Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex - Canada Research Chairs

Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex - Canada Research Chairs

Brock University has 12 Canada Research Chairs, several of whom will conduct their ground-breaking research in the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex. 

Melanie Pilkington; Canada Research Chair in Novel Hybrid Materials; Associate Professor, Chemistry

Research: inorganic chemistry, molecular conductors and magnets

Melanie Pilkington is turning the world of inorganic chemistry upside down.

The Canada Research Chair in Novel Hybrid Materials has taken a “bottom up” approach to preparing electronic materials that could lead to smaller, lighter components for electronic devises such as plastic transistors.

Using silicon-based components to manufacture electronic goods has limitations in making miniature versions of items such as computer processing chips. When the components get too small they start to leak current, making them ineffective at retaining digital information. 

Pilkington’s research group modifies molecules in a way that makes them suitable for creating a nanostructure that can conduct electricity. Organizing these molecules in one, two or three dimensions is a challenge because it cannot be fully controlled. Using X-ray crystallography helps the researchers understand their physical properties in a solid state. As a result, this innovative approach could be a catalyst for greater collaboration with the industries of our region.

Pilkington is currently collaborating with researchers at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada to develop tiny electronic devices that can be incorporated into display media that will have the properties of paper, but which will integrate seamlessly into the digital world.

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Stephen Cheung, CRC in Environmental Ergonomics, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Research: environmental ergonomics, focusing on physiological responses to heat, cold and hypoxic conditions

What do North Atlantic shrimp fishermen, firefighters and the Canadian Olympic snowboard team have in common? They all stand to benefit from Stephen Cheung’s cutting-edge research in environmental ergonomics.

As a Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, Cheung’s research focuses on the ability of humans to function in extreme environments. His research facility, a unique lab that regulates temperature, humidity and oxygen content, is one of only two in the world, allowing him to study the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. 

Cheung’s research has far-reaching implications, including the design of protective clothing for people working or exercising in extremely cold or hot environments, the development of new methods for recovery from dehydration, and investigating the use of cooling protocols to increase functional capacity in individuals with multiple sclerosis.

The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will provide Cheung and his research team with a wet lab, which will increase the team’s research capability. The additional space provided by the complex will also allow Cheung to reach a larger audience of students. 

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Tomas Hudlicky, CRC in Biocatalysis; Professor, Chemistry

Research: organic synthesis, green chemistry, chemoenzymatic synthesis, biomanufacturing, biocatalysis

When people are trying to find Brock University they are often told to use the Schmon Tower, which can be seen throughout Niagara, as their guide. In the world of organic chemistry, Tomas Hudlicky, a Canada Research Chair in Biocatalysis, has earned the same sort of status.

The goal of Hudlicky’s research is the practical and efficient synthesis of new medicinal agents by asymmetric synthesis and total synthesis of natural products. His work related to the total synthesis of morphine and the anticancer drug pancratistatin is concerned with refinements and production of the alkaloids in a more efficient and environmentally benign manner. Analogs of both compounds are also being synthesized and evaluated for biological activities.

Hudlicky also conducts research in the area of organic electrochemistry, which provides “green” alternatives to oxidation and reduction methodology. His current research has led to several patent applications and licensing agreements with the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Noramco. He has also developed a new, simpler route to Tamiflu, one of the few compounds effective against the illness known as H5N1 virus or bird flu.

Recognized as a "green" scientist, Hudlicky converts pharmaceutical waste into a variety of desirable pharmaceutical compounds. His research is responsible for giving the harmful waste of the past a new life as analgesic and anti-tumour products, specifically compounds used in the treatment of cancer, bio-infection and diabetes.

Hudlicky receives daily requests from across the globe to join his research team. The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will greatly improve the size and capacity of Hudlicky’s research facilities, allowing him to accept more graduate students to study with his group.

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Vincenzo De Luca, CRC in Plant Biotechnology; Professor, Biological Sciences

Research: biological sciences, plant genetics, secondary metabolites, plants as factories

Ask someone to describe what a pharmaceutical plant looks like and the description will probably include items like large stainless steel vats and complex counting and packaging equipment. If you ask Vincenzo De Luca, he’ll paint a very different picture.

De Luca is a Canada Research Chair in Plant Biotechnology. A central component of De Luca’s research focuses on how plants, the green and flowery variety, can be used as factories to produce life-saving medicines, new functional foods, valuable aromas, flavours and colorants. His research findings, including the identification of cancer-fighting compounds in the Madagascar periwinkle, have garnered significant industry interest, research funding and media attention.

De Luca’s research team is focused on explaining natural product biosynthesis in plants, including how plants generate cells specialized to make life-saving medicinal products. His team is also working to produce detailed information about the balance of genes that are responsible for creating a ‘cell factory’. The novel chemistries generated by this work also may be used to defend plants against different plant pathogens.

The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will provide De Luca and his team with state-of-the-art laboratories and a greenhouse/phytotron facility that will significantly enhance this research capability.

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Wendy Ward: Associate Professor, Department of Physical Education and Kinesiology, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences


Research: muscle and bone development; role of nutrition in bone metabolism; osteoporosis prevention


Preventing the debilitating effects of osteoporosis when we’re older could in part come down to what we eat as infants.

Research done by Canada Research Chair Wendy Ward shows that early diet could help lead to a lifetime of healthier bones. There are no ideal treatments for osteoporosis. But prevention strategies that target the earliest stages of life may be the key to preventing poor quality of life and even death — both potential effects of osteoporosis-related fractures.

Ward will explore this further in a laboratory in the Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex. She is cross-appointed to Community Health Sciences and is a member of the Centre for Muscle Metabolism and Biophysics.

Ward’s research shows that enhancing the diet with soy isoflavones, omega-3 fatty acids, or vitamin D could offer long-term favourable benefits to musculoskeletal development using experimental models. This research is part of an emerging scientific field referred to as nutritional programming. The field involves the addition of food bioactives or nutrients in foods at specific stages of early development to change the structure or function of an organism. While early diet may set a trajectory for better bone health at adulthood, Ward is careful to note that this is only one part of establishing healthy bones that are less prone to fragility fractures. Lifestyle choices, including diet and lifelong exercise, impact bone health as well.

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Ping Liang, CRC in Genomics and Bioinformatics

Research: understanding the mechanism of genetic diversity and its contribution to phenotype via bioinformatics and genomics approaches

Many newcomers to Niagara are excited to discover the region’s world-class wines. When Ping Liang arrived, he found the genetic makeup of grapevines just as captivating.

Liang joined Brock University from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo to continue his interdisciplinary studies in the areas of human and plant genetics. His research as a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair could advance knowledge and technology of applications in medical genetics, forensic sciences and crop breeding, including the development of new genetic tests for human disease susceptibility or the breeding of new crop varieties, including grapes and soybeans.

Liang uses bioinformatics, which leverages computers to perform biological research by mining through the DNA and protein databases to study genomics, which is the study of the entire genetic makeup of a species or individual. This approach allows for biological discoveries by analyzing and modelling the huge amount of biological data generated using many high-throughput technologies.

Liang’s current research involves the use of hundreds of gigabytes of DNA sequence data that are being pumped out from many sequencing centres around the world. The astronomical amount of data can only be analyzed through computational approaches, for which Liang’s research group uses high-performance computing with thousands of nodes, hundreds of gigabytes of RAM and thousands of terabytes of storage space.

The Cairns Family Health and Bioscience Research Complex will provide Liang with additional lab space, allowing him to take on more students performing a wider variety of research projects. The laboratories will also be capable of being customized to meet a variety of research needs.

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