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Andrew Cameron stands in front of his board of equations, getting ready to add more numbers. Photo by Victoria Dinh

Recently, the federal government has made quite a stir with the financial cutbacks to research programs across Canada. According to CBC, over the past five years more than 2,000 scientists have been let go and hundreds of programs and research facilities have lost their funding. However, at the beginning of January, it was announced that researchers at the University of Regina were rewarded more than $400,000 in grants from a combination of federal and provincial funding. This begs the question: what is so special about this particular research?



“I really think that as a society, to be a healthy society both in Canada and globally, we need to invest in sciences. One of our primary goals (should be) to understand the natural world and things (that) make us sick. It’s one of the most valuable things we can invest in,” said Andrew Cameron.


Cameron, an assistant professor in the department of biology, sits at his desk, often glancing over at the wall of equations and numbers of his latest findings. He is one of three U of R researchers to be awarded a grant from the government-funded Canada Foundation for Innovation this year. 


“CFI is extremely competitive nationally and to have three of our professors receiving these awards is further proof of the research strengths of the University of Regina,” David Malloy, vice-president (research), said in a news release.


Cameron received $75,501 from the CFI along with a matched amount from the Saskatchewan Innovation Science Fund. This money will be used to aid Cameron’s study examining the genetic mechanisms that control bacterial diseases.


“At the moment the lab is working with salmonella. We’re pursuing the hypothesis that when we consume salmonella, it’s not inevitable that it’s going to make us sick. Another piece of what we’re pursuing is that we think that salmonella is eating DNA,” Cameron said.


By avoiding antibiotics, Cameron and his team are looking into an ecological approach to determine if salmonella feeds on DNA in the intestine. This would help treat and reduce bacterial infections by making it less pathogenic and invasive.    


The department of biology’s Josef Buttigieg is another recipient of the CFI grant. 


Trying to pinpoint a time in his life when he discovered his love for science, Buttigieg concluded that he has been interested in the subject ever since he could remember. 


“When I was about six, they had a presentation at my school’s gym, and this person who I’ve never seen before came in with a wheel chair… His name was Rick Hansen,” Buttigieg recalled. Hensen, a Canadian Paralympian and advocate for people with spinal cord injuries, talked to the students about spinal cord injuries and paralysis. This moment sparked the then six-year-old’s interest in anatomy, biology and, in particular, neurodegenerative diseases.


This year, Buttigieg received $79,808 from the CFI, which was also matched by the Saskatchewan Innovation Science Fund, for his study on neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and spinal cord injury.


“The idea is to use a special protein inside of the spinal cord that can prevent or reduce the amount of injury that is happening… It (takes the form of) a drug that I’ve discovered that if you administer it post-spinal cord injury, it actually reduces the severity of the lost neurons, lost nerve cells, and reduce or reverse paralysis,” Buttigieg explained. This is just one of Buttigieg’s ongoing projects. His other work includes research in genetic signatures associated with atherosclerosis and stem cell transplantation.


Lastly, there is Thomas Hadjistavropoulos of the department of psychology; he is the third U of R recipient of the CFI grant.


Entering Hadjistavropoulos' office, one can't help but notice the walls are decorated with rows upon rows of awards. 


"There's no room for my degrees," he joked.


Hadjistavropoulos has had a successful history in the research field and currently specializes in the study of older adults with dementia who live in nursing homes and who cannot express pain. He is devoted to developing methodologies for identifying and assessing those problems because he believes that pain problems in that population are often missed.


Hadjistavropoulos was awarded $59,687 by the CFI, along with the matching contribution from the Saskatchewan Innovation and Science Fund, for his research on pain in older adults.


This month Hadjistavropoulos received another grant from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation for over $700,000 to lead a province-wide team with an aim to improve the quality of life for older adults.


“Canada is increasingly becoming less competitive because of reductions in the international scene when it comes to research and funding. Has it affected me personally? No, it hasn’t. My lab continues to be successful even in this difficult environment,” Hadjistavropoulos said. “The secret of success is persistence.”


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