University of Calgary

AHFMR announces $39M funding

Submitted by kenben on Thu, 2009-03-26 08:56.

March 26, 2009

AHFMR announces $39 million to fund outstanding research across Alberta

The Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research has awarded $39 million in funding to 41 outstanding health researchers across Alberta. These seven-year awards are among the richest health research awards in Canada.

“My congratulations go out to all of the exceptional researchers who are offered awards this year,” says AHFMR Interim President and CEO Jacques Magnan, PhD. “AHFMR awards are difficult to obtain due to our extremely demanding peer review systems, which ensure our researchers are internationally competitive. Garnering AHFMR support is truly something to be proud of.”

Shalina Ousman, PhD, a neuroimmunologist at the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, is one of 22 researchers at the University of Calgary who were successful in AHFMR’s 2009 independent investigator competition.

“AHFMR researchers have made a tangible difference in the lives of Albertans over the past three decades. This announcement shows how Alberta’s long-term, sustained support for health research continues to lead to significant advances in knowledge, discovery, treatments and new technologies,” says Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. “And that translates into enormous economic and social benefit to Albertans.”

The awards for the University of Calgary are offered to researchers investigating the brain and diabetes, preterm birth, how the heart functions, and new treatments for stroke as well as depression.

Shalina Ousman, PhD, was recruited by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) to UCalgary after doing her graduate and post-doctoral training at McGill University, The Scripps Research Institute (San Diego), and Stanford University School of Medicine. Ousman’s research investigates why the brain is unable to defend itself against the immune cell attack that causes multiple sclerosis (MS).

A disease of the central nervous system, MS causes the body’s own defense mechanisms to attack the delicate nerves essential to brain communication. “My research is focused on alphaB-crystallin, one particular protein which tries to neutralize the rampaging immune cells in the brain,” says Ousman, PhD. “Our hypothesis is that alphaB-crystallin struggles to hold back the overactive immune cells, but in the end, loses the battle to protect the brain. Our research aims to explain why alphaB-crystallin is losing that battle, and how we can boost its function so it can win the fight against MS.”

Ousman’s lab has collaborated with scientific teams at Harvard and Stanford, and is now working with Dr. Luanne Metz, director of the MS Clinic at the Foothills Medical Centre and Wee Yong, PhD, co-leader of the Arresting MS Program at the HBI. Both are professors of clinical neurosciences at UCalgary.

“One of my major motivations to come here was to collaborate with Dr. Metz and her clinical team as well as the basic science researchers in MS. Working together will help us introduce new findings to help people with MS much more quickly,” says Ousman, PhD, a member of HBI. “Our next step in the lab is to take the immune cells of Calgarians with MS and learn from them. If I expose those overactive cells to alphaB-crystallin, I anticipate it will act to cool them down, and decrease their hyperactivity.”

AHFMR Scholar Shalina Ousman, PhD, is an assistant professor of clinical neurosciences at UCalgary. Her work is also supported by the MS Society of Canada.

Since 1980, AHFMR has committed more than $1.2 billion to researchers at the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. AHFMR, which leads health research in Alberta’s innovation system, was highly commended for its achievements by an International Board of Review in June 2004. In 2005 the Alberta Government committed an additional $500 million to the Foundation’s endowment.

For more information, please contact Karen Thomas, Media Specialist, AHFMR, 780.423.5727 x225, 1.403.651.1112 (cell), karen.thomas@ahfmr.ab.ca

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