Emerging Interdisciplinary Research
In 2015 the Faculty of Science launched a call for Interdisciplinary Projects. The Call’s intent was to develop and support emerging interdisciplinary areas of strength and potential within the Faculty. The one-time support was to help propel the research teams’ work exploring new areas of science. Participation from at least two Departments was required and the involvement of other collaborators and students was encouraged. The initiative was further supported by the Faculties of Engineering and Health Sciences and the Provost’s Office, allowing five projects to be funded. We will follow the progress of the projects and report on their achievements. Find out more about what the groups plan to do:
Using ‘Omic” Approaches and Inactivity to Understand Healthy Aging
Group: Stuart Phillips, Department of Kinesiology; Martin Gibala, Kinesiology; Philip Britz-McKibbon, Chemistry & Chemical Biology; Andrew McArthur, Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences
Description: As people age, they begin to lose muscle mass; this happens even more quickly when muscles aren’t used. Older adults often face situations where they are inactive, such as from chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, vascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Acute health issues, such as influenza or falls, may also be the cause. With the serious implications for a person's quality of life and an ageing population, helping elderly people maintain muscle mass is critical.
To find ways to prevent muscle mass loss before it is happens or slow it down, the team will analyze tissues samples to see which genes are turned on and which aren’t when someone becomes inactive. They will study what is happening at the transcription level and track changes in energy metabolism. The researchers expect to identify chemical signs that can act as predictors of increased risk of type 2 diabetes and find interventions to maintain older adults muscle mass even when they are inactive. The ultimate goal is to help older adults stay healthier, even when they are recovering from the flu.
Bio-Inspired+Photonics: Artificial Compound Eyes (Wide-Eye Optics) for Intelligent Light Collection, Delivery and Imaging Applications
Group: Cecile Fradin, Physics & Astronomy; Kalaichelvi Saravanamuttu, Chemistry & Chemical Biology; and Kari Dalnoki-Veress, Physics & Astronomy; Ray LaPierre, Engineering Physics, Faculty of Engineering
Description: Taking inspiration from nature, this research team is developing artificial compound eyes that can improve the collection and channelling of light to optical devices. Mimicking the way insects view the world, the researchers will create materials that model and improve on the structure of insects’ eyes. These unique materials – also known as WIDE-I structures – will be based in soft polymers, imparting flexibility and enabling their application as thin-film lenses, light-activated implants and 3-D scaffolds for cell-growth. The team will also be able to explore applications in LED technology and medical diagnostics such as endoscopy.
One proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy for quantifying neural plasticity in the human spinal cord
Group: Aimee J. Nelson, Kinesiology and Michael Noseworthy, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering
Description: The brain isn't the only body part that demonstrates plasticity. Research has shown the nerves that control the hand can be stimulated to increase their signal sending potential. This has great implications for those have spinal cord injuries. However, better ways to track the effects of interventions are needed. The team plans to develop one-proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to measure the chemical by-products of nerve activity and thus the ability to follow what happens during and after a treatment. To date, 1H-MRS has been used to look at activity in the upper spinal cord or neck. The team intends to adapt the this technique so that it can be used on the spine at the base of the neck moving to the chest area, the area where the nerves for hand control reside. Success will provide a new method for exploring human spinal plasticity directly within the body. It will permit the evaluation and monitoring of new treatments as well as increasing our understanding of basic neuroscience and the operation of the spine.
Nanoscale Investigation of the Molecular Mechanisms Behind Infection and Disease
Group: Jose Moran‐Mirabal, Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Cecile Fradin, Physics & Astronomy; Alex Adronov, Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Dawn Bowdish, Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Institute for Infectious Diseases, Faculty of Health Sciences
Description: When the human body is exposed to pathogens through the environment, food or injury, macrophages – immune cells circulating in the blood – are the body’s first line of defense. The goal of this team is to follow the progress of the macrophages' response at the nanoscale. This collaboration of chemists, physicists and pathologists will use single molecule microscopy and spectroscopy instruments to follow the activity of immune cell membrane receptors, the critical detectors in the process. White blood cells or macrophages use these receptors to recognize pathogens. If something disrupts or alters the way these receptors function, it can affect how well a person's immune system works. The team will look at macrophages from organisms of different ages to better understand what happens as we grow older. Studying the immune system at the single molecule level will provide insight into how immunity becomes impaired and how chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer develop.
Light Sensitive Polymeric Devices: Soft Actuators
Description: Imagine being able to change the shape of a rubber band with a flash of light. Now imagine being able to carry that out on a molecular scale. The Dalnoki-Veress and Adronov labs are currently working on incorporating azobenzene into polymers, which then makes the polymers responsive to changes in light. The light responsive polymers can be made into thin films at the scale of billionths of a meter (10 -9 m). The result will be polymers that can act as switches, turned on and off by light, which can then be incorporated into all types of products. Currently, polymers are found in common objects ranging from the soles of rubber shoes to electronics, photovoltaics, and biomaterials.
Applications being explored include a micro-scale rod that swims when exposed to light, much like C. elegans worms or the twisting of bacterial flagella; a photoactive bilayer that can be used as a pump or valve in a microfluidic device to create more sophisticated lab-on-a-chip devices; or polymeric vesicle that opens up a pore when exposed to light, delivering payloads of medicine when triggered.