Canada Research Chairs advance asthma and climate policy research

Funding Announcement

Canada Research Chairs advance asthma and climate policy research

Eva Kaufmann is appointed the Canada Research Chair in Immunology and Inflammation, while Kyla Tienhaara is renewed as the Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment.

By Catarina Chagas, Research Outreach and Events Specialist

March 13, 2024


Today, the Government of Canada announced the latest cohort of Canada Research Chairs, a national program which aims to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Queen’s researcher Eva Kaufmann (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) was named a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Immunology and Inflammation. Additionally, she has secured $517,084 in funding from the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), granted by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Also announced today was the reappointment of Kyla Tienhaara (Global Development Studies and School of Environmental Studies) as the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment.

"Queen’s is proud see the research expertise of Drs. Kaufmann and Tienhaara recognized with these prestigious chair positions," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal Research. "Research addressing chronic disease and climate change closely aligns with the university’s mission of building a better future for both people and the planet, as we aim to tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time."

[Dr. Eva Kaufmann]

Dr. Eva Kaufmann, Canada Research Chair in Immunology and Inflammation

Unravelling the causes of asthma

Having joined the university in 2022, Dr. Kaufmann is an expert in the biology of respiratory diseases and will advance studies on the development of asthma. Her research program looks at how allergen and pathogen exposure in early childhood can trigger changes in hematopoietic stem cells (which originate the different types of blood cells) and result in respiratory complications in individuals with asthma.

"To date, it is well established that childhood respiratory infections, especially in conjunction with repeated wheezing, are linked to increased risks of subsequent asthma development. However, we still don't know why," says Dr. Kaufmann. Her hypothesis is that innate immune memory – also known as trained immunity – can be the causal link between childhood infections and asthma. In other words, in asthma, the way the body reacts to allergens might be influenced by its response to prior pathogen exposure.

This research falls under the umbrella of epigenetic studies, which investigate how factors that an individual experiences (e.g., infections) change the gene transcription. Particularly, Dr. Kaufmann is interested in long-lasting epigenetic changes in hematopoietic stem cells that produce all our circulating innate immune cells.

Dr. Kaufmann will use mouse models to study how early exposure to allergens and pathogens induce epigenetic adaptations in innate immune cells. The results can lead to important developments in respiratory care. "This fundamental research will help us to better understand asthma pathogenesis and can ultimately pave the way for development of targeted drugs for asthma treatment or prevention," says Kaufmann, adding that the results can also have potential applications for the treatment of other respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

[Dr. Kyla Tienhaara]

Dr. Kyla Tienhaara, Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment

How governments can fight climate change

Research evidence indicates that phasing out the use of fossil fuels is critical to addressing climate change, and signatory countries of the Paris Agreement have agreed to commit to finance flows that are consistent with low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development (Article 2.1). However, many governments still choose to continue investing in the fossil fuel industry, while advocacy groups and initiatives push for changes in local, regional, and national investment policies.

Now reappointed as the Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment, Dr. Tienhaara will continue her studies in the role played by governments in tackling climate change.

Her research program will combine theoretical and qualitative approaches to investigate how different stakeholders are pressuring governments to end public finance for the fossil fuel sector and to reduce legal protection for foreign investments in fossil fuel projects under international investment treaties.

"My goal is to conduct an empirical study and interview stakeholders in global arenas where these issues are currently being debated, in order to provide policy advice on the best approaches to re-risking fossil fuel investments," she says.

Learn more about Queen’s success in the recent $40M federal government research announcement.

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