Three McMaster researchers receive grants for “high-risk, fast-breaking” research

From left to right: Alexander Hynes, Ryan Wylie and Joyce Obeid


BY SARA LAUX


 MAY 13, 2019

 Three McMaster researchers have received funds from the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund.

Joyce Obeid and Alexander Hynes, both of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Ryan Wylie, of the Faculty of Science, will each receive up to $250,000 over the next two years.

Joyce Obeid is an assistant professor in the department of pediatrics. Her research focuses on cardiovascular health in children with chronic health conditions, such as kidney disease, cystic fibrosis, or juvenile arthritis.

Alexander Hynes’ research looks at the role of bacteriophages – viruses that specifically infect bacteria – in shaping the body’s bacterial populations, notably the gut microbiome. He is an assistant professor in the gastroenterology division of the department of medicine.

Ryan Wylie, an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology, works on developing materials for biomedical applications, including cancer immunotherapeutics.

The New Frontiers in Research Fund, which launched May 13, 2019, supports “high-risk, high-reward interdisciplinary and international research…to help Canadian researchers make the next great discoveries in their fields” specifically for researchers within the first five years of their first academic appointment, according to a Government of Canada press release.

“As society evolves, and the complexity of the challenges we face increases, so must our means of doing research evolve,” says Ted Hewitt, chair of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, which designed the fund, and president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “Through this program, we are truly paving the way for our emerging researchers to expand their horizons, work across disciplines and borders, and to take risks and deliver outcomes that will benefit Canadians now and well into the future.”

Renovations and addition to Arthur Bourns Building complete

A researcher in a lab coat sits in front of an exhaust hood in a lab


Peter Ho, a PhD candidate in chemistry, sits in the newly renovated labs in the Arthur Bourns Building.




BY SARA LAUX

 APRIL 18, 2019

A 45,000 square-foot addition, improved energy conservation and enriched science and engineering research facilities characterize the now-completed renovations to McMaster’s Arthur Bourns Building.

Filomena Tassi, minister of seniors and MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, was on-hand to mark the completion at a short ceremony on April 18.   

“Our investments in McMaster University have helped to make McMaster one of Canada’s most research-intensive universities,” said Tassi. “The improvements to the Arthur Bourns Building will help students and researchers advance innovation in our community and across Canada.”

A group of seven people stand in front of McMaster banners
From left: Mary Williams, VP University Advancement, McMaster University; Gillian Goward, chair, McMaster Department of Chemistry; Bob Bratina, MP, Hamilton East-Stoney Creey; Patrick Deane, president, McMaster University; Filomena Tassi, MP, Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas; Maureen McDonald, dean, McMaster Faculty of Science; Ishwar Puri, dean, McMaster Faculty of Engineering

The project marked the largest government investment in laboratories and research capacity in the university’s history, with contributions from both the federal and provincial governments as well as Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator.


Through its Postsecondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, the federal government contributed $37.5 million, while the Government of Ontario provided $5.5 million. The university itself invested $24.3 million, and the IESO gave a further $7.6 million, for a total of $75 million.

Along with the new addition, the project involved extensive renovations to existing spaces and completing deferred maintenance projects. The addition was built to LEED-Silver specifications.

“McMaster is creating a brighter world through its research, teaching and local and global impact,” said McMaster President Patrick Deane. “These amazing new labs and spaces mean our students and researchers will be able to work together in new ways to find answers to the critically important issues facing Canada and our world. Our sincerest thanks to the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their outstanding support in making this happen.”



PhD candidate Peter Ho.


The periodic table in the lobby of the new ABB addition.
Artwork of the periodic table

The project included 45,000 square feet of new space, as well as extensive renovations to existing facilities.



 

Hamilton-based McMaster start-up secures $105M (USD) to commercialize potential cancer treatment



From left to right, John Valliant, Fusion’s Chief Executive Officer, with Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, at the announcement of $105 million USD in funding for Fusion Pharmaceuticals. Photo by Georgia Kirkos.

Fusion Pharmaceuticals, a biopharmaceutical company founded at McMaster University and based at the McMaster Innovation Park (MIP), has secured $105M (USD) in private financing to help advance a new approach to cancer therapy based on its ground-breaking research.

This new round of funding, which follows earlier investments of $46M (USD), comes from an international syndicate of leading investors. The funds will help advance the work of the company, including growing its operations in Hamilton.

The company was spun off from the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), which is located at McMaster. Fusion’s Chief Executive Officer is John Valliant, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at McMaster.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last two years and this financing reflects strong support for our work, our people and product pipeline,” Valliant says. “With this investment, we will be able to broaden our team and clinical program and accelerate our strategies to develop new therapies.”

Fusion’s lead product is designed to seek out and infiltrate cancer cells and deliver a lethal and highly localized dose of radiation. Its aim is to target and damage the very DNA of the cancer cells so they cannot grow back. It is designed to attack drug-resistant tumours that do not respond to traditional therapies, which may include lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancers.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment by our colleagues at Fusion,” says Rob Baker, McMaster vice-president, research. “First and foremost, their work has the potential to improve the health and well-being of many cancer patients. It’s also a true indicator that the plan to grow Hamilton’s life sciences sector by commercializing McMaster’s research is achieving real results.”

The Series B financing is being led by lead investors Varian and OrbiMed and includes US, Canadian, Irish and Swedish investors.

“The world is learning that Hamilton is a great place to grow a life sciences business,” says Ty Shattuck, CEO of the McMaster Innovation Park. “Fusion Pharmaceuticals is a homegrown global success story and it paves the way for even more growth and opportunity in this sector for Hamilton and our business community.”



It’s been a year of great accomplishment for Fusion. In 2018, it was recognized as Ontario’s Life Sciences Company of the Year. The award recognizes an Ontario-based company that demonstrates strong leadership and is achieving significant milestones in life sciences research and development and is working to commercialize innovative products.

For full story see here: https://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/articles/hamilton-based-mcmaster-start-up-secures-105m-usd-to-commercialize-potential-cancer-treatment/

Gillian Goward and Her Group are Building a Better Battery

Building a better battery



Gillian Goward (centre) with graduate students in her lab. (Photo by JD Howell)

Theoretically, batteries are simple. First developed in the late eighteenth century, batteries use chemical reactions to create a flow of electrons between two terminals that, when hooked up to a circuit, can be used to power everything from flashlights to cars.
You can make a battery from a lemon, a galvanized nail and a piece of stripped copper wire. Touch your tongue to both the nail and the wire, and you’ll feel the gentle tingle of a weak electrical current.

It’s not (quite) rocket science.

“On paper, batteries ought to work,” explains Gillian Goward, chair of McMaster’s department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “On paper, we should have had electric vehicles 20 years ago.”

Except we don’t – because batteries, especially the rechargeable lithium ones in vehicles and cellphones and computers, aren’t actually that simple, at least when you want them to do more than make your tongue tingle.

That’s because you can have a battery that charges fast but is too heavy to be usable. Or you can have a battery that’s lightweight, but prone to overheating. You can have a battery that’s really energy-dense but made of toxic materials. You can have a battery that lasts a hundred years – but only if you keep it at 20 degrees Celsius.

And so on. As the old saying goes, out of fast, cheap and good, you can only pick two.

Goward is trying to address these challenges in her Magnetic Resonance and Materials for Energy Storage lab, where she and her students use a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance to study how lithium and other types of batteries and fuel cells work at a fundamental level.

Similar to a hospital MRI, NMR allows Goward and her team to see how lithium nuclei change as a function of battery cycling, age, temperature or choice of materials. While an imaging device like an electron microscope would give Goward a static picture, NMR allows her to see how things change and move in real time, on the battery itself.

It’s a capability that only half a dozen in the labs in the world have, and Goward’s lab is right out on the leading edge.

She and her team regularly collaborate with researchers in other disciplines, including mechanical and materials engineers, as well as industry partners. “All the real innovation is happening at the boundaries,” she says. “Going outside of where core expertise lies is where the real discoveries are happening.”

That’s an interesting place to be for a researcher who, when she started at McMaster as an undergraduate in 1991, figured she was going to be a medical doctor – until a chemistry professor in her fourth year got her interested in solid-state chemistry. That led to starting grad school in 1995 at the University of Waterloo with Linda Nazar. Nazar’s lab had just started working on lithium batteries, which Sony had patented four years before, and a side project in NMR turned into Goward’s PhD project.

Following a postdoc fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, Goward made her way back to McMaster in 2002 – the only woman on faculty in her department at that point.

Goward is hesitant, though, to emphasize gender too much when it comes to her work.

“I don’t find my gender changes how I do my science – I make decisions based on the science that’s in front of me, and I assume my peers are doing the same,” she says. “More and more, though, as I take on leadership roles, I’m finding that people are still wanting to talk about this, and it’s obviously a problem.”

Goward, who maintains a 50-50 ratio of male and female students in her research group, suggests there are a couple of key points where it’s possible to address the challenges of attracting more women to science.

“You can start at a really early stage, with kids who are in their early teens – convincing 13-year-olds like my daughter not to let someone call them a geek just because they did well on a math test,” she says. “At the other end of the pipeline it’s really about what they choose to do after their PhD. There’s a pretty equal gender balance in our department at the PhD level, but the applicant pool for our current hire there were only 25 per cent women. We’re working on ways to create a structure that allows for a better balance.”

For Goward, the best part of her work is showing students that chemistry is an ever-evolving field of discovery. She’s not teaching undergrads right now, but says her research group is an ideal place for her grad students to stretch their interests.

“Working with students is all about passing on your curiosity and making sure they understand that chemistry isn’t a completed science,” she says. “There are so many open questions when you look at things from the lens of molecular-level and dynamic processes. The kinds of experiments we’re doing are certainly unique, and it’s rewarding to tell students that we’re contributing something that no one else can.”


BY SARA LAUX
JANUARY 11, 2019

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McMaster University - Faculty of Science | Chemistry & Chemical Biology