University of Calgary

University receives $2.9 million from federal government for four researchers

UToday HomeMarch 15, 2013

Aaron Goodarzi studies DNA damage using a high-resolution fluorescence microscope.Aaron Goodarzi studies DNA damage using a high-resolution fluorescence microscope.The federal government announced today that four faculty members at the University of Calgary have been awarded the prestigious Canada Research Chair grant, including one researcher who will receive multi-year funding from the program for the first time.

Faculty of Medicine researcher Aaron Goodarzi is a new recipient of the Canada Research Chair in Genome Damage and Instability Disease. Canada Research Chair funding was also renewed for Deborah Marshall, Derek McKay, both from the Faculty of Medicine, and Masaki Hayashi, from the Faculty of Science.

“Our government is committed to attracting and retaining the world’s best and brightest researchers, supporting innovation, creating jobs, and strengthening our economy,” said Minister of State Gary Goodyear, who made the national announcement in London, Ont. “By investing in programs such as the Canada Research Chairs, we are fostering cutting-edge research and the generation of new innovations for the marketplace, for the benefit of Canadians.”

Across the country, 120 newly-awarded and renewed Canada Research Chairs will benefit from the federal government’s $90.6-million investment.

“We thank the federal government for its continued support for cutting-edge research at the University of Calgary,” said Ed McCauley, vice-president (research). “The Canada Research Chair program allows the University of Calgary to recruit and retain some of the world’s brightest researchers and have them pursue their innovative work, which will help achieve our Eyes High goal of becoming one of Canada’s top five research universities.”

Goodarzi, who will receive $500,000 over five years, will help medical science better understand how our bodies deal with instabilities within our DNA, a fundamental cause of human aging as well as a driving force of cancer.

Goodarzi’s research examines human diseases caused by radiation exposure. His laboratory is exploring genetic risk factors for radiation-induced cancer, as well as novel methods of detecting radiation exposure and sensitivity in people. Since the predominant form of radiation exposure in humans occurs via inhalation of the colourless, odourless and tasteless gas radon, Goodarzi is particularly interested in understanding how radon triggers lung cancer.

Lung cancer is being diagnosed at a rate of approximately 225,000 people per year worldwide. Of these, about 25 per cent are not directly attributable to tobacco and are thought to be induced by inhaling carcinogens such as radon gas, which accumulates within well-insulated homes built on uranium-rich soil. A recent Health Canada survey showed that, depending on region, roughly four to 44 per cent of homes in the most populated areas of Canada have radon levels well above the minimum safe guideline. Highest levels were found within Prairie and Maritime health regions.

“Many Canadians may not be aware that the breakdown and erroneous repair of their own DNA, simply as a consequence of living in a certain location, will drive them towards a greater chance of cancer or premature aging,” says Goodarzi, a member of the University of Calgary’s Southern Alberta Cancer Research Institute.

“Individuals living in one of the many hundreds of thousands of Canadian households with high radon gas levels, for example, will be exposed to dramatically more radiation-induced DNA damage and thus are at serious risk of lung cancer, even if they have never smoked a cigarette in their lifetime.”

There are 73 Canada Research Chair positions dedicated to conducting research at the University of Calgary. This new grant and renewals announced on Friday do not change the total number of chairs at the University of Calgary.

In addition to Goodarzi’s new Canada Research Chair, the following three University of Calgary researchers saw their chairs renewed:

Deborah Marshall – Faculty of Medicine (renewal CIHR Tier II - $500,000 over five years) holds a Canada Research Chair in Health Services and Systems Research focusing on health technology assessment and health system modelling. Marshall is a member of the University’s McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Research and the Institute for Public Health.

Derek McKay – Faculty of Medicine (renewal CIHR Tier 1 - $1.4 million over seven years) holds a Canada Research Chair in Intestinal Immunophysiology in Health and Disease, focusing on the control of inflammation in the intestine and the regulation of epithelial permeability. McKay is a member of the University’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases.

Masaki Hayashi – Faculty of Science (renewal NSERC Tier II - $500,000 over five years) holds a Canada Research Chair in Physical Hydrology. His research focuses on improving our understanding of hydrological processes and providing predictive tools for sustainable water resources management considering the uncertainty of future climate conditions.


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