Lab Canada

$8.68M in early researcher awards announced in Ontario

Toronto, ON – Ontario’s provincial government has announced the names of 62 researchers at 19 institutions who have won awards in its Early Researcher Awards program.

The province is providing $8.68 million in total to support the researchers and their teams. Lead researchers will receive up to $140,000 through the program.

Funding is awarded to researchers in the sciences, arts and humanities and social sciences. Recipients in engineering, health sciences and scientific fields are as follows, by university:


Project title: Novel plasmonic nanophotonics technology for solar-powered sensing. Lead Researcher: Dr Winnie Ye. Emerging infectious diseases such as Swine Flu are a growing threat to public health. Dr Ye is developing a compact, portable, solar-powered sensor that could provide rapid diagnoses.


Project title: Are active preschoolers healthy preschoolers? Lead researcher: Dr Brian Weldon Timmons. Childhood obesity is an epidemic. Dr Timmons is measuring physical activity in 3- to 5-year-olds to determine how it relates to their future health. His work is expected to lead to new, effective physical activity programs for children.

Project title: Periods of automorphic representations. Lead researcher: Dr Chung Pang Mok. McMaster University’s Dr Chung Pang Mok’s specialty is number theory, the study of whole numbers. His goal is to advance this branch of mathematics and, in the process, establish Ontario as a world leader in the field.

Project title: Lost memories – can we turn back time in Alzheimer’s disease? Lead researcher: Dr Maikel Christian Rheinstadter. Dr Rheinstadter studies Alzheimer’s disease. Starting from “healthy” brain membranes, he and his group will determine the risk factors, such as cholesterol level, for developing Alzheimer’s. This approach could result in better and earlier diagnostics for this devastating condition.


Project title: A translational approach to targeting natural killer cells in the perioperative period with innovative cancer therapies. Lead Researcher: Dr Rebecca Craufurd Auer. More than 30,000 Ontarians undergo cancer surgery each year but, in many cases, the cancer returns. Dr Auer hopes to prevent this by developing new cancer treatments that stimulate the immune system around the time of surgery.


Project title: Quantum field theory at finite coupling. Lead researcher: Dr Pedro Vieira. Quantum mechanics is responsible for many of the technological advances that we take for granted in modern life. Dr Vieira is building on new techniques with the goal of advancing the field – leading to new technologies we can’t yet conceive of.


Project title: Enhancing wound healing and regeneration with adipose-derived stem cells. Lead researcher: Dr Lauren Elizabeth Flynn. Dr Flynn is developing a new tissue engineering approach that has the potential to promote healing without scarring for patients who have experienced severe wounds, such as burns or lumpectomies. Her research could also contribute to new cell-based therapies for other applications, including bone, cardiac, cartilage and nerve regeneration.

Project title: Sustainable drinking water main asset rehabilitation and renewal planning in Ontario. Lead researcher: Dr Yves Richard Filion. Municipalities all over Ontario are faced with deteriorating water mains. Dr Filion is developing an innovative tool to help municipalities better plan for the replacement and rehabilitation of aging water mains, which could save money on emergency repair costs and electricity costs.

Project title: Blocking the growth of blood vessels as a new treatment for endometriosis. Lead researcher: Dr Chandrakant Tayade. Endometriosis is a painful condition that often leads to infertility. The only solution is surgery – but it is successful only 50 percent of the time. Dr Tayade is exploring a promising new preventative treatment.


Project title: A virtual ward to reduce readmissions after hospital discharge. Lead researcher: Dr Irfan Amir Dhalla. Led by Dr Dhalla, researchers at several health care organizations, including St Michael’s Hospital, are evaluating a new model of health care. It’s called the “virtual ward” and is for patients who have been discharged from hospital who are at high risk for readmission. The patients return home but have access to round-the-clock, team-based care via a single point of contact. This could improve health care, while reducing costs.


Project title: Transforming dementia care in Ontario: application of genetic testing to treatment of Parkinson’s-related dementias. Lead researcher: Dr Mario Masellis. Dr Masellis is studying how variations in DNA can influence a drug’s effectiveness. His goal is to develop a test that will help physicians tailor drugs to individual patients with dementia, for better patient care.


Project title: Enhancing recovery following nerve injury. Lead researcher: Dr Gregory Borschel. Nerve injuries are common but current treatments can leave patients with pain, paralysis and numbness. Dr Borschel is investigating whether nerve regeneration can be improved using growth factors and electrical stimulation.

Project title: Prevention of tumor recurrence by targeting telomere dependent self-renewal capacity of neural tumor initiating cells. Lead researcher: Dr Uri Tabori. Brain tumours are the leading cause of cancer death in childhood and currently, options are limited to effectively combat them. Dr Tabori is exploring a new way to treat brain tumours by exhausting the self-renewal of cancer stem cells.


Project title: Regulation of cardiovascular disease by microRNA. Lead researcher: Dr Jason Fish. Recruited to the University Health Network from the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr Fish is studying how small ribonucleic acids can control inflammation in blood vessels. The goal is to determine if these microRNAs can be used to treat or prevent heart disease.


Project title: Building green communications through cooperation: fundamental limits and practical techniques. Lead researcher: Dr Min Dong. Dr Dong aims to create theories and technologies that lead to new wireless solutions and infrastructures that improve energy efficiency and conservation while increasing the reliability, speed and range of communications.


Project title: Discovery of functional aptamers targeting cells receptors. Lead Researcher: Dr Maxim V Berezovski. Dr Berezovski is developing technology to be used to recognize cancer cells, track their position and eliminate them without harming normal cells.

Project title: Adaptation in invasive species management. Lead Researcher: Dr Risa Donn Sargent. Harmful invasive species – non-native plants, animals and other organisms that can hurt the economy, environment, or health – are a growing problem. Dr Sargent is exploring the feasibility and long term impacts of biocontrol, or “natural enemy” solutions to this growing problem.


Project title: Next generation cardiac stem cell therapies for congestive heart failure. Lead Researcher: Dr Darryl Davis. Dr Davis is exploring new ways to treat heart failure using a patient’s own heart stem cells.


Project title: X-ray based investigations of fuel cells for predictive model development. Lead researcher: Dr Aimy Bazylak. Fuel cells offer zero-local emission energy conversion, but their performance is compromised by water build-up. Dr Bazylak aims to solve this problem by designing the next generation of materials for fuel cells.

Project title: Discovering how nutrients are processed to allow cells to live and grow. Lead researcher: Dr Amy Anne Caudy. While scientists know that metabolism is essential to maintaining life, not all the chemical reactions are known. Dr Caudy is using mass spectrometry to unlock the secrets of metabolism. Her work is of great interest to companies in a number of industries that use metabolic processes, including food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceutical production and alternative energy (ethanol).

Project title: Adaptive and robust radiation therapy for breast cancer. Lead researcher: Dr Timothy Ching-Yee Chan. Radiation is commonly used to treat breast cancer. It works by killing tumour cells, but it can also damage nearby heart tissue and other vital organs. Dr Ching-Yee Chan is designing better radiation treatments that target the breast and spare heart tissue.

Project title: The ecology and evolution of mutualisms in invaded landscapes. Lead researcher: Dr Megan Frederickson. Mutualisms are reciprocally beneficial interactions between organisms of two different species. Ecologist Dr Frederickson is studying what happens to mutualisms when non-indigenous species invade. Her findings will help guide management decisions and policy related to insect and plant invasions.

Project title: Reconfigurable antennas for emerging micro-satellite systems. Lead researcher: Dr Sean Victor Hum. The University of Toronto researcher is developing new antenna technologies to improve wireless communications and sensing systems while reducing their cost.

Project title: Evolutionary consequences of asexual reproduction in plants: an interdisciplinary approach. Lead researcher: Dr Marc Johnson. Recently recruited from North Carolina State University, Dr Johnson is leading a team of local and international researchers who are studying the consequences of asexual plant reproduction, including increased susceptibility to natural enemies such as insects.

Project title: Development of novel biosensors and therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease: from in vitro to in vivo. Lead researcher: Dr Kagan Kerman. With an aging population, Alzheimer’s disease is becoming more common, and there’s an urgent need to develop an effective treatment for it. Dr Kerman is developing new biosensors to aid Alzheimer’s drug discovery.

Project title: Developing cancer drug candidates using a unique combination of modern technologies. Lead researcher: Dr Philip Kim. Dr Kim is using a unique approach that combines computational biology, cancer biology and combinatorial biochemistry to find new drug targets.

Project title: Regulation of gene expression through genome folding. Lead researcher: Dr Jennifer Mitchell. Dr Mitchell is using new techniques that reveal “genome folding” events to identify the DNA elements that regulate specific genes. Her work will lead to a better understanding of diseases that are caused by gene malfunction, including cancer.

Project title: Durability of reactive MgO concrete for new sustainable infrastructure. Lead researcher: Dr Daman Panesar. Concrete is used to build everything from homes to high rises, bridges to sewers. But manufacturing cement produces large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2). Dr Panesar is conducting research on a new type of cement that yields substantially lower CO2 emissions and has better potential for CO2 uptake compared to conventional cement concrete.

Project title: Learning hierarchical models: theory and applications. Lead researcher: Dr Ruslan Salakhutdinov. As the amount of data (including scientific experimental, text, audio, video and online) grows, it becomes increasingly important to develop methods of extracting useful information from it. Dr Salakhutdinov is building intelligent systems designed to do just that – work that has the potential to transform fields that include neuroscience, medical diagnosis, computer vision, and robotics.

Project title: Bringing research findings into action to improve walking recovery after stroke. Lead researcher: Dr Nancy Margaret Salbach. Over half of the people who suffer a stroke lose their ability to walk and require extensive rehabilitation. Dr Salbach is developing an online tool that will help rehabilitation therapists by providing them with recommended walk tests to guide patients’ progress.


Project title: Increasing the applicability of mixed-integer programming. Lead researcher: Dr Ricardo Fukasawa. Mixed-Integer Programming (MIP) is a mathematical technique that uses digital data to improve the decision-making process of organizations. Dr Fukasawa aims to advance MIP and apply it to problems in the logistics, network design and health care sectors.

Project title: Advanced nanomaterials for next generation fuel cells. Lead researcher: Dr Zhongwei Chen. Fuel cells promise to provide the best long-term solution to reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. But there are challenges to be overcome before they can be widely used. Dr Chen is developing nanomaterials that could improve fuel cells’ performance while reducing their cost.

Project title: Functionalized biomimetic micro-and nano-structured adhesive materials. Lead researcher: Dr Boxin Zhao. Dr Zhao studies geckos’ foot pads, specifically how they can stick to any surface – rough, smooth, dry or wet – and detach in milliseconds. He hopes to develop new adhesion technologies for the miniature machines of the future. His work is relevant to advanced manufacturing and the emerging bionanotechnology industry.

Project title: Computer-aided prostate cancer diagnosis using multi—parametric MRI imaging. Lead researcher: Dr Alexander Wong. Dr Wong is developing advanced computer-aided systems for diagnosing prostate cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death in Canada.

Project title: Rational design of novel surface active compound for improving non-viral DNA transfection efficiencies. Lead researcher: Dr Shawn Wettig. Gene therapy uses DNA to treat disease. While it shows great promise, creating a delivery system to deliver DNA to specific areas in the body is a challenge. Dr Wettig is working to develop delivery systems, starting with one for ovarian cancer, the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers.


Project title: The ecology and evolution of avian visual signals and how they respond to environmental stress. Lead researcher: Dr Stéphanie Doucet .Biologist Dr Doucet leads a group of researchers studying the ecology and evolution of visual signals in birds and their responses to environmental contaminants. This research may lead to the development of new bioindicators of environmental stress, of great interest to policy makers, and to breakthroughs in our understanding of the evolution of visual signals in animals.

Project title: Pre- and post-spawning selection for genetic quality in Chinook salmon: improving supportive breeding programs for the Great Lakes. Lead researcher: Dr Trevor E Pitcher. Each year millions of Chinook salmon are raised in hatcheries and stocked in the Great Lakes to support a $550 million a year fisheries and tourism industry. Dr Pitcher is developing new breeding programs to more closely mimic what happens in the wild, with the goal of improving the quality and number of salmon produced.


Project title: Contribution of groundwater to the water quality in dynamic lake environments. Lead researcher: Dr Clare Elizabeth Robinson. Using field studies and computer models, Dr Robinson aims to gain a better understanding of how groundwater contributes to pollution in the Great Lakes. Her work will contribute to better strategies for protecting water quality.

Project title: Gait and cognition. a new approach to understanding cognitive decline and risk of falls in older Ontarians. Lead researcher: Dr Manual Montero-Odasso. Dr Montero-Odasso studies whether changes in the way a person “walks while talking” can predict future dementia, and how dementia relates to the risk of falling. Being able to perform two tasks at the same time seems to be a marker of cognitive reserve in seniors.

Project title: Brain mechanisms of musical rhythm processing. Lead researcher: Dr Jessica Adrienne Grahn. Dr Jessica Grahn came to Western University from Cambridge University to advance her investigation into how the brain processes music. Her work could well lead to treatments for movement and balance disorders like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Project title: The role of antibiotic tolerance in urinary tract infections. Lead researcher: Dr Peter Andrew Cadieux. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common infection in humans worldwide. Although most are treated successfully with antibiotics, some develop into recurring infections as the bacteria develop ways to resist and tolerate these agents. Dr Cadieux is studying antibiotic tolerance in UTIs with the goal of finding ways to overcome it.


Project title: Comparative analysis of northern boreal forest dynamics in a changing climate. Lead researcher: Dr Jennifer Baltzer. Boreal forests, like the ones found in far northern Ontario, are vital for climate regulation. Dr Baltzer is monitoring tree growth and death, and forest cover changes, to determine the effects of climate change-induced permafrost loss on these forests and their function.


Project title: Elucidating how attention is controlled by networks of brain cells – Identifying the cellular mechanisms that decide what we attend. Lead researcher: Dr Thilo Womelsdorf. How do we focus our attention on one object, thought or event, ignoring the other information around us? Dr Womelsdorf is studying the two regions of the brain associated with determining attention, to find out how they work and interact.