From research into mitochondria cells that may lead to innovative, cost-effective treatments for chronic diseases, to better understanding neutrinos - some of the most fundamental and abundant subatomic particles - to explain the mysteries of the universe, two researchers at the University of Regina together have received $2.8 million in funding to pursue their research.
“Mitochondria exist in our cells, helping to turn the food we eat into energy that the cell can use. Mitochondria that aren’t functioning correctly are believed to be a key factor in a range of chronic diseases, including psychiatric (bipolar disorder), neurological (multiple sclerosis), and metabolic disorders (obesity-linked non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) that require billions of dollars in annual healthcare costs,” says Dr. Mohan Babu, associate professor of biochemistry.
“Current therapies relieve some disease symptoms, but their underlying attributes remain unclear,” said Babu. “Pregnant women exposed to environmental pollutants, can also have altered mitochondrial function causing poor birth outcomes and/or chronic issues.
“The $1.4 million grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will help create the Mitochondrial Systems (mitoSYSTEMS) Research Centre at the University of Regina. This unique facility will house 10 prominent researchers/clinicians who will uncover the role of mitochondria in chronic diseases and translate this data into drug therapies through industry collaborations and clinical trials for those with chronic diseases in Canada. The project will help relieve some of the pressure on Canada’s healthcare system.”
Dr. Mauricio Barbi, an experimental physicist, is concentrating on the existence of galaxies, stars, planets, and even humans in the Universe.
Barbi is on a team of researchers who received significant funding through CFI’s Innovation Fund. In total, the University of Victoria received $5.4 million to lead the Hyper-Kamiokande, or Hyper-K, project, which includes 84 institutes in 17 countries. Barbi and his team at the University of Regina received $1.4 million from the total grant.
"Hyper-K will use highly-advanced technology to collect data from the interaction of neutrino particles and the Intermediate Water Cherenkov Detector (IWCD),” says Barbi. “We are conducting a next-generation neutrino experiment to understand how the asymmetry between the production of matter and anti-matter allowed for the existence of galaxies, stars, planets, and even ourselves in the Universe.”
Barbi’s team is responsible for ensuring that some of the complex components developed for the IWCD meet the specifications required to ensure the detector will operate optimally.
“The IWCD is a water tank that’s eight-meters tall with a 10-metre diameter and instrumented with a suite of electronics components to measure the elusive neutrinos,” says Barbi. “These neutrinos can – when interacting with the oxygen in the water – produce other sub-atomic particles that can travel faster than the speed of light and create cones of light in the detector.”
Einstein’s theory of relativity posits that there is an ultimate cosmic speed limit, the speed of light, and that only massless particles could ever attain it. However, this is only true in the vacuum of purely empty space. Through a medium of any type — air, water, glass, acrylic, or any gas, liquid, or solid — light travels at a measurably effective slower speed. Energetic particles, on the other hand, are only bound to travel slower than light in a vacuum, not light in a medium. By using water as a medium, researchers can observe particles going faster than light.
“Because each particle in the IWCD produces a cone of light that has specific characteristics, once reconstructed, we can identify the exact particles and the type of neutrino that interacted with the oxygen,” said Barbi. “From there, we can begin to extract the exact properties of the neutrinos – which literally opens up the universe to us.”
“These projects reflect the power that curiosity, research, and teamwork have on discovery,” said Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina. “Dr. Babu and Dr. Barbi are collaborating with highly-qualified personnel to gain insights and solutions to fundamental questions about human disease and treatment and the very universe – and everything in it.”
The CFI’s Innovation Fund invests in research infrastructure, from the most fundamental to applied, and through to technology development. These infrastructure projects help Canada remain at the forefront of exploration and knowledge generation, address global challenges and contribute to social, health, environmental, and economic benefits for Canadians.