Advancing Research—StFX chemistry professors awarded close to $600,000 in funding from Canada Foundation for Innovation, Research Nova Scotia


The following article was created and originally posted by St. Francis Xavier University.

Two research projects in the StFX Department of Chemistry, one a team project led by Dr. Erwan Bertin, Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley and Dr. Gerry Marangoni, and the other led by Dr. Alex Foo, have received almost $600,000 in infrastructure funding through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), co-funded by the Government of Canada, through the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and through matching Research Nova Scotia funding. 

These investments are part of a $960 million suite of funding programs supporting science, researchers, students and research infrastructure announced today by the Honourable Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, on behalf of the Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health. 

The total JELF investment made today by the Government of Canada through the Canada Foundation for Innovation is $113,456,009. Funding provided through JELF helps institutions attract and retain outstanding researchers. It also contributes to acquiring the tools that enable the innovative work of those researchers.

Chemistry professors Dr. Erwan Bertin, Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley and Dr. Gerry Marangoni have together received $219,337 from JELF and an additional $219,337 in matching funds from Research Nova Scotia to purchase equipment that will aid their work to design novel materials to contribute to pollution remediation under diverse environmental conditions. 

The three researchers say the support of the Canada Foundation for Innovation via the John R. Evans Leaders Fund and Research Nova Scotia will support the acquisition of scientific equipment to establish a research center in Eastern Nova Scotia dedicated to the analysis and removal of common environmental pollutants.
 
“This support will also provide hands-on training for a generation of students on modern experimental techniques, common to many industrial applications, including pharmaceuticals industries and water testing. The current research program will implement experiential learning as a key pillar of the instructional environment. This approach is vital for the sustainability of scientific research in Nova Scotia and Canada, producing highly qualified personal that are positioned for direct contribution to continued environmental initiatives,” they say.

Chemistry professor Dr. Alex Foo has received $74,736 from JELF plus match funding from Research Nova Scotia for a total of nearly $150,000. These funds will be used to purchase equipment to help uncover novel mechanisms through which the biochemical properties of allergenic proteins directly contribute to allergic/inflammatory disease and its associated environmental health disparities and could help inform upon potential mitigation and therapeutic strategies.

The infrastructure provided by this funding opportunity will include microbiology facilities to produce allergenic proteins using genetically-engineered E. coli, along with state-of-the-art optical (light-based) and biophysical instrumentation to examine barrier-destabilizing abilities of these allergenic proteins using both artificial lipid membranes and living human cells. This suite of new equipment will significantly enhance the biomolecular research capability of both the Biomolecular Allergen—Lipid Research Group (BALR) group and StFX in general.

The funding news was welcomed at StFX. 

“This approved research infrastructure funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Research Nova Scotia is critical to helping StFX continue to attract and retain excellent researchers. Together, these two funded projects will immeasurably strengthen the research efforts in the Department of Chemistry and have a significant impact on future student research training opportunities and impact,” says Dr. Richard Isnor, StFX Associate Vice President, Research, Graduate and Professional Studies. 
 
Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia, says Research Nova Scotia is pleased to provide match funding to Drs. Erwan Bertin, Geniece Hallett-Tapley and Gerry Marangoni and to Dr. Alex Foo to help secure the specialized equipment they need for their research. “StFX and these researchers have worked hard to develop research that is important to Nova Scotia. The funding from RNS will be used to provide an essential foundation for these researchers’ work.”

Summary of Research

Dr. Erwan Bertin, Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley, Dr. Gerry Marangoni
The industrial age has brought considerable improvements in life quality and expectancy, but these improvements have come at great environmental cost. Several chemicals, once released into the environment, either in air, in waterways or in soil, are harmful to living organisms. Other chemicals, such as carbon dioxide, have strong influence on our climate and oceans. As our understanding of these pollutants grows, so does the need to restore our environment. These chemicals are usually stable and can remain in the environment decades to centuries. Thus, the long-term goal of our work is to design novel materials to contribute to pollution remediation under diverse environmental conditions. We have three main short-term objectives: to sustainably prepare remediation materials; to characterize the materials prepared; and to evaluate the application of the functional materials for the elimination of atmospheric, aqueous and soil pollutants. The new infrastructure will significantly advance capacity to carry out necessary experiments and develop practical applications that will lead to improved environmental conditions. It will lay the foundations for establishing a new Materials Research Centre based at StFX that will be of interest to the private sector and communities in their pursuit of new approaches to climate change mitigation and the remediation of polluted environments. This is a priority to protect the health of Canadians.

Dr. Alex Foo
About 20-25 per cent of Canadians are allergic to airborne compounds such as dust, pet dander, and pollens. On the surface, these allergies are perceived as being relatively benign, with mild symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. However, this appearance masks a more insidious effect. Exposure/sensitization to airborne allergens is strongly associated with a range of respiratory diseases including asthma, hypertension, and even susceptibility to viral infections such as COVID-19 and is a major contributor to negative health outcomes among effected populations. Through these pathways, airborne allergies are responsible for an estimated $4 billion in direct and indirect costs to the Canadian economy, and hundreds of excess deaths a year. The human respiratory system contains a series of protective lipid barriers. The Biomolecular Allergen—Lipid Research Group (BALR) is dedicated to understanding how airborne allergens can disrupt the structure/function of these barriers at the molecular level, and the consequences of these interactions on human health. This work will provide insight into the molecular basis for allergic airway disease and its associated respiratory disorders, along with potential therapeutic/mitigation strategies to reduce their economic and human cost to Canadians. The infrastructure provided by this funding opportunity will include microbiology facilities to produce allergenic proteins using genetically-engineered E. coli, along with state-of-the-art optical (light-based) and biophysical instrumentation to examine barrier-destabilizing abilities of these allergenic proteins using both artificial lipid membranes and living human cells. This suite of new equipment will significantly enhance the biomolecular research capability of both the BALR group and StFX in general and will contribute to the shared mission of using research to promote and protect the health of our people and the communities in which they reside.