Battling disease-causing bacteria – including potentially deadly microbes resistant to current therapies – is the ultimate goal of research by a University of Guelph microbiologist chosen to receive a prestigious $2-million federal grant.
[GlycoNet scientist and U of G professor] Dr. Chris Whitfield, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, will use his seven-year Foundation Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for studies of drug-resistant pathogens that increasingly threaten human health.
“This is wonderful news for Professor Whitfield and the University of Guelph,” said Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).
“This important investment will provide Chris with the foundation to sustain his innovative and high-impact research, which has both scientific and practical applications. It also recognizes the University’s capacity for doing excellent research across a wide range of disciplines.”
Whitfield and three other U of G researchers received awards in the latest CIHR funding round announced this month. In total, more than 600 grants worth nearly $670 million were allocated to researchers across Canada.
U of G Profs. Nina Jones, Molecular and Cellular Biology; Kieran O’Doherty, Psychology, and Jess Haines, Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, were awarded Project Grants for more targeted health studies.
By learning more about how microbes resist current therapies, Whitfield hopes to help point industry toward better vaccines and antibiotics for specific bacteria causing everything from bloodstream and urinary tract infections to meningitis.
“Many of these bacteria are already resistant to antibiotics and some are becoming resistant to ‘last-resort’ approaches,” said Whitfield, who joined U of G in 1984.
He studies complex sugar polymers on cell surfaces that enable microbes to outwit the human immune system and to resist many currently available antibiotics.
Now Whitfield plans to expand his studies of how these cell surface structures are made. By learning more how their production is integrated with other cellular systems, he hopes to develop new approaches for combating disease-causing bacteria. Referring to microbes’ ability to leapfrog new treatments, he said, “We are constantly trying to stay one step ahead or, more worrisome, trying to catch up.”
He will use the CIHR funding to support researchers in his lab, including graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral researchers and other staff. Whitfield works with multidisciplinary researchers in his department and at other institutions in Canada and abroad.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. The CIHR was designed to respond to the evolving needs for health research and seeks to transform health research in Canada by:
- funding both investigator-initiated research as well as research on targeted priority areas;
- building research capacity in under-developed areas and training the next generation of health researchers; and
- focusing on knowledge translation that facilitates the application of the results of research and their transformation into new policies, practices, procedures, products and services.