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About Sickkids
About SickKids

June 15, 2007

Canada Foundation for Innovation recognizes leading researchers at SickKids

Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children

Researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children have been awarded more than $1.4 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Leaders Opportunity Fund.

Drs. Michael Salter, Sheena Josselyn and Zhengping Jia will receive $798,691 for the Facilities for Integrative Study of CNS Neuroplasticity. The new infrastructure provided by CFI makes SickKids the only institution in Canada integrating study of the central nervous system (CNS) function and dysfunction from genes to molecular biology to behaviour, paving the way for groundbreaking research that will shed light on abnormal CNS development and lead to effective treatments for disorders such as pain, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

Abnormal neuroplasticity—the signaling mechanisms regulating cell-cell communication in the CNS—results in disorders such including chronic pain, stroke, cognitive disorders and neurodegenerative diseases that affect untold millions worldwide, inflicting enormous suffering. Many of these disorders have no cure and few effective treatments.

Roughly 30 million North Americans suffer from some type of memory disorder, from inherited forms of mental retardation to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. Pain is the single most common complaint of individuals seeking health care and most common cause of disability. In terms of suffering and loss of quality of life, pain is a pressing social issue as well as a huge economic burden costing an estimated $8 billion annually in Canada. With an aging population, the number of Canadians affected by CNS disorders is expected to increase to near epidemic levels in the next 30 years. Gaining insight into CNS neuroplasticity is imperative.

The discoveries that will emerge from this research will have a major influence on health costs within Canada. Knowledge gained will be translated into preventative and therapeutic interventions that can stave off or reverse the devastating effects of stroke, brain injury due to accidents, cognitive impariments and memory disorders. CFI’s investment ensures that Canada, and Toronto, remain internationally acknowledged leaders in the global advancement of research in neuroplasticity and pain.

Dr. John Rubinstein, scientist in the Molecular Structure & Function Program at SickKids and assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at U of T, is also a CIHR New Investigator. His $659,322 from CFI will establish a state-of-the-art cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) facility at SickKids. Cryo-EM is an important technique in structural biology that bridges the resolution gap between images of cells from light microscopy and conventional electron microscopy and high-resolution information available from X-ray crystallography and NMR spectroscopy. Expertise in the application of this new generation of powerful electron microscopes to biomedical questions is scarce. Along with only a few investigators around the world, Dr. Rubinstein’s research addresses methodological issues with cryo-EM to make the technique more reliable and more informative.

The understanding of molecular processes in biology has often been tightly coupled to the development of new methods. These new instruments overcome a major limitation of conventional electron microscopy, in which a biological sample has to be dehydrated before visualization. Dehydration can cause rearrangements of the molecules within complexes and distortion of the molecules themselves. With cryo-EM, the sample is preserved and imaged directly. The resulting image is of a fully hydrated molecule, as found within the cell or tissue. Insight into the structures of these multi-protein complexes will illuminate their involvement in disease processes.

In biology and in medicine, the ability to see has always preceded the ability to do. Before it is possible to take action against a medical condition, it is necessary to understand the cause of it—often by applying imaging techniques. CFI’s investment enables SickKids to implement this technology in Toronto as an essential component of the structural biology infrastructure. The new resources will impact exploration of the molecular determinants of cancer, and of infectious and acquired diseases such as SARS and influenza. Providing insight that has not been available through more conventional studies, Dr. Rubinstein’s studies will contribute to finding new targets for therapeutic interventions and for enhancing the activity and specificity of existing and new drugs.

Overall CFI announced the investment of $39.2 million across the full spectrum of research at 42 institutions across the country, and supporting the work of 261 researchers. The Government of Canada’s support of research excellence through CFI and its Leaders Opportunity Fund, plays a critical role in attracting and retaining the very best of today’s and tomorrow’s leading researchers at SickKids.