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Early researcher awards boost professors’ cutting-edge work

Awards

Ryerson professors, from left: Catherine Beauchemin, Roberto Botelho, Naomi Koerner and Julia Spaniol are among this year’s recipients.

Four Ryerson professors have received Early Researcher Awards, which grants funds to recently appointed Ontario researchers to build laboratory teams and pursue their cutting-edge research.

Through the program, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation grants recipients $100,000 over five years, with an additional $50,000 from their university/institution. Recipients must be within five years of having started their independent academic research careers.

​”Ryerson is extremely proud of the accomplishments of our young researchers,” said Wendy Cukier, vice-president, research and innovation​. “Their work has significant implications for enhancing the health of Canadians: whether strengthening immune systems, combating flu epidemics, treating anxiety or improving our cognitive functions. Their success is yet another demonstration of the innovative research being done at Ryerson that combines excellence and relevance.​"

Catherine Beauchemin, professor of Physics and co-op program faculty advisor, aims to modernize antivirals for the constantly changing flu disease. Her work focuses on researching antiviral drugs against influenza, and in their combination as drug cocktails so as to reduce the risks of drug resistance emergence. They will also seek to find the ideal stockpile composition: Beauchemin notes that Ontario needs greater diversity in its flu antiviral stockpiles, because of resistance from certain flu strains to amantadine or oseltamivir drugs.

Roberto Botelho, professor of Chemistry and Biology, will focus on the inner-workings of the cell, and how disease develops when a cell’s organelles (“organs”) fail. Botelho’s research team will investigate the role of lysosome organelles, and what happens to the cell when they become tubular. Botelho hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of infectious, inflammatory, and autoimmune diseases.

Naomi Koerner, professor of Psychology, seeks to better understand generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which strikes approximately 12 per cent of Canadians. Koerner’s research will test two new cognitive training interventions that will target “problematic mental habits” in GAD sufferers. The long-term goal is to incorporate findings into Ontario’s healthcare system.

For the elderly, cognitive functions (including memory and decision-making) are essential to welfare. Julia Spaniol, professor of Psychology, will use brain imaging to research how relatively stable mental functions (motivation, emotion) can be used to help cognition and brain function in adults. With her discoveries, Spaniol hopes to improve cognitive functions for a lifetime.

Applicants for Early Researcher Awards are evaluated on four criteria: excellence of the researcher (40 per cent), quality of research (30 per cent), development of research talent (20 per cent), and strategic value for Ontario (10 per cent). Past Ryerson recipients have researched vocal emotion communication, cognitive behavioural therapy, and miniature satellite technology.