CFI invests more than $1.6 million in 10 SFU research projects

August 11, 2021

In Canada, cancer is the leading cause of mortality and represents about 30 percent of all deaths in this country.

Motivated to change that statistic, Simon Fraser University science professor Valentin Jaumouillé’s research looks at advancing cancer treatments by better understanding the human immune system’s response against cancer cells.

According to Jaumouillé, our immune system has been long recognized as an effective protector against infections and recent breakthroughs have demonstrated that it also has the capacity to control cancer progression.

“Among the different types of cells that comprise the immune system, macrophages have the capacity to eliminate microbes and cancer cells by engulfing and destroying them,” says Jaumouillé. “However, in most patients, macrophages do not eliminate cancer cells and instead reduce the activity of the immune system against the tumor.”

Jaumouillé’s work is just one of 10 SFU research projects receiving part of $1,679,500 in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF).

The JELF funds the foundational infrastructure researchers need to pursue their research and become leaders in their field. The funding helps SFU remain internationally competitive in areas of research and technology development that align with the university’s strategic priorities.

Thanks to this JELF funding, Jaumouillé will have microscopy infrastructure in his cancer research program for real-time quantitative imaging of molecular dynamics and cellular mechanics.

“On behalf of the university, I would like to congratulate the 10 SFU researchers that are being recognized by CFI as leaders in their respective fields. “says Dugan O’Neil, SFU’s vice-president, research and international. “This funding will help these researchers to take their transformative discoveries to the next level.”

He adds, “We are incredibly grateful for CFI’s ongoing support as we continue to grow and expand the university’s capacity in research excellence and innovation.”

Learn more about SFU’s full list of award recipients and about the other innovative research projects:

Faculty of Science recipients:

  • Jane Fowler, biology: A Comprehensive Experimental Laboratory for Microbial Ecology of Water Treatment
Funding will provide new equipment that will aid research into improving wastewater and drinking water using biological methods. We know that microbes are capable of removing contaminants from water, yet surprisingly little is known about the microbes involved; which contaminants can be removed, and how to optimize these processes. This research will investigate how complex microbial communities assemble and respond to their environments. The findings will assist in the development of new biotechnologies for purifying drinking water and wastewater, benefiting humans and the environment worldwide.
  • Valentine Jaumouillè, molecular biology and biochemistry: Microscopy Infrastructure for Real-Time Quantitative Imaging of Molecular Dynamics and Cellular Mechanics
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and this funding will help refine the use of immunotherapies to fight this disease. Recent breakthroughs have demonstrated that the immune system has the capacity to control cancer progression by harnessing macrophages. These immune cells have the capacity to eliminate microbes and unwanted cells by engulfing and destroying them. However, in most patients, macrophages do not eliminate cancer cells and instead reduce the activity of the adaptive immune system against the tumor. Recent evidence suggests that cancer cell biophysical characteristics could prevent their engulfment by macrophages. With this funding, Jaumouillé hopes to understand how macrophages can overcome the physical constraints involved in the engulfment of cancer cells with the goal of developing new therapies that boost the eradication of tumors by macrophages.
  • Amy Lee, molecular biology and biochemistry: Centre for the Systems Biology of Host-Pathogen Interactions

Bacterial infections are often successfully treated with antibiotics, but chronic misuse of these drugs have created a global health threat by increasing the presence of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) organisms. These pathogens cause high morbidity and mortality especially in the vulnerable newborn and elderly, which costs Canada’s health care system over $2B annually. This research will combine comprehensive genomic sequence, pathogen phenotyping and gene expression studies with sophisticated computational data analyses to study how AMR and virulence genes are maintained and transmitted in different environments as well as the resulting host immune responses.

Faculty of Environment recipients:

  • Francesco Berna, archaeology: Improvements for the Fourier Transform Infrared Microspectroscopy Facility for the Archaeological Sciences
  • William Hahm, geography: Quantifying Forest and Stream Water Sources and Their Sensitivity to a Shifting Climate

Faculty of Health Science recipients:

  • Mark Brockman, Viral Pathenogenesis and Immunity Laboratory
  • William Hsiao, Centre for Infectious Disease Genomics and One Health

Faculty of Applied Sciences recipients:

  • Yagiz Aksoy, computing science: Computational Cinematography
  • Hang Ma, computing science: Coordination of Robot Motion and Human-Robot Interaction for Large-Scale Multi-Robot Systems
  • Gordon McTaggart-Cowan, sustainable energy engineering: Sustainable Low Carbon Fuels Research Lab