Jan. 31, 2020

UCalgary receives new funding that will support breakthroughs in the vital area of microbiome research

Joint funding initiative based on investment from the federal government and key partners
Kathy McCoy
Kathy McCoy placeholder

The University of Calgary announced that it has received essential funding to expand the research being conducted at its International Microbiome Centre (IMC). This research is key to help develop new therapies and prevent chronic diseases before they begin. The combined funding initiative comes from the federal government, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Mitacs, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund (JDRF).

The Hon.Patty Hajdu, Canada’s federal health minister, recently announced about $18 million in grants to support microbiome research across Canada over the next five years. UCalgary received a portion of this funding.

Thanks to this financial contribution, researchers will be able to investigate new ways of preventing or treating conditions such as asthma, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. The microbiome is composed of parasites, bacteria, viruses and fungi that live on, and inside of, the human body whose presence or absence has been linked to human health. 

“As a microbiome researcher, it is so exciting to see the CIHR supporting such an important area of discovery. From our skin to each of our organs, we know that the microbiome impacts our health and can influence the development of disease,” says Dr. Kathy McCoy, PhD, of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, both at the University of Calgary.

  • Photo above: Kathy McCoy leads a tour for government, partners, donors and scientists following the announcement at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Photos by Cynthia Munster, for the University of Calgary  
 UCalgary President Ed McCauley thanks CIHR for the investment in microbiome research.

UCalgary President Ed McCauley thanks CIHR for the investment in microbiome research.

The University of Calgary and six other research teams from across the country will use the funding to better determine how the microbiome contributes to a range of illnesses like childhood asthma, cervical cancer, diabetes, youth inflammatory bowel disease, and malnutrition. 

Prevent diseases before they start

As the director of the University of Calgary’s IMC, Dr. McCoy, along with colleagues like Dr. Marie-Claire Arrieta, PhD, Dr. Laura Sycuro, PhD,  Dr. Markus Geuking, PhD, and Dr. Shaunna Huston, PhD, believe in conducting relevant research and creating personalized therapies to prevent chronic diseases before they start.

“We have built a world-class innovative, wide-ranging, enabling environment for microbiome research,” says Shaunna Huston, director of programs and business for the IMC. “With our integrated technologies and multi-disciplinary teams, we can conduct unique science for breakthrough discoveries. Our work within business development alongside industry also contributes to the next generation of research technologies.”

The IMC is an engine of innovation, offering a one-stop-shop for research through its unique integration of mass cytometry, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, biobanking and live-cell imaging. It’s also home to the world’s largest (929 square metres) germ-free lab at an academic facility dedicated to studying the microbiome’s role in immunity and disease.

Microbiome announcement

Catherine MacLeod, executive vice-president of CIHR, second from left, with UCalgary leaders.

Investing in health research such as the microbiome projects announced today is essential to building a healthier future for Canadians,” says Minister Hajdu. “I commend the researchers for their commitment to this area of research, at which Canada excels. A deeper understanding of the microbiome and collaboration across disciplines has the potential to lead to effective treatments for a range of health conditions.”

Along with the research underway at UCalgary, IMC personnel also collaborate with industry to advise on equipment development and integration of technologies and share best practices. 

“We are grateful for the support of the CIHR, and community funding partners. The International Microbiome Centre has helped put Calgary on the map as one of the best places to conduct microbiome research,” says Dr. Ed McCauley, PhD, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Calgary. “The benefits of this centre go beyond the research. There’s a positive impact in patient outcomes, job creation, talent attraction, technology development and more.”

The University of Calgary is a research institution with a mission to discover new knowledge and translate our discoveries into applications that provide benefits to local, national and international communities. The UCalgary Research Plan is focused on three major priorities: matching strengths with opportunities, increasing research capacity and driving innovation.

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through the research strategy for Infections, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD), top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.