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Innovative Research Projects at Trent Receive Close to $200,000 in Federal Funding

John Evans Leaders Funding to support three projects by leading Trent University researchers

The innovative work of three Trent University researchers has received a recent funding infusion, thanks to an announcement from the federal government of Canada’s John Evans Leaders Fund, which will provide a combined total of $198,838 to Dr. Neil Fournier, associate professor in Psychology, Dr. Robert Huber, Biology professor, and Dr. Paul Szpak, Anthropology professor.

The Honourable Maryam Monsef ’03, Trent alumna, Member of Parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha, and the Minister of Status of Women, was on campus today to announce the funding, which will support three Trent projects set to advance knowledge of epilepsy, pave the way for the development of targeted therapy for neurological disorders, and assist in the management of marine ecosystems and fisheries across Canada.

“Innovation is always at the forefront of research at Trent University and the support from the John Evans Leaders Fund will help to continue to make further innovation possible,” said Dr. Neil Emery, vice-president Research and Innovation at Trent University. “It is an exciting time for research at Trent and the projects by Drs. Fournier, Huber, and Szpak are on track to have a profound impact on the lives of people worldwide, for generations to come. We’re very excited about these promising projects and look forward to continuing Trent’s legacy of research that makes a difference on a global scale.”

“Trent University researchers continue to impress, both here in Peterborough-Kawartha and right across Canada. Investments like this one will ensure that our country remains at the forefront of innovation, while delivering new ideas to assist Canadians,” said Ms. Monsef.

Professor Fournier’s research project, Infrastructure for Studying Neurogenesis in Health and Disease, received $99,928 in funding and will aim to understand the factors that govern how

neural pathways of the brain respond to challenges and demands imposed by the environment. One of the most striking examples of this process is the generation of new neurons in brain regions that support learning and memory. Although it is unclear why the adult brain generates new neurons, studies show that these new neurons are more responsive than mature neurons, and that they modulate emotional behaviour and improve learning and memory in unique ways. Neurological disorders such as epilepsy impact the regulation of this process and by using cutting-edge genetic and imaging techniques, Prof. Fournier and his team seeks to understand the role that new neurons play in epilepsy and in mediating seizure-induced impairments in learning, memory, and emotional behaviour. In doing so, Prof. Fournier’s research project is set to advance further knowledge of this disease and lay the groundwork for the development of new treatment options.

Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL), more commonly known as Batten disease, is a group of neurological disorders affecting children and adults across the globe and Professor Robert Huber’s research project aims to understand the primary functions of the proteins linked to the disease. Prof. Huber’s $50,000 in funding for his project, titled A Novel Approach to Studying Neurodegeneration Using Dictyostelium, will equip researchers at Trent with the state-of-the-art technology needed to undergo this innovative study and significantly advance global understanding of the disease by incorporating a range of cellular, molecular, and biochemical approaches. With the knowledge of how the functions of the NCL proteins and biological pathways impacted by the disease ought to function, Prof. Huber’s research paves the way for the development of targeted therapy for this presently untreatable neurological disorder.

Trent’s newest Canada research chair in Environmental Archaeology, Professor Paul Szpak, understands the challenges of assessing the impact of humans on the environment today and intends to establish a baseline that reflects “long-term” processes that might have influenced these environments. Through his project, Long Term Environmental History in the North Pacific and Canadian Arctic, which was awarded $48,910, he plans to pinpoint what marine environments in the Arctic and North Eastern Pacific were like in the past. With the understanding of whether large scale disturbances are limited to present day, the historic period, or if they occurred in the distant past, his research will ask and answer questions such as “are the changes we are observing in marine ecosystems today unprecedented or have they happened before when the climate changes or human populations increased?” With the support of the John Evans Leaders Fund, Prof. Szpak’s research project will assist in the management of marine ecosystems and fisheries across Canada. 

Posted on March 2, 2017