priority.

His field of computerized medical image analysis is an extremely active and important interdisciplinary research area that sits at the intersection of computer science, engineering, physics, mathematics, and medicine. This highly sophisticated convergence applies new techniques and computational algorithms to extract insights from the voluminous amounts of data generated from medical imaging devices — a difficult and complex task. These insights can be correlated with other information such as genetic, behavioural, and epidemiological data to generate new knowledge about diseases and to facilitate improved image-based diagnoses.

Forkert’s research is aimed at developing advanced image analysis methods to support clinical experts in diagnosing and treating patients with cerebrovascular and neurological diseases through personalized, precision medicine.

Forkert is an assistant professor in the Department of Radiology, focused on technologies for improved diagnostics. He is a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and the Brain and Mental Health research strategy, led by HBI. He is also a member of the Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering and the Infections, Inflammations and Chronic Diseases research strategy teams.

Marco Gallo, Canada Research Chair in Brain Cancer Epigenomics, Cumming School of Medicine
Innovative research promises better survival outcomes for brain tumour patients

Marco Gallo is an emerging leader in brain cancer stem cell epigenetics, the study of gene expressions rather than the genes themselves. Gallo’s research focuses on pediatric brain tumours such as medulloblastoma and ependymoma and on adult glioblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumour in adults that is also currently incurable.

Gallo notes therapeutic failures in treating brain tumours can be partly attributed to our current inability to target cancer stem cells. Gallo has made progress in addressing these shortcomings, finding that not all cells in a tumour are epigenetically identical and some are uniquely responsible for tumour growth and recurrence after therapy. Gallo’s program is aimed at deciphering the stem cell-like codes that shape the cells’ epigenome, that tell the genome what to do.

This understanding will offer a stepping stone in developing precision medicine approaches aimed at obliterating the cancer stem cell populations in brain tumour patients, by identifying and targeting their vulnerability with next generation therapeutics to prevent tumours from reoccurring.

Gallo’s novel epigenetic cancer research has important implications for drug development.

Gallo has collaborated with leading scholars in Canada and abroad, forging strong partnerships with scientists in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, the United States and Europe. He is an assistant professor in the departments of physiology and pharmacology. and biochemistry and molecular biology. Gallo is also a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute — addressing global health challenges as a member of the Brain and Mental Health and Infections, Inflammations and Chronic Diseases research strategy teams.

Arthur Kuo, Canada Research Chair in Neuromusculoskeletal Biomechanics, Faculty of Kinesiology
Biomedical engineering advances to address mobility challenges in amputees and the elderly

Professor Arthur Kuo’s research takes place at the intersection of human locomotion biomechanics and neuromuscular control — where he has earned the reputation as one of the few scientists to straddle the various research fields successfully.

By leveraging new algorithms, wearable sensors for long-term data collection and instruments that emulate real-world conditions such as complex or uneven terrains, Kuo is accelerating our understanding of mobility impairments to find new rehabilitation technologies. For example, his research advances in neural control of muscles, sensorimotor integration of balance, energetics on walking, mobility of older and impaired individuals, and robot locomotion have led to improvements in the design of prosthetic limbs.

He has earned international recognition for his theoretical and computational models of walking energetics and for the translational impacts of his research.  For example, Kuo helped to create the energy-recycling prosthetic foot for lower limb amputees, to reduce the amount of energy required for walking, and to advance the design of prosthetic feet. He also contributed to the development of the energy-harvesting orthopedic knee brace, which saves the user braking effort while supplying electricity for powered prosthetic limbs and other portable medical devices.

He also serves as an advisor for international biomedical and robotics initiatives and is the founder of the interdisciplinary international conference Dynamic Walking, drawing together experts in legged locomotion, manipulation and behaviour.

Kuo is the Dr. Benno Nigg Chair in Biomechanics, Mobility and Longevity and a member of the University of Calgary’s Human Performance Lab. His research is addressing global health challenges as part of the Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering.

Amanda Melin, Canada Research Chair in Primate Genomics and Dietary Ecology, Faculty of Arts
Looking at evolutionary adaptations in primates for clues to successful adaptations for humans in a changing world

Professor Amanda Melin’s pioneering research in biological anthropology, the study of human biology and behaviour, is forging new insights into the health of primates as they evolve and adapt to changes in their environment — providing insights into how humans can more successfully respond to shifting diets and climates.

Melin draws together a wide array of perspectives and knowledge from functional genomics, ecology, behavioural field work, and study of gut microbiota, to understand how primates use their senses to locate and select foods as they adapt to environmental shifts in dietary resources.   

Her innovative research models advance the field by combining mobile laboratory research with field methods that can be taken to remote locations to uncover insights into primate adaptations and health that haven’t been possible before. 

Her work also capitalizes on existing sample records and datasets and computational tools generated by large-scale, National Institutes of Health and Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded efforts to characterize the microbiome of humans.

As well as earning a new Canada Research Chair, she is also the co-director of primate research in Sector Santa Rosa.  

Her insights into the evolutionary adaptations of wild animals including the function of zebra stripes and evidence of night colour-vision across a range of species have attracted international attention.

Melin is a member of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Research Hospital Institute, and the University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World and Infections, Inflammations and Chronic Diseases research strategy teams.

Peter Tieleman, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Simulation, Faculty of Science
Bringing advanced computing to understand the smallest building blocks of life

Professor Peter Tieleman has earned international recognition for his research in biophysics and bio-computing that come together to simulate how membrane proteins function, how cells signal one another, and how molecules enter and leave cells.

Using high-performance computing, Tieleman has applied groundbreaking algorithms and computer models to unmask these basic atomic and molecular interactions that underpin the physical, chemical, and biological processes in all living systems.

His goal is to further develop these models and algorithms to enable the use of high-performance computing in understanding the molecular basis of disease and to advance the development of new drugs and technologies, including drug delivery and biosensors.

As a leader in his field, Tieleman serves as a policy adviser for research and cyber-infrastructure in Canada. He is on the advisory board of the National Institute for Health’s Center for Macromolecular Modeling and Bioinformatics, and has also assumed a number of leadership roles in the high-performance computing community in Canada.

Tieleman is a member of the Centre for Molecular Simulation, and his work is building the strengths of the University of Calgary’s Strategic Research Platform team for Analytics and Visualization and the Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering and the Infections, Inflammations and Chronic Diseases research strategy teams.

Canada Research Chair renewals at the University of Calgary

Charlene Elliott, Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children's Health – renewal, Faculty of Arts
Examining food marketing and its implications for dietary habits and health 

Charlene Elliott’s innovative research in food marketing, which examines the influence of marketing on children’s food attitudes and choices, as well as food regulation and policy, has attracted a second round of CRC support.

This nationally leading effort pulls together a wide range of collaborators and partners to improve children’s health. Her partners include researchers, public health practitioners, educators and policy advocates from across Alberta, and her joint initiatives have included projects that involve the Calgary Farmer’s Market, Alberta Health Services, the Calgary Board of Education, the Calgary Catholic School District, Dietitians of Canada, Toronto Public Health. She has various advisory roles for the Childhood Obesity Foundation, Raising Our Healthy Kids Initiative, and Health Science and Law. 

Elliott has earned an international reputation for her leadership, and she has opened up new areas of inquiry into the nutritional quality and marketing appeals of both children’s food and baby and toddler foods, food classification systems, food packaging and labelling, and media literacy as a food marketing. Her advocacy in the area of food marketing and packaging has resulted in invitations to contribute to policy by Health Canada, The World Health Organization, advocacy groups and others. The World Health Organization (Regional Office for Europe) has modelled, after her research, a program on the marketing of foods for infants and young children. 

Her renewed CRC support will allow her to expand her work to include teenagers’ diet and health. 

Elliott is collaborating with UCalgary colleagues in the Faculty of Kinesiology and the Werklund School of Education, as well as from Concordia, Carleton, McGill and Mount Royal universities. She was recently inducted as a member of the Royal Society, College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, and is also a member of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World and Infections, Inflammations and Chronic Diseases research strategy teams, as well as the Knowledge Translation research platform teams.

Her research has also received extensive media coverage including a TED Talk on Food Marketing to Children.

Grant Gordon, Canada Research Chair in Cellular Mechanisms of Cerebral Blood Flow Control – renewal, Cumming School of Medicine
New optical and genetic technologies to understand how brain cells communicate with blood vessels

Little is currently known about how brain cells signal to blood vessels to regulate this process, based on the limitations of traditional methods. Recent technical innovations, however, like new fluorescence microscope technologies, are helping Gordon to  see what’s happening in the brain at the cellular level. This enables Gordon to visualize how brain cells participate in cerebral blood flow, separately, and how they interact with each other to change the diameter of cerebral blood vessels.

His research expertise is not only advancing our understanding of neurological conditions and finding new targets for disease interventions, but is also leading to the design of custom microscopes for greater research insight. For example, Gordon and one of his post-doctoral trainees created a two-photon microscope (a type of microscope that is especially good at imaging live cells) and made the plans available online. The open source technology has already been downloaded more than 1,200 times and built by at least five labs.

Gordon is an associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and is a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) and the Brain and Mental Health research strategy team (led by HBI). He is also a guest instructor for the Canadian Light Microscopy Course, and author of an experiential microscopy education program to teach students how to adapt microscopes in ways that will give them more control over their observations and experiments.