Left to right: FHS professors William Hsiao, Mark Brockman, and Zabrina Brumme received grants provided from the Canada Foundation for innovation's John R. Edwards Leadership Fund to enhance infrastructure and strengthen investigations in their respective labs.

FHS professors receive funds to enhance lab infrastructure and strengthen investigations

August 11, 2021

By Sharon Mah

The Brockman and Brumme labs and Centre for Infectious Disease Genomics and One Health are the latest Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) beneficiaries of grants provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Edwards Leadership Fund (JELF). These funds – provided alongside monies and/or supports from SFU and other funding partners – allow researchers to acquire new infrastructure to enhance their investigations, keeping them at the forefront in their fields of study.

For FHS professors Mark Brockman and Zabrina Brumme, the JELF fund supports an opportunity to renovate and equip a new HIV research lab in Blusson Hall. The larger lab space will allow these health researchers to accommodate more students and trainees.  The funds also permitted the group to acquire a new flow cytometer and a single-cell microfluidics analyzer. These two devices allow Brockman and Brumme to investigate mechanisms of the immune response to infection at the level of individual cells by examining protein or RNA expression. “These technologies are very complementary and allow us to view cellular behaviours in a more comprehensive and detailed way,” says Brockman. Additionally, the safety and security of the group’s research is enhanced by having both devices housed within the same contained location, reducing the need to transport specimens outside of the lab for analysis.  

Although Brockman and Brumme initially applied for JELF funds to support their HIV research, the new infrastructure is already proving useful to study other viruses, including SARS-CoV2, the virus responsible for the current COVID-19 global pandemic. In two ongoing projects, they are using the equipment to examine the ability of COVID-19 vaccines to stimulate an immune response to SARS-CoV2 in older adults and in persons living with HIV. Through their use of an investigative approach that combines molecular and cell biology, epidemiology, genetics and computational approaches, Brockman and Brumme are well on their way to achieving their long-term objective: to advance leading-edge approaches to immunological and infectious disease research and establish SFU at the forefront of research in this area.

For FHS professor William Hsiao, the JELF grant will allow this bioinformatics specialist to purchase laboratory automation and computing equipment that will enable his lab to support local and global collaborators – including non-academic researchers from across a multitude of sectors – to perform microbial genomic sample processing and data analysis. As shown in the current COVID pandemic, genomics data is invaluable for monitoring the variants and understanding the pathogen evolution. Hsiao is establishing a Centre for Infectious Disease Genomics and One Health which will develop better methodologies for pathogen sample processing and data analysis to help public health, animal health, and environmental health agencies to build genomic capacity. “This transdisciplinary approach will enable scientists to analyze microbial infectious diseases with an eye towards rapid detection and prevention of outbreaks and/or future pandemics.”

Beyond increasing capacity for a scaling up of genomic sampling and analysis, Hsiao also hopes to help educate partners and collaborators about the benefits of data sharing. “Through the recent COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the benefits of having data, such as whole genome sequences for the SARS-CoV2 virus, available to everyone,” he observes. Hsiao believes that the global collaboration model that developed during the COVID-19 pandemic could be the key to preventing the next pandemic(s), keeping our populations safe and healthy into the future.