media release

New funding enhances health research at SFU

September 12, 2013

Razieh Eskandari, 778.782.9690,
Graham Pollock, MSFHR communications, 604.714.5375,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


A 2012 Simon Fraser University doctoral graduate in chemistry who made a name for herself researching diabetes is now applying her powers of analysis to understanding Alzheimer’s disease at SFU, thanks to a major grant.

Razieh Eskandari is among seven post-doctoral researchers receiving $37,000 annually in new Research Trainee awards from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) to undertake research on a variety of health issues.

The MSFHR is a provincially funded agency mandated to build health research capacity in British Columbia. Its Research Trainee awards, annually renewable for a maximum of three years, enable doctoral graduates to further their training by working in the research program of an established university scholar.

This round of grants will foster a broad scope of potential health breakthroughs. They include identifying new drugs that protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, curbing the rising epidemic of prescription-opioid abuse and clarifying mechanisms that can control HIV infection.

Eskandari, an Iranian Canadian living in Burnaby, will work under the supervision of SFU chemistry professor David Vocadlo to improve the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by identifying compounds that protect the brain from neurodegeneration.

The protein tau can act abnormally in Alzheimer’s disease and cause neuronal death. However, the toxicity of tau can be significantly reduced by altering the levels of a sugar modification in cells known as O-GlcNAc.

Eskandari’s research focuses on synthesizing compounds that will help increase levels of O-GlcNAc in brains, which in turn will protect neurons from the damaging effects of abnormal tau.

By identifying new molecules and validating this target, her study has the potential to improve outcomes for the estimated 500,000 Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Eskandari’s doctoral research under SFU chemistry professor Mario Pinto led to her synthesizing compounds that could be helpful in type 2 diabetes treatment. Eskandari isolated the compounds in a rare South Asian plant.


Backgrounder: New funding enhances health research at SFU

The MSFHR Research Trainee awards — collectively worth up to $777,000 — represent a significant investment in B.C.’s up-and-coming research talent. The other new SFU-based recipients and their corresponding professorial supervisors are:

Cindy Holmes (under Marina Morrow) is studying how the relationship between gender identity, violence, and place impacts the mental health and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming people. She will study how factors such as geographic context, gender discrimination, racism, and poverty undermine or enhance safety and mental health. This research will be conducted in Vancouver and the Okanagan Valley using Photovoice, a research method that combines photography, dialogue, and social action. Holmes’ study will help reveal how the enforcement of gender norms impacts the mental health and well-being of Canadians.

Bryn Lander (under Ellen Balka) is exploring the interface between the research and clinical practice that occurs within research hospitals. Translation between research and practice is increasingly important to ensure that research findings are adopted into clinical practice and that researchers answer questions relevant to improving Canada’s health care system. Lander will investigate translation as a two-way process between research and clinical practice through hospital case studies, paying particular attention to how organizational policies and structures influence research translation.

Ryan McNeil (under Will Small) is studying non-medical use of prescription opioids such as Dilaudid and OxyContin. Prescription opioids are now the second most abused class of drug in Canada (after marijuana) and are injected more frequently than heroin in some Canadian cities. These drugs carry severe health risks, including overdose and HIV or hepatitis C infection, making their increasing use an urgent public health concern. McNeil’s research will examine how opioid use influences drug use behaviour and how social, structural, and environmental factors affect the risks associated with non-medical use of prescription opioids. The findings will help develop policy and program recommendations to address the non-medical prescription opioid epidemic.

Philip Mwimanzi (under Mark Brockman/Zabrina Brumme) is advancing the search for an HIV cure by studying the mechanisms of latent HIV infection. Current drug treatments are effective at reducing HIV to undetectable levels; however, the presence of latent viral reservoirs allows the virus to return after treatment is stopped. Mwimanzi believes the HIV protein Nef acts as a molecular switch that regulates the activation of latent virus. His research will study Nef’s role in maintaining HIV latency and its potential as a target for new treatments to eradicate HIV-infected cell reservoirs.

Dave Pasalich (under Robert McMahon) is evaluating whether an evidence-based parenting program can help reunite families after children have been placed in out-of-home care. Two common obstacles to family reunification following out-of-home care are children’s conduct problems (e.g., aggression and non-compliance) and parents’ lack of confidence or skill in managing their child’s behaviour. Pasalich believes that an evidence-based parenting program that is tailored to meet the needs of families involved with the child welfare system may improve parent-child interactions and increase the chances of timely reunification while decreasing the chance that children will re-enter the out-of-home care system.

Jeremy Wong (under Max Donelan) is using an innovative exoskeleton to help restore normal walking ability to individuals recovering from stroke. To maintain normal gait, stroke victims must expend nearly double the energy of healthy individuals, significantly impacting their quality of life. Using sophisticated models of the musculoskeletal system, Wong will study the mechanics of human gait and use his findings to apply assistive forces through a knee-mounted exoskeleton robot developed by SFU’s Locomotion Lab. The goal of this research is to help optimize the use of this device and return the energy cost of walking for stroke victims to normal levels.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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