(Photo: Saskatchewan.ca)

Innovation Saskatchewan awards $1M to USask research projects

Developing new therapies for the HIV virus, creating artificial substitutes for human tissue and organs, and predicting cyberattacks are some of the University of Saskatchewan (USask) research projects made possible through Innovation Saskatchewan’s Innovation and Science Fund (ISF).

By USask Research Profile & Impact and Innovation Saskatchewan

Nine USask projects have been awarded a total of more than $1 million through the ISF, which promotes excellence in research at Saskatchewan’s post-secondary institutions and associated non-profit research institutes, leverages federal funding, and fosters economic growth and quality of life through innovation.

“Each of the projects selected has the potential to benefit people across our province,” said Innovation Saskatchewan Minister Tina Beaudry Mellor in a Government of Saskatchewan news release.

“Our investment helps provincial institutions leverage additional project funding from other sources. In this case, that means an additional $3.4 million, bringing the total project investment over the next two years to nearly $5.2 million.”

The federal funding partner for the USask research and development projects is the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

“The innovative ideas put forward by our outstanding researchers and their teams are world class,” said USask Vice-President Research Karen Chad. “It is impressive to see the creativity that is necessary, not only to compete for funding at the national level, but to find solutions for what are very complex scientific and societal problems the world faces.”

The USask projects awarded funding are:

Biofabrication lab for tissue engineering innovation

Project Leader: Dr. Daniel Chen (PhD), Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering.

The research will focus on tissue engineering, which means fabricating tissue and organ substitutes that can be implanted into patients to treat and repair tissue and organ injuries. Potential benefits include: treatment for heart attacks, cartilage injuries, tooth defects and bone defects.

Designing ultrasound microbubbles to image and treat inflammatory bowel disease

Project Leader: Dr. Steven Machtaler (PhD), Department of Medical Imaging, College of Medicine.

Genetic and environmental factors can disrupt the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in inflammation and disease. In humans this results in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a life‑long ailment that affects one in 150 Canadians. Potential benefits of this research include the design of new, non-invasive, imaging contrast agents for detecting inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and for potential treatments.

Using automated molecular techniques to identify toxic chemicals and understand cannabinoid drugs

Project Leader: Dr. Michael Wu (PhD), Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Robert Laprairie (PhD), College of Pharmacy and Nutrition.

Provides equipment to study the toxicity of environmental chemicals, such as pesticides, and search for therapeutic compounds/drugs that can enhance biological resistance towards chemicals. This includes research into the biological effects of cannabis and development of future cannabinoid-based medicines.

Developing new therapies for HIV-1

Project Leader: Dr. Linda Chelico (PhD), Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, College of Medicine.

The research will focus on how human and HIV virus proteins interact with each other, using equipment to help design and develop new ways to treat this disease. The research is unique because this will lead to a therapeutic compound that can use the body’s own defences—a key goal in the medical field. 

Improving value-added processing of carbohydrates

Project Leader: Dr. Yongfeng Ai (PhD), College of Agriculture and Bioresources, Ministry of Agriculture Endowed Research Chair in Carbohydrate Quality and Utilization.

Provides equipment to apply extrusion technology to existing and new raw materials in the Western Canadian agri-food industry. The research will examine the effect extrusion processing has on the quality and nutritional value of carbohydrates in new human foods, pet foods, animal feeds, and bioproducts made from these new materials. These research efforts aim to generate new value from primary agricultural commodities and support sustainable growth of Canada’s agri-food sector.

Driving simulation laboratory for developing driver screening tools and rehabilitation programs

Project Leader: Dr. Alexander Crizzle (PhD), School of Public Health.

The Driving Simulation Laboratory will be the first of its kind in Canada and one of only a handful of such facilities world-wide. The facility will be used to investigate evidence-based driving assessment protocols for high-risk drivers and look at ways to improve driving performance in both young and old drivers. The goal is to reduce the number of motor vehicle collisions and improve road safety.

Improving cryopreservation for organ and tissue transplantation

Project Leader: Dr. James Benson (PhD), Department of Biology, College of Arts and Science.

The critical shortage of tissues and organs for human transplantation and therapeutic medicine could be solved worldwide by safely freezing biological material in liquid nitrogen (cryopreservation), currently successful at smaller scales but impossible for most tissues and all organs. To scale up the success to tissues and organs, the research will use unique cutting-edge equipment to adjust computer models of how tissue gets damaged, and rapidly improve cryopreservation methods.    

Improving computer chip technology

Project Leader: Dr. Li Chen (PhD), Department Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering.

The research aims to improve the reliability of silicon technology such as computer microprocessors, implanted medical devices, and aerospace instruments, which frequently have errors induced by particles from space and by radioactive materials used during manufacturing. The research will use a new pulsed laser system to effectively simulate radiation from the particles by injecting faults into integrated circuits, research that will lead to cost-effective technology to protect against these errors.

Uncovering cyberattackers’ identities

Project Leader: Dr. Natalia Stakhanova (PhD), Department of Computer Science, College of Arts and Science.

Cyberattacks are on the rise, affecting every aspect of daily life. To predict and detect attacks, the research will focus on the digital identity of an “adversary”—the  person or people launching the attacks. New equipment will be purchased to develop and analyze methods for monitoring adversaries and their behaviour, leading to a reduction in cybercrime.