Pushing the frontiers of science and evidence-based decision making
March 14, 2016
Danelle D’Alvise, Research Communications
For structural biologist Joaquin Ortega, access to a cryo-electron microscope system is essential to his research program. The system provides Ortega with the ability to understand cellular enzymes – those industrious micro-scale machines that sustain life.
Ortega, a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, focuses on two biomedical challenges that threaten life: infectious diseases and cancer.
Two years ago, direct electron detector cameras became available – devices that Ortega acknowledges have revolutionized his field by imaging cellular structures at atomic resolution using an electron microscope.
“This detector represents a quantum leap in what we can see,” explains Ortega. “Whether it is observing how enzymes interact with one another, deciphering how antibiotics interact with bacterial enzymes, or viewing how nano-devices provide localized delivery in malignant tumour cells, this tool is allowing us to see details I wouldn’t have thought possible.”
Because none of the electron microscopes at McMaster are equipped or can be fitted with one of these new direct detector cameras, Ortega was faced with a 2-year lag in his research program, at risk of falling behind other research facilities around the globe making use of this game-changing equipment.
Of the three direct detector cameras in Canada, only one was within a reasonable proximity to McMaster and as Ortega notes, he was fortunate that The Hospital for Sick Children generously provided him with access to theirs.
“I am extremely grateful to my colleague Dr. John Rubinstein at Sick Kids for facilitating our access to his detector, while here at McMaster we were racing to get our own,” says Ortega.
With today’s announcement, Ortega was awarded $800,000 from the John Evans Leadership Fund to obtain his own cutting-edge system that will include the new generation direct electron detector camera. This equipment will benefit not only researchers in the Faculty of Health Sciences, but also those in the Faculties of Science and Engineering.
“More than 100 researchers on campus will be using the new cryo-electron microscope system equipped with the new detector. Students accessing and learning how to operate this camera will definitively have a competitive edge in their CVs. There are only about twenty people in the Canada who know how to use these detectors and our students at McMaster will be among them!”
The second project awarded $249,933 in JELF funding is the Evidence-based Decision Making Centre (EBDMC), a first of its kind facility that will be led by Khaled Hassanein, professor of information systems, in collaboration with Patrick Bennett, professor and chair, psychology, neuroscience and behaviour, and Canada Research Chair in Vision Science, and Milena Head, a professor of information systems and the Wayne C. Fox Chair in Business Innovation.
“This project is an example of how McMaster is breaking down disciplinary boundaries to enhance research and Canadian competitiveness in today’s global markets,” says Allison Sekuler, interim vice-president, research.
The EBDMC will tackle one of industry’s key challenges: the gap between what they desire in terms of evidence-based decision making and what they are capable of accomplishing with the available personnel. The EBDMC will offer the best in collaborative research, bringing together top researchers in the areas of management and neuroscience to decipher what occurs with the brains and bodies of managers as they engage in individual and group decision making in a variety of business contexts.
“Both JELF awards showcase McMaster’s strengths when it comes to revolutionizing fields as diverse as infectious disease, neuroscience and managerial decision making,” says Sekuler. “This infrastructure funding will not only accelerate the next knowledge breakthrough, but will train students in the latest technologies that will be invaluable to the healthcare industry and businesses that rely on evidence-based management.”
The CFI news release and a list of all the projects funded can be found here.