CFI investment advances plant and medical imaging research

Three U of S early-career researchers have been awarded a total of more than $300,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, for state-of-the-art equipment that will help them excel in leading-edge work related to agriculture and medical imaging.

U of S biologist Chris Ambrose has been awarded $230,700 by the CFI for a super-resolution microscope to pursue fundamental, inquiry-driven research in plant cell biology, a field with broad implications relevant to agriculture and biofuels. Mechanical engineers Emily McWalter and James Johnston have also been awarded $75,300 for testing equipment that could help develop better treatments for osteoarthritis.


The two research teams are seeking other public and private funding to match the 40-per-cent CFI contribution, investment that would raise the total combined value of their projects to $765,000.

“This investment enables these exceptional researchers to conduct leading-edge research by giving them the tools and equipment they need to become leaders in their fields,” said Karen Chad, U of S vice-president research. “These awards also recognize the value of collaboration because the equipment supports researchers in a variety of fields at the U of S, who will come together to learn and share the knowledge.”

The super-resolution confocal microscope will be the first of its kind at the U of S and an indispensable tool for researchers in a wide range of areas, from cell biology to biomedicine to agronomy.


The microscope passes laser light through a pinhole to remove out-of-focus light from a specimen, enabling scientists to obtain thin and sharply defined cross-sections that can be assembled to create three-dimensional images which can be viewed from all angles to inspect the fine details.

For Ambrose and his team, the advanced microscope will provide high-speed imaging of cellular dynamics and tissue development in plants, advancing their innovative research into the plant microtubule cytoskeleton—a dense three-dimensional network inside each cell that controls cell division, enlargement and differentiation. The cytoskeleton is also the key organizer of plant cell walls, which are the primary source of all cellulosic biofuels on the planet.


McWalter’s and Johnston’s award is for an indentation testing system that will enable precise measurements of tissue strength to advance their research into finding better ways to treat osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease that affects one in 10 Canadians. Patients with the disease lose strength in their joints and experience pain, stiffness and loss of mobility.

A barrier to developing treatments is the lack of tools to determine the effectiveness of treatments.

McWalter and Johnston will use MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans of knee joint tissues (often obtained from patients undergoing knee replacement) and then take the tissue to the lab for strength testing with the new system. They will then compare the strength data to the numerical imaging data to ensure the values correspond.

Researchers and doctors could then work together to develop and evaluate treatments for osteoarthritis, with the objective of restoring joint function to millions of Canadians.

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