Cellular and microRNA research at BU boosted by NSERC grants to professor and student

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(Photo: brandon University) Dr. Vincent Chen's research will help scientists understand cancer, heart disease and stroke.

BRANDON – Funding announced today by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will help a Brandon University (BU) researcher’s work to create a better understanding of cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Dr. Vincent Chen, an Assistant Professor in BU’s Department of Chemistry, is a recipient of an NSERC Discovery Grant, with a value of $165,000 over five years. Chen’s lab at BU specializes in the study of gap junction ion channels that are responsible for direct cell-to-cell communication. The proteins making up these channels regulate a number of cellular processes including growth, proliferation and migration, as well as cell death and survival.

“This NSERC discovery grant will allow us to better understand the biochemical pathways of gap junctional intercellular communication, and how these channels are misregulated in diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke” Chen said. “By understanding how tissues of the brain and heart use gap junctions provides critically important avenues for us to identify new biomarkers and design novel therapeutic approaches to mitigate disease.”

The Discovery Grant Program is NSERC’s largest funding program. The long-term funding allows researchers to explore new pathways in their research as they are discovered. Chen becomes BU’s 11th active NSERC Discovery Grant holder, joining Drs. Margaret Carrington (Physics and Astronomy), Mousumi Majumder (Biology), Eric Bushnell (Chemistry), Bryan Cassone (Biology), Michael Charette (Chemistry), David Greenwood (Biology), Christophe LeMoine (Biology), Bernadette Ardelli (Biology), Sarah Plosker (Mathematics and Computer Science) and Wendy Untereiner (Biology).

“I am truly excited by the work being done by our faculty, and am delighted to see the quality of research being recognized by national funding agencies such as NSERC,” said Dr. Heather Duncan, BU’s Associate Vice-President of Research. “As teachers, our faculty members are making a real difference in the lives of our students each day. And, over time, research such as the work being done by Dr. Chen is building knowledge that will help countless others around the world.”

Brandon University student Harald Grove is also benefitting from NSERC funding, through the Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship-Master’s Award. A student in the Master of Science (Environmental and Life Sciences) program, Grove will receive $17,500 in funding over one year for his study of the effects of microRNAs on metabolism in the greater wax moth. Greater wax moths are valued in research because they can often be used as a stand-in for mammals in the study of microbial infections.

“We take great pride in the research opportunities that we can present to students at Brandon University,” said Dr. Meir Serfaty, Acting Vice-President (Academic and Provost) at BU. “The growth of our graduate programs has opened doors for top-notch student research.

“Building a strong portfolio of research here is going to help our students progress in their academic and professional careers, while giving them a strong foundation for great discoveries in the future.”

As Dean of the Faculty of Science, Ardelli says that BU is proving that high-quality research can be done at smaller universities.

“I am always proud of those in Science who are able to obtain Tri-Council funding,” Ardelli said. “While the funding is very competitive, students and faculty are successful, which speaks to our dedication and the great work that we do.”