June 7, 2024

Assistant prof in biological sciences named CIFAR global scholar

Ann Gregory selected to be one of 10 emerging research leaders by Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
A woman
Ann Gregory Courtesy Ann Gregory

A University of Calgary researcher who studies viruses in the human body has been named as one of 10 emerging research leaders by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

Dr. Ann Gregory, PhD, an assistant professor in biological sciences, joined the 2024-2026 cohort of CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholars on May 29. She will receive two years of funding to tackle “important and pressing questions facing science and humanity.”

The program also gives early-career researchers an opportunity to work with established researchers in an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment.

Gregory, who’s believed to be the first UCalgary scientist to receive the award, will join the CIFAR MacMillan Multiscale Human team that seeks to create a map of the human body and help drive medical advances.

As a researcher who studies the human virome, the collection of viruses in our bodies, she said it’s a perfect next step for her work.

“It’s very different. They are looking at mapping the specific cells within the human body by organ or by tissue,” Gregory says. “They are going to sequence it using single-cell technologies or by imaging it.”

Gregory said her research will focus on the microbiome — the collection of microbes such as bacteria and viruses that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.

“I plan to take all of the single-cell datasets that they are building across the different tissues, across the human body to search for any viral signal,” she says. 

“There are a lot of viruses that stay with us throughout our life. For example, the virus that causes chicken pox can emerge later in life as shingles. So, where is it in our human body? In a lot of cases, it stays near the spinal cord. 

“Is it just by the spinal cord or are we seeing it in other parts of the body where it emerges?”

That’s just one example.

Gregory also wants to add phages, or viruses that affect the bacteria found in people’s guts.

“What’s unique about them is, because they are so small, they can leach through the epithelial lining of the intestine and spread throughout the human body,” she says.

“Billions of viruses spread from our gut into the rest of our body, so we know a lot of those phages are picked up by our immune system but not all of them are.”

She wants to know whether those phages are found in other parts of the body.

The team, says Gregory, is creating a large database with all the public datasets.

“By being able to network with people who created these datasets, I can get more inside information about how these datasets were produced to then be able to mine them and be able to create more correlations from the data,” she says.

The program, she suggests, could ultimately lead to a paradigm shift.

Gregory says there’s an increasing number of clinical trials using viruses to treat cancer and other diseases.

“We really don’t know where viruses are in the body and where they go,” she says.

“Having a map of where they are going and what cells they are interacting with can really help guide the usage of these therapeutics and the development of them over time.”

This newest cohort of global scholars includes researchers from Canada, the United States, Chile and the United Kingdom. They were chosen from 285 eligible applications from 38 countries.

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