Six researchers, a leading professor and one spin-off company are receiving recognition for their game-changing achievements in Canadian research. Their innovations include work to develop a less costly and more environmentally friendly way to produce cannabinoids, launch a cutting-edge breast imaging device that provides high-resolution images at a lower radiation dose, advance stem cell research as an effective treatment for type 1 diabetes, and demonstrate that plain cigarette packaging increases attention to health warnings.
The 9th Annual Mitacs Awards — presented on November 26 in Ottawa — celebrate students, professors and business owners who have made significant achievements while participating in Mitacs-funded programs. They include six awards for outstanding innovation, one for exceptional leadership and one for commercialization of a novel idea.
“Innovation in Canada continues to be inspired by the groundbreaking work of up-and-coming researchers that touch all industry sectors and help to fuel the economy,” said Jennifer Wilkie, Mitacs interim CEO. “Their achievements are truly remarkable and Mitacs is honoured to support them, and broker important connections between industry, post-secondary institutions and government that make their leading-edge work possible.”
The 2019 Mitacs Award winners are:
· Oleksandr Bubon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Physics Department at Lakehead University, who is earning the Mitacs Award and NRC-IRAP Award for Commercialization for his work to launch a low dose radiation breast imaging device capable of detecting tumours in their earliest stages of cancer, even in women with dense breast tissue. The technology is currently being developed and tested by Radialis Medical, a joint venture co-founded by Bubon and Lakehead Professor Alla Reznik. Clinical trials are under way at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto with results expected before the end of the year.
· Renelle Dubosq, a PhD researcher in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at the University of Ottawa, who is sharing the inaugural Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Indigenous for her work to better understand the atomic structure of Fool’s Gold (pyrite). By showing that traces of gold are actually liberated during rock deformation — the process of folding, faulting or shearing — her research will help geologists target their mining efforts more effectively.
· Melissa Tremblay, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta, who is sharing the inaugural Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation– Indigenous for developing a supportive housing model for teen parents and their children, and providing tangible evidence to show that such programs do make a positive impact.
· Jason Tam, a PhD student in the Department of Material Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto, who is earning the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–International for discovering that the ability of rare earth oxides to repel water is not naturally occurring. His work is important because it refutes earlier findings that suggested ceramic forms of such oxides held potential as a stronger, more durable alternative to thin polymer coatings, widely used as water repellents in industrial applications such as steam turbines, power generation heat exchangers and aircraft engines.
· Sandra Frey, a master’s researcher in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, who is earning the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Master’s for studying the data collected from wildlife cameras to show how animal behaviour patterns change when people disturb their habitats, information that can ultimately be used as an early warning system to detect and prevent wildlife decline.
· Douglas Kondro, a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Engineering graduate program at the University of Calgary, who is earning the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–PhD for bringing stem cell research one step closer to use in a clinical setting for the treatment of diseases such as type 1 diabetes. In collaboration with STEMCELL Technologies Inc., Kondro is specifically working to extend the capabilities of the AggreWell tissue engineering system.
· Mohammed Al-Hamdani, a postdoctoral researcher in the Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, and Community Health and Epidemiology at the University of Dalhousie, who is earning the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation–Postdoctoral in recognition of his work to show that Health Canada’s format for plain cigarette packaging increases attention to health warnings and is an effective deterrent for smokers who are predisposed to a fear of illness.
· Isabel Desgagné-Penix, a professor in the Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics Department at the University of Québec at Trois-Rivières, recipient of the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership–Professor, in recognition of her research in collaboration with Algae-C, a biosynthetic company, to grow cannabinoids such as CBD and THC — the two major components of medical marijuana — in microscopic algae, providing a less expensive, more environmentally alternative to cannabis plants.