McMaster University is getting $17.8 million in federal funding. More than half of it is for a centre doing cutting-edge research in gene therapy. The announcement came yesterday from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which handed out a total of $363 million to 59 universities, colleges, hospitals, and not-for-profit research institutions across Canada. McMaster was awarded $9.6 million to build and equip its Centre for Molecular Medicine and Health. McMaster president Peter George predicts the research centre will become a world leader. Dr. Jack Gauldie, chairman of pathology and molecular medicine, said the work includes looking at how gene therapy can be used to treat diseases such as cancer. "Molecular investigation in medicine is a recognition that we need to move to more basic levels to understand the problems associated with disease. "This is an institute that will have both basic investigation as well as clinical investigation. "In true McMaster fashion, this is bench to bedside research -- laboratory to patient research." McMaster will investigate a wide variety of approaches to putting new molecular and genetic discoveries into practice to fight disease.
In gene therapy, genes are used like drugs to fire up the immune system. The new building, which was rejected for federal funding last year, will be adjacent to and integrated with the health sciences centre and the life sciences centre. Gauldie said the size, complexity and specifics of the structure are still to be determined. "It will be a significant addition to the existing capacity for research at McMaster." The Canada Foundation provides 40 per cent of the project cost. McMaster anticipates getting a matching amount from the provincial government, through the Ontario Innovation Trust, and the university is responsible for raising the remaining 20 per cent. McMaster's second-biggest award from the CFI was $5.2 million for biomolecular research. With the contributions from the province and McMaster, the total will be almost $13 million. This initiative also will have a major impact on the development of new drugs and new approaches to therapeutic intervention in diseases.
Dr. Brian McCarry, professor of chemistry, said about a third of the money will be used for research lab space, and two-thirds for equipment. "This is going to look at the interaction of proteins and DNA with small molecules. It's a drug discovery approach." McCarry said it will bring chemistry and biochemistry techniques together to solve common research problems. "(The CFI) funded us for every penny we asked for. This is very unusual, so they clearly saw the value of this." McMaster will receive $2.6 million for information technology and communications research, another university priority. The balance of the funding is split among three smaller projects. George, the university president, is jubilant about the announcement. "It's a brilliant result and we're very happy." McMaster is in sixth place on the CFI funding list for universities. "We're a much smaller institution than most of them, so in per capita terms, adjusted by size, we have done extremely well." McGill University topped the list with about $61 million. George noted that McMaster faculty were involved in five successful joint funding applications, including one from St. Joseph's Hospital.
St. Joseph's will get about $2.7 million to study the neurobiology of stress, mood and anxiety disorders. "It's fabulous news for the community," said hospital executive vice-president Kevin Smith. The money will be used to purchase a type of magnetic resonance imaging machine. Smith said it will enable the hospital "to take a snapshot of the brain" as it is working. "You can introduce a stimulus, a drug ... and then watch how the brain reacts to that," he explained. "It's also very helpful for looking at blood flow." He said that some of the new research suggests that how blood is routed through the brain may have some impact on mental illness. photo: Dr. Jack Gauldie, Associate Faculty member, Biochemistry.