Meet U of T’s newest Canada Research Chairs

Photo of Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announcing chairs
Federal Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan announces the 25 new Canada Research Chairs at U of T (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Dalla Lana School of Public Health

Andrea Tricco
Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Synthesis

In the fast-paced world of health-care research, having the most up-to-date research at your fingertips is imperative for doctors, policymakers and patients to make the best, most informed decisions.

But the sheer amount of complex research available – and the fact not all of it is consistent in findings and conclusions – means it’s impossible to read everything quickly and accurately. That’s where knowledge synthesis can make all the difference.

Andrea Tricco, Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Synthesis, is leading research to advance the science of knowledge syntheses within health, including identifying and validating the best rapid review methods. She is also leading research to improve the reporting of scoping reviews and a type of systematic review that uses advanced statistical methods called network meta-analysis.

In the field of knowledge syntheses, there are systematic reviews, rapid reviews and scoping reviews to summarize all pertinent studies on a question, improve the understanding of inconsistencies and define future research agendas.

The results from knowledge synthesis can then be used to create policy briefs, clinical practice guidelines and patient decision aids.

Systematic reviews, which are the gold standard in reviewing research, take thousands of hours to complete while rapid reviews, a type of knowledge synthesis, typically take just six to 12 weeks. But it’s unclear if rapid reviews are susceptible to biased results because of short-cuts in the process. What is clear is that decision-makers need and expect the information quickly – often in three months or less.

The results of Tricco's research will be used to directly inform knowledge synthesis groups that exist in Canada, as well as internationally, on how to provide relevant, timely and high quality information to health decision-makers.

Read more about Tricco

Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work 

Shelley Craig
Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth

We often think of the online world as one rife with abuse for teenagers. But for Canada’s sexual and gender minority youth communicating with others online about their struggles is often safer than meeting in person.

That’s why information and communication technology like smartphones and their social media applications such as Facebook and Instagram hold such promise to reach Canada’s estimated half a million  sexual and gender minority youth.

Research has shown SGMY youth in crisis, who often experience an array of discrimination and stressors at home, at school and in their community, turn to their phones and social media for information and help instead of reaching out to social services. This makes technology an important avenue to create and provide new, innovative and widely available interventions to help them cope and thrive.

Shelley Craig, Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, is seeking to improve the well-being of this vulnerable population through research, practice and education. For example, her research will digitize and pilot test smartphone-enabled coping skills training for sexual and gender minority youth.

She will also improve on how social workers and other health professionals successfully intervene with SGMY youth by creating best practice guidelines and through simulation based learning exercises in graduate social work classes.

Barbara Fallon
Canada Research Chair in Child Welfare

Helping children survive and thrive after they have been abused or neglected is a pressing concern to Canadians.

We now know instances of maltreatment can have a longstanding impact not only on children and their families but on communities as a whole. Studies have shown young people who have been abused or neglected can experience a host of physical, mental and behavioural challenges, as well as struggle to form bonds with others and are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs. Supporting children and families to achieve better outcomes through evidence-informed policy is the foundation for providing effective interventions. 

Although child welfare services are one of the fastest growing social service delivery sectors in Canada, we still suffer from a dearth of evidence about what works best to help children and families.

For the past 20 years, Barbara Fallon, Canada Research Chair in Child Welfare, has worked to bridge that knowledge gap by collecting reliable national and provincial child welfare data across Canada and mining it with innovative statistical techniques to help policymakers determine what works and is needed to best help children based on evidence, not perceptions. 

Already, her research has helped front-line child welfare workers and policymakers understand the use of risk assessments in child protection investigations and opportunities for early intervention and prevention for children at risk of maltreatment.

Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering

Penney Gilbert
Canada Research Chair in Endogenous Repair

Falling is the leading cause of injury among seniors. In fact, every two minutes, one Canadian over the age of 65 will experience a fall-related injury.

When we are young, our bodies easily recover from a fall. As we age, not only do we fall more frequently, falls can result in long hospital stays, slow or limited mobility recovery and loss of independent living, which has a serious impact on our quality of life.

There are many reasons why we fall but one biological risk factor is skeletal muscle strength. 

Recent work by Penney Gilbert, Canada Research Chair in Endogenous Repair and an internationally recognized expert in regenerative medicine and mechanobiology, suggests one of the reasons our muscles weaken with age is that our muscle stem cells lose their potency.

Using a stem cell-targeted therapeutic approach, she’s working to identify and validate biomolecules that can rejuvenate muscle stem cells inside the body.

She will also engineer a new human micro-tissue platform to test and create personalized medicine for skeletal muscles and uncover novel ways human stem cells are controlled in the body to reveal new therapeutic entry points.

This work will contribute to the international reputation of the University of Toronto and Canada as a regenerative medicine leader while delivering strategies to maintain muscle strength throughout life.

Marianne Hatzopoulou
Canada Research Chair in Transportation and Air Quality

Traffic-related air pollution has a large impact on public health from respiratory illnesses to cardiovascular health. 

There is no escape from air pollution in the city, but there are streets and neighbourhoods with cleaner air.

Capturing these variations with environmental sensors and sharing them in real-time on GPS-enabled smartphones means individual citizens could soon decide what exposure to traffic-related air pollution they’re prepared to accept as they go about their travels on foot or cycle.

Marianne Hatzopoulou, Canada Research Chair in Transportation and Air Quality, was the first in Canada to integrate transportation modelling with air pollution and population exposure to help active travellers (cyclists, pedestrians) avoid smoggy routes in Montreal and Toronto.

Now, she’s expanding that work to collect air pollution data from pedestrians and cyclists kitted out with sensors fitted with GPS units as they move around the city. These mobile sensors will allow for unparalleled coverage, generating air pollution levels at every point they cross.

Their data will automatically be transmitted to their smartphone via Bluetooth and transferred to a central server at the University of Toronto where air pollution levels are spatially interpolated to generate a time-varying map.  

This real-time air quality map will then be shared with the general public through a specially created smartphone app to see how the information affects their travel route decision to avoid higher pollution levels. It will also be used to study the influence of minimizing traffic congestion, queuing, and aggressive driving on air pollution.  

This five-year research project will enable Hatzopoulou to evaluate the potential of mobile apps to change behaviour, as well as provide essential information to policy makers to design better transportation infrastructure to minimize the impact of traffic on air quality.

Read more about Gilbert and Hatzopoulou

Faculty of Arts and Science

Rachel Barney
Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy

Debate has long raged over the role of the sophists in the development of Western philosophy. Derided even in their own time in ancient Greece as tricksters and corruptors of youth, this group of learned men gave paid lessons to upwardly mobile Athenian men to teach them how to win political arguments, regardless of their virtue.

Philosophers have commonly believed they had little influence over the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, a student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, who forcefully denounced their teachings in his influential dialogues such as the Protagoras and Gorgias more than 2,000 years ago.

Rachel Barney, Canada Research Chair in Ancient Philosophy, has offered another way of looking at Plato’s philosophy and the ancient debate to which it belongs. One that shows both Plato and his sophist contemporaries such as Protagoras made contributions to – and are continuing to influence – both our ways of thinking about ethics and methods of philosophical argument in general.

She argues Plato both responds to and appropriates the ideas and methods of the sophists in his work. As such, she will offer a new account of their debates, one which will make it accessible and exciting to a wide range of scholars, contemporary philosophers and students.

Did Plato believe virtue could be taught like the sophists? And what did he believe virtue was? Is it a kind of knowledge or mental health or perhaps a learned skill?

She will also study the origins of sophistic thought and argue it was so successfully incorporated by Plato and others into the bloodstream of philosophy that their origins tend to be forgotten, and their primary significance and functions overlooked.

John Cunningham
Canada Research Chair in Addictions

It is an unfortunate reality that most people with addictions will never seek formal, face-to-face treatment with an expert. Common obstacles include a lack of available treatments, particularly in rural settings, concerns over stigma and a desire for self-reliance.

An effective new option to promote recovery is to develop and design interventions for problem gamblers, drinkers, smokers and illicit drug users they can administer on their own.

John Cunningham, the Canada Research Chair in Addictions, is a world-leading expert in the development and evaluation of assisted self-change interventions for addictions, including pioneering research on Internet interventions for hazardous drinking.

In Canada and Australia, he’s conducting several randomized controlled trials, including Internet interventions for heavy drinkers and mailing nicotine patches to smokers to help them quit.

His research will also encompass ways to treat addictions in high-risk situations, in vulnerable or hard-to-reach populations, among illicit drug users and in integrating assisted self-change with face-to-face treatment.

For example, using gaming and intervention apps, Cunningham will target heavy drinkers with limited literacy to teach safe drinking techniques and encourage them to employ interventions based on their own reporting of situations where they’re in danger of drinking, such as the holiday season.

The long-term goal is an improved system of care for people with addictions, fully integrated within the larger health-care system and widely accessed both in Canada and internationally.

Such research will lead to sustained improvements for those suffering from addictions and contribute toward a reduction in the health and societal costs associated with this challenging health problem.

Marie-Josée Fortin
Canada Research Chair in Spatial Ecology

Understanding how many species will respond to global change is a central challenge in ecology because their population health is vital for the overall ecosystem and the survival of humans.

To understand and predict the impacts of global change on animal movement and the survival of isolated populations of the same species, the field of spatial ecology examines everything from the size of the “patch” where communities live to the predators that threaten prey survival and their adaptability to changes in climate, food availability, disease and reproduction rate.

Through her work, Marie-Josée Fortin, Canada Research Chair in Spatial Ecology, will provide ecologists with novel network analytical methods that can be used to propose management strategies to facilitate species dispersal in fragmented landscapes, to maintain the resilience of ecosystem services, or to prevent disease spread.

By doing so, she will provide novel perspectives on how to address fundamental and applied issues in the field of conservation biology by making novel network analytical models available to ecologists and evolutionists allowing the analysis and modeling of the complex spatial dynamics of species interactions across scales, trophic levels and ecosystems. 

Collectively, the proposed conceptual and analytical models will have important implications for the protection of biodiversity and its valuable role in the maintenance of ecosystem functions as well as human health.

This research will provide fundamental and applied contributions that will significantly advance the fields of conservation biology, ecology, evolution, landscape genetics and landscape epidemiology.

Paul Frankland
Canada Research Chair in Memory Research

Memory disorders affect millions of Canadians. In some cases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, important memories can be lost, while persistent memories tied to traumatic events can lead to depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To develop better treatments for these disorders, it’s critical to understand how memories are organized and stored in the brain and how they can be altered after they are formed – sometimes by disease.

Paul Frankland, Canada Research Chair in Memory Research and a global leader in the field, combines behaviour, imaging and molecular approaches to study memory.

In particular, his research focuses on how changes in memory organization – from their creation in the hippocampus to their reorganization in the cortex for long-term storage – affects their quality.

He and his team are also building on their discovery that new neurons generated in the hippocampus throughout our lifetimes help the brain create new memories and forget older ones.

Like in artificial systems, there is a trade-off in brain networks between plasticity – the ability to incorporate new information – and stability, which ensures that incorporating new information does not degrade information already stored in the network.

Frankland will use whole brain mapping approaches in mice and zebrafish to define memory networks, identify areas of network vulnerability and use this knowledge to develop strategies to restore memory function.

His team will also use genetic interventions and compounds that emerge from pro-neurogenic drug screens conducted at SickKids to manipulate neurogenesis.

By weakening memories after they’ve formed – like in the movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – we can develop more effective treatments for addiction and other disorders associated with abnormal memory persistence or rumination.

Sheena Josselyn
Canada Research Chair in Systems Neuroscience

Memory impairments are a hallmark of aging, mental illness, developmental disorders, as well as several neurological disorders.

Examining how the brain normally encodes and uses information is an important goal in and of itself, but also may serve as a first step to developing treatments when these complex processes go awry in conditions ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease. 

The development of new tools has enabled the lab of Sheena Josselyn, Canada Research Chair in Systems Neuroscience, to identify, understand and even manipulate memory traces (engrams) in rodent brains. 

First, they erased a memory. Now, they’re working on more sophisticated problems such as altering memories or recalling them at will by choosing what brain cells to turn on or off. To help in their research, Josselyn’s team has developed a state-of-the-art, 1 photon fluorescent mini-microscope that enables them to observe the brains of mice at the cellular level as they form and retrieve a memory.

They’ve also made significant progress in advancing our understanding of why certain nerve cells are used in engrams and others aren’t. Her team has successfully selected and manipulated nerve cells to boost their CREB function, which plays a role in binding DNA and regulating gene expression, after noticing that factor leads to preferential recruitment by engrams. One of their most interesting experiments shows promise for potential addiction treatments. 

Martin Krkosek
Canada Research Chair in Population Ecology

The ability of the oceans to feed humanity is under threat from a number of sources including the rise and spread of infectious diseases.

As global fisheries landings have either plateaued or declined, the world has turned to aquaculture as a way to provide seafood and relieve overfishing on existing ocean stocks. The blue revolution has been so successful that most salmon people eat are now grown in open sea pens that dot the coastal seas of countries such as Canada, Norway, and Chile.

But intensive aquaculture production hasn’t been without risk. Parasites and diseases like sea lice and infectious salmon anemia virus have emerged, challenging aquaculture industries and perhaps contributing to the decline of wild marine ecosystems and fisheries.

Martin Krkosek, Canada Research Chair in Population Ecology, is studying salmon in British Columbia to probe what causes infectious diseases to emerge in wild and farmed fish and the ways to control disease spread. 

His work includes how domesticated environments can cause pathogens to evolve antibiotic resistance and increased virulence, and how changes in host abundance and distribution can abruptly cause epidemics.

This research will help protect ocean biodiversity, as well as human health and food security.

Ito Peng
Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy

Contracting out the care of our young children and rapidly aging populations is producing significant societal changes around the world – even changing migration patterns, as females are drawn from poorer countries to work in wealthier nations.

Research by Ito Peng, Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, has shown this urgent demand is also being driven by shifts in traditional family obligations, the growing service economy and in an ironic twist, gender equality as more and more women are working outside of home.

This has contributed to growing demands for government services. National governments have responded by providing more public care services and/or subsidies and tax incentives for families to purchase care privately. In almost all cases, care is increasingly being commodified as a service to be purchased in the market. 

This change isn’t confined to Western countries. It’s even happening in many southern Mediterranean and Asian countries, which have strong cultural traditions of families providing care, Peng has found. In Spain and Italy, the government care allowance has enabled a large proportion of elderly people to hire foreign migrant caregivers. This is helped by the increased intake of foreign caregivers. But there remain holdouts such as Japan, which has resisted opening its doors to increased immigration.

Peng is globally known for her research in showing how changes in domestic factors interact with global institutions and actors in shaping social policy development within countries.

In the case of care workers, she is studying policies in North America, Asia, Oceania and Europe to examine broad theoretical issues around how care and immigration policies are informed by societal and cultural norms, expectations and trends, and how these policies in turn help influence societal and cultural norms and trends. Her research also looks at the implications of these policies for the migrants performing care work.

This knowledge will make an important contribution to public and policy debates, particularly in current socio-economic contexts where international migration continues to accelerate amidst the intensification of immigration politics and growing calls for national and regional governments to develop effective social policy and governance to address the issue.

Amar Vutha
Canada Research Chair in Precision Atomic and Molecular Physics

Atoms and molecules can be used as extremely precise tools to advance fundamental physics and practical technology.

For example, highly accurate clocks based on laser-cooled atoms can now keep time to better than one part per quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros). Such accuracy forms the basis of our global system of measurement standards, and allows ventures ranging from deep space navigation to cellular communications networks to precision manufacturing.

Amar Vutha, Canada Research Chair in Precision Atomic and Molecular Physics, is taking this precision one step further – by developing a portable version of such atomic clocks.

These clocks have potential applications in improving metrology, navigation and mapping the earth’s gravitational field. Excitingly, these clocks could also open up a new way to “see” gravitational waves emanating from black holes and other hitherto invisible inhabitants of our universe. 

Vutha’s research group will also develop other atomic and molecular tools to reveal unexplored physics. For example, very precise measurements on cold, confined molecules can shed light on physical and chemical processes occurring millions of light years away in gas clouds in space. New techniques that are needed to make such precise measurements, using lasers and terahertz radiation, will be studied in his group.

A big puzzle about the universe is the absence of natural anti-matter anywhere. While lots of anti-matter is believed to have formed after the Big Bang, the fate of all that anti-matter remains a mystery. One approach to unraveling this puzzle is to precisely probe the shape of certain atomic nuclei. Vutha’s group will develop new experiments to measure such properties of nuclei, which could also lead to practical payoffs such as improved gyroscopes for navigation.

Faculty of Dentistry

Celine Levesque
Canada Research Chair in Oral Microbial Genetics

A biofilm is a collection of microbes – such as bacteria – that stick to each other and to a surface to survive. When biofilm bacteria attack the human body, they can be difficult to fight. In fact, antibiotics need to be 100 times more concentrated than usual in order to kill biofilm bacteria.

Biofilm bacteria have also developed clever ways to stay alive. Some bacteria in biofilms can essentially commit suicide – known as “programmed cell death” (PCD) – to enable other microbes to become stronger and better able to survive. They can also remain dormant until antibiotic treatment is completed. As a result, microbes can persist for months or even years in the body and lead to recurrent infections that are very difficult to eradicate.

Celine Levesque, Canada Research Chair in Oral Microbial Genetics, is investigating how biofilm bacteria develop the means to survive and grow by studying an oral pathogen that can lead to tooth decay.

Levesque’s research will result in better understanding of the genetic networks that regulate PCD and the formation of “sleeping” bacteria. It will also help lead to better treatments for such biofilm infections as tooth decay, children’s ear infection, cystic fibrosis pneumonia and necrotizing fasciitis, the so-called flesh-eating disease.

Faculty of Medicine

Ana Andreazza
Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pharmacology of Mood Disorders

One in 10 Canadians suffers from highly disabling mood disorders including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. Currently, diagnosis is based upon self-reported symptoms or behavioural observations that lack substantial biological validation.

Ana Andreazza, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Pharmacology of Mood Disorders, is an emerging international leader in this field, which is searching for affordable, easy-to-use and clinically relevant biological markers that can be used for biological confirmation of a mood disorder diagnosis or to identify people at risk of developing a mood disorder.

The identification of biological targets will open doors to the development of new treatments strategies that treat abnormalities or impairments in oxidation processes in the periphery that contribute to mood disorders.

Her research, in collaboration with other laboratories, has produced some of the most convincing insights to date into the mechanisms that underlie mood disorders by focusing on metabolic processes known as oxidation and reduction reactions or redox modulations.

Oxidation in our cells is a natural process that converts energy from food to ATP, a molecule that carries energy to where the body needs it. But the oxidation process isn’t always well modulated.

For example, Andreazza's research demonstrates increased mitochondrial dysfunction and redox modulations in brain and blood cells of patients with mood disorders. This discovery led to treatments with antioxidants that have shown promising results when used with other therapies in treating mood disorders.

She is currently furthering her study of the role these redox abnormalities or impairments play in mood disorders and is exploring the possible effects of redox modulations on molecular pathways leading to synaptic alterations, particularly those that might provide potential avenues for therapy. She is also investigating the role these redox mistakes and inflammation in signalling white matter changes in mood disorder.

Anne-Claude Gingras
Canada Research Chair in Functional Proteomics

Inside a living cell, proteins associate with one another to perform their activities in a tightly regulated manner to maintain proper cellular function, similar to the different parts of an assembly line and temperature controlled rooms in a factory. 

Research by Anne-Claude Gingras, Canada Research Chair in Functional Proteomics, is developing a map showing how the factory is organized, in order to better understand the processes that go awry in disease.

Using advanced protein identification instruments known as mass spectrometers, she will identify the precise physical interactions and location of a large number of proteins to begin constructing a physical blueprint of a human cell.

Her research team will make this blueprint openly available to researchers to accelerate health research worldwide.

This dovetails nicely with the significant contributions they’ve made in the field of protein-protein interactions by creating tools that enable researchers worldwide to analyze their own mass spectrometry data, increasing the impact of Gingras’ research beyond the specific biological questions she’s investigating.

In addition, she will create an in-depth analysis of specific signalling pathways, part of a complex system of communication governing and coordinating the basic activities and actions of cells, and how errors in processing can lead to diseases, such as cancer. Her systematic analysis of normal and mutated proteins is already paving the way for new opportunities for therapeutic options.

Mikko Taipale
Canada Research Chair in Functional Proteomics and Protein Homeostasis

Proteins perform a wide variety of important jobs in cells. But in their crowded milieu, stressors can easily derail their finely tuned network, leading to mutant, misshapen proteins that have been implicated in human diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia.

How this network – known as cellular protein homeostasis (proteostasis) network – coordinates all these processes is poorly understood, making it difficult to develop targeted treatments.

Mikko Taipale, Canada Research Chair in Functional Proteomics and Protein Homeostasis, is drawing on his expertise in protein quality control, high-throughput biology and chemical biology to understand how this network is organized – with particular focus on deciphering the Hsp70 chaperone and its co-chaperones – and how it contributes to human diseases.

Chaperones are the most prominent class of proteins that shape the proteostasis network. They briefly bind thousands of substrate proteins in the cell and promote their folding, trafficking and degradation. In fact, they act as guardians controlling the fate of mutant proteins.

Studies have shown the Hsp70 network is at the crux of devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s and plays also a central role in rare Mendelian diseases.

By focusing on Hsp70, Taipale and his team will generate the largest and most comprehensive interaction network for cellular quality control factors and their client proteins including 2,500 mutant variants associated with 1,100 Mendelian diseases. 

This network will be complemented with followup studies to further develop chaperone-based thermodynamic and conformational sensors for biotechnological applications, and to develop innovative methods to detect drug/target interactions in human cells.

Read more about Taipale

Rachel Tyndale
Canada Research Chair in Pharmacogenomics

Addictions affect millions of Canadians with catastrophic consequences. However, there is a large variation in the risk for drug dependence and also in treatment response.

Smoking is a prime example. It remains a killer, a drain on the health-care system, as well as a tough addiction to beat. Although smoking levels have stabilized in North America, one in five people still smokes and tobacco use is still projected to kill one billion people during the 21st century. Smoking rates are also growing in developing countries and remain inordinately high among people with other health problems, such as depression.

Rachel Tyndale, Canada Research Chair in Pharmacogenomics, is examining how genetic variation helps predict which people are prone to addiction and how well they’ll respond to treatment, as well as how metabolism within the brain alters drug and toxin effects.

Over the past decade, she’s shown how many drug addictions are altered by genetic variation in drug metabolism, including the enzymes which metabolize nicotine, opioids and amphetamines.

By exploring CYP2A6, the enzyme which metabolizes nicotine, and its genetic variations further, Tyndale will help identify novel mechanisms to help lead to new therapeutic targets and optimize the personalization of treatment for smokers; she has used this as a model for other addictions. 

She’s also looking at different populations, such as people who smoke and have chronic diseases, as well the impact of different products on smoking – like e-cigarettes.

In 2002 in Canada alone, costs of substance abuse and misuse totalled almost $40 billion – tobacco use accounted for almost half of those costs. Her research has the potential to improve the quality of life for millions around the world, as well as cut down on skyrocketing health-care costs by helping improve success rates for smokers trying to quit and the damage inflicted by other drugs of abuse.

Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy

Robert Bonin
Canada Research Chair in Sensory Plasticity and Reconsolidation

Just like our memories can change over time, the way our bodies remember painful sensations or injuries in chronic pain may also be possible to undo.

Scientists now know that the enhanced or abnormal pain sensations that typify chronic pain can arise from the misprocessing of touch in the pain processing pathways that run from the spinal cord to the brain. 

Currently, the most effective treatments, such as opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin, simply numb the pain but don’t treat the underlying physiological mechanisms causing it.

Research into how memories are stored, recalled, and changed in the brain has proven useful to the work of Robert Bonin, Canada Research Chair in Sensory Plasticity and Reconsolidation.

Memory reconsolidation is triggered by the recall and reactivation of a memory, which temporarily destabilizes and makes it easy to change. The memory later stabilizes and goes back into storage. Preventing the restoring process disrupts the memory, providing a window of opportunity to diminish or even erase it.

Injury or very painful sensations can create a memory of the pain in the spinal cord that has much in common with memories in the brain. Bonin has shown that reconsolidation in the spinal cord can be used to treat and even reverse hyperalgesia, an abnormally heightened sensitivity to pain, by reactivating the spinal pain pathways and changing their pain memory.

This work is continuing using a variety of approaches such as behavioural, electrophysiological and optogenetic approaches to explore how changes in pain processing pathways of the spinal cord are modified by ongoing sensory activity, and identify factors and corresponding therapeutic targets to end or counter the development of chronic pain.

Elise Paradis
Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Health-Care Practice

With ballooning health costs and a rapidly aging population, governments, schools and hospitals worldwide have increasingly embraced collaboration as the solution of choice for many pressing health-care challenges.

Collaboration, it’s been argued, curbs errors, cuts costs and improves effectiveness. In Canada, this faith in collaboration has led to new divisions of labour and the development of new, collaborative models of care delivery such as Ontario’s Family Health Teams.

But is collaboration working?

Elise Paradis, Canada Research Chair in Collaborative Health-Care Practice, is revisiting this seemingly common-sense solution to examine what happens when the idea of collaborative practice is confronted with the structural and cultural realities of health-care delivery.

By turning collaboration into an object of study – instead of an ideal to achieve – she will answer new and innovative questions about the rise of collaboration, its actual practice, the future of health-care delivery and of education for collaboration.

Specifically, she will examine how the new collaborative ideal is perceived and acted upon in intensive care units, operating rooms and family health teams by health-care professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and doctors.

Her research-based insights will lead – via an integrated knowledge translation strategy – to the development of new policies, educational interventions and recommendations for practice change to improve Canadian health-care delivery.

Keith Pardee
Canada Research Chair in Synthetic Biology in Human Health

Imagine pouring water on a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp and having it transform into a vaccine or a sensor that can detect Ebola, Zika and glucose levels.

Keith Pardee, Canada Research Chair in Synthetic Biology in Human Health, is doing just that by combining synthetic biology with molecular engineering and electronics in order to build freeze-dried, cell-free paper-based materials that can be programmed to act like cells.

In fact, the Zika test, created in 2016 at the height of the crisis in Brazil by Pardee and an international team, is ready to go into production for use in the field.

A small sample of saliva, urine or blood is applied to the activated paper and results take as little as an hour. If the sample contains the RNA of the Zika virus, the test area turns purple.

The vast potential of these cell-free synthetic gene networks means vaccines won’t need to be refrigerated and testing for diseases can be done on the spot, without the need of a lab, bringing down costs and improving access and the speed of health care diagnostics for people in remote locations or developing countries.

He is also developing a novel approach to the study of in vivo mRNA structure, which plays critical roles in health and the onset of disease, and is drawing on his background in stem cell biology and cellular reprogramming to create nano and micro devices to embed directly into cells. These devices will monitor and manipulate the cells to help develop cancer treatments.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

Abby Goldstein
Canada Research Chair in Preventing Risk and Promoting Well-Being in Emerging Adulthood

Young adults aged 18 to 25 are at a critical juncture in their lives – both psychologically and cognitively – as they face an increasingly extended transition into adulthood. 

This is a time of identity development and possibility, but also instability and uncertainty, marked at times by risky behaviour like binge drinking, gambling and unsafe sex. It’s also a peak time for the emergence of mental health issues. 

Compared to past generations, today’s emerging adults are living at home longer, and taking longer to enter the workforce and achieve longer-term stability. These changes are not only affecting their individual growth but are also creating significant economic and labour market shifts.

Abby Goldstein, Canada Research Chair in the Psychology of Emerging Adulthood, is studying the psychological factors that influence changes in risk, wellness and well-being over time, and impact healthy transitions into adulthood. In addition, she’s investigating the impact of relationships with parents on these risk and wellness trajectories and identifying strategies to support parents and emerging adults as they navigate this critical stage of life.

Because emerging adults are the ‘tech-savvy generation,’ Goldstein is using research methods that are integrated with the technology they use to document their daily lives. Using a mobile app, participants will make reports for 30-days in each year of the four-year study, detailing their mood, risk behaviours, wellness behaviours and interactions with their parents, as well as any major changes in their transition to adulthood.

Read more about Goldstein

University of Toronto Scarborough

Brian Connelly
Canada Research Chair in Integrative Perspectives on Personality

Ever wonder why someone got the job? Important decisions on who to hire and promote are often based on personality tests.

But typical tests, created by applied psychologists, have historically adopted a narrow view in measuring personality, which can lead organizations to choose manipulators and egoists over more suitable candidates.

As the Canada Research Chair in Integrative Perspectives on Personality, Brian Connelly is investigating better testing methods that avoid these pitfalls and pave the way for making accurate, data-driven predictions about who has the best chance to succeed and fit in, saving companies millions in retention and hiring costs every year.

Fascinated by the question of who is the best judge of personality – oneself or others – Connelly believes observer-based personality ratings are a promising strategy to help weed out bias and fakery, which are vulnerabilities of standard self-assessments.

In this method, the standard tests will be aided by ratings from observers who know the individual well – such as coworkers or close acquaintances – to create a more complete and balanced picture of the job seeker or employee.

This work, along with a stronger understanding of where traits, reputations and identities come from and how they relate to important organizational outcomes, will redefine how we think about and use personality information to make career-changing decisions for people in the workplace.

Kagan Kerman
Canada Research Chair in Bioelectrochemistry of Proteins

As the life expectancy of Canadians increases, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease – the most prevalent form of dementia – is increasing alarmingly, outpacing progress made in research and medical care.

Globally, it’s estimated nearly 44 million people have the disease or a related dementia. By 2040, the Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates the disease will cost our economy $293 billion a year.

Early detection is key for improved treatment options. A cure has remained elusive because little is known about the biomolecular interactions leading to this disease.

Using an interdisciplinary approach fusing chemistry, biology and neuroscience, Kagan Kerman, the Canada Research Chair in Bioelectrochemistry of Proteins, is at the forefront of research to improve early detection using biosensors.

His biosensors, which use modified gold surfaces with nanoparticles, proteins and/or enzymes added, react when exposed to the molecules linked to dementia. As part of his research, Kagan is using these biosensors to test the role of metals in the progression of Alzheimer’s, as well as the interactions between protein biomarkers.

Bebhinn Treanor
Canada Research Chair in Spatially-Resolved Biochemistry

B cells are a critical component of the immune system and the targets of vaccination as they produce molecules called antibodies, which are important for the destruction of pathogens.

To produce antibodies, B cells must undergo a process of activation, triggered by recognition of a pathogen. The steps leading to B cell activation must be strictly controlled, however, as aberrant activation can lead to autoimmunity and leukemia.

Bebhinn Treanor, Canada Research Chair in Spatially-Resolved Biochemistry, is using cutting-edge microscopy to resolve, in both space and time, the biochemical process that drive immune cell activation. Her aim is to identify novel regulators of B cell activation that could be targets for therapeutic intervention in B cell diseases such as non-Hodgkin’s and Burkitt’s lymphomas and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treanor’s interdisciplinary research combines immunology and cell biology and makes use of advances in optical engineering and collaboration with mathematicians to probe fundamental questions regarding cell biological processes that could lead to discoveries relevant to our understanding of human health and disease.

For example, she is able to generate artificial planar lipid bilayers as a model for cell-cell interactions, allowing her to watch the earliest events in B cell activation and to use powerful super-resolution imaging techniques to visualize and measure the movement of single molecules in live cells.

Read more about Connelly, Kerman and Treanor