Funding boost for frontiers research
April 27, 2023
On April 25, the Government of Canada announced support for high-risk, high-reward research projects that address some of Canada's and the world's most pressing challenges with a multidisciplinary, innovative approach. Nine Queen’s-led programs were granted a total of $3 million through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).
The successful applications were responding to two calls from the NFRF: the 2022 Special Call, looking for research projects with a focus on post-pandemic recovery, and the 2022 Exploration competition, which invited researchers to go beyond their own disciplines to inform bold new perspectives.
The six projects supported by the Exploration competition received $250,000 each, while the three projects on the Special Call each received around half a million dollars.
"As a society we are faced with complex challenges that require input from multiple perspectives," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Support from the New Frontiers Programs allows our researchers to take risks and think big to maximize potential impact. I look forward to seeing how these projects evolve."
NFRF 2022 Exploration competition
Christopher Lohans (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), Carlos Escobedo (Chemical Engineering), Aristides Docoslis (Chemical Engineering), and Prameet Sheth (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) will develop a new diagnostic device to quickly diagnose antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Many current methods rely on bacterial culturing, which can take a couple of days – a time during which infections can worsen. But the new ultrasensitive method will be able to detect resistant bacteria in just one hour, directly from patients’ blood or urine samples using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy. Researchers also expect the technology can be used to deepen our understanding of the degradation and metabolism of antibiotics and other drugs.
Farhana Zulkernine (School of Computing) will work with long-term care facilities to adapt voice assistant bots (e.g., Amazon Alexa) to the needs and preferences of senior citizens. This research program will leverage interdisciplinary approaches from computer science, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience to address the struggles of aging adults in using this type of technology. By developing and testing bot adaptations with and for senior users, the project aims to support safe aging in a home environment, including assisting with medication reminders, offering guidance with challenging tasks, or even providing a form of companionship.
Amer Johri (Medicine) and Nazanin Alavi (Psychiatry) are planning to establish a national remotely supervised virtual point-of-care ultrasound (Tele-POCUS) program. While this revolutionary technology can facilitate clinical examinations by providing the ability to assess the heart, lungs, and other organs immediately at the bedside and live-stream images from remote regions directly to experts thousands of kilometres away, it also poses challenges related to technology access, inclusion, and human-to-system interactions. The team of psychosocial, medical, and digital experts will look at the implementation and sustainability of the new technology and work with remote and Indigenous communities on impact assessment.
Parvin Mousavi (School of Computing) and David Maslove (Medicine & Critical Care Medicine), along with colleagues from business, critical care, computing and surgery will aim to improve the management of intensive care unit (ICU) patients across Canada using machine learning methods coupled with large-scale physiologic data. They will explore strategies to identify and anticipate important clinical events, with an emphasis on personalized therapeutic strategies, integration with clinical workflows, as well as the ethical and equitable deployment of artificial intelligence-based systems.
Xiaolong Yang (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Shetuan Zhang (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) will look at how to increase patient survival rates of heart failure. Myocardial infarctions or hypertension-related cardiac hypertrophy result in decreased oxygen flow to the heart tissue, causing cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) to die, resulting in heart failure. However, available treatment strategies only target symptoms, and there are currently no clinically approved drugs that promote cardiomyocyte survival and/or regeneration. This research program will focus on developing new therapeutical drugs for heart failure using artificial intelligent and biosensor technologies and testing them on pre-clinical models. Specifically, it will deliver small molecule drugs to heart tissue to inhibit cardiomyocyte death caused by LATS, an enzyme that is upregulated during the heart failure process.
Ryan Alkins (Surgery) and team will explore new therapies for glioblastoma, the most common type of central nervous system tumour in adults, combining two cutting edge technologies: therapeutic ultrasound and cellular immunotherapy. They will test if available immunotherapies using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T or Natural Killer (NK) cells can have their efficacy enhanced by using ultrasound and microbubbles to activate brain endothelial cells – an approach that will pave the way for new treatment paradigms.
NFRF 2022 Special Call: Research for Postpandemic Recovery
Elijah Bisung (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies) aims to enhance evidence-informed policy-making and practice to promote the health, wellbeing and economic empowerment of poor women in a pandemic recovery world in sub-Saharan Africa. This research program will look at the impact of cash transfer and complementary water services on the work and health of poor women in Ghana. The team will use community based participatory and action-oriented research approaches to critically explore opportunities and barriers to gender transformative policy making and programming across multiple sectors (education, health, agriculture).
Jacqueline Galica (School of Nursing) and Erna Snelgrove-Clarke (School of Nursing) will focus on organizational compassion and how it could be fostered and used to facilitate post-pandemic recovery, such as post-traumatic stress experienced by front-line healthcare providers. The team will investigate how workplace characteristics impact workers’ mental health, with special attention to organizational- and unit-level mechanisms rooted in social support, respectful culture, and compassion role modeling by managers. The goal is to formulate a plan to promote organizational compassion to mitigate stress among front-line workers, and disseminate results and recommendations to multiple decision-making groups, including policy makers and professional organizations. This research program will be carried out both in Canada and in Ethiopia.
Li-Jun Ji (Psychology) is partnering with researchers from China to address mental health challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic to healthcare workers. Their approach involves a cutting-edge online intervention that is anonymous, flexible, time-efficient, accessible, and scalable. The intervention consists of a series of writing exercises that use AI-guided art generation to help people express their emotional responses to the pandemic in a culturally acceptable manner. With participants’ permission, some of the writings will be shared with peers and the public to allow for a broader understanding of healthcare workers’ perspectives.
For more information on the NFRF announcement, visit the website.