Discovery and Life Sciences Research

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Medical and life sciences research is often heavily dependent on government funding and, as such, must fit within particular frameworks to receive support. Many new investigators have difficulty accessing this funding until they can prove the validity of their proposed research. In addition, senior scientists often come up with highly innovative or “ideas-oriented” projects that may not fit with these frameworks. Ultimately, discovery research at a basic, clinical, systems or population level will advance our knowledge and contribute to the health of our community.

This is the ideal place for philanthropy to step in. By providing seed money for the initial stages of these research projects, donors give leading investigators the opportunity to pursue their most exciting lines of inquiry. Once the proof-of-concept is established, these scientists often go on to receive major funding through the more traditional avenues.

We invite you to consider contributing to discovery and life sciences research, where donations provide our renowned faculty with much-needed resources toward their ground-breaking work.

Below are examples of established faculty and research teams who have attained international acclaim working in these important areas:

The UBC Centre for Blood Research (CBR) is a multidisciplinary biomedical research institute that brings together more than 40 research groups working to improve health using a broad range of leading-edge basic science, biotechnological, engineering and clinical investigative approaches to blood and blood-related processes.

With leadership from Ed Conway (Division of Hematology), investigators are focused on four areas of special interest:

  • the development of safe blood products and blood substitutes to meet increasing  transfusion demands
  • the creation of new knowledge of the mechanism underlying the hemostatic balance and the design and validation of novel approaches to prevent excess bleeding and excess blood clotting
  • the development of novel techniques to modulate the immune system to prevent and treat inflammatory, infectious and autoimmune diseases and to promote tissue repair
  • the discovery of blood biomarkers for early detection of disease and monitoring of response to therapy

The UBC Diabetes Research Group conducts world-class multi-disciplinary research aimed at understanding the underlying causes of diabetes and ultimately finding a cure. Group leader Timothy Kieffer (Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences) is investigating a variety of approaches to achieve the same result as transplantation of pancreatic islets, without relying on tissue from donors. Ideally, he aims to develop a therapy that uses the patient’s own cells. While their insulin producing beta-cells may be absent or dysfunctional, it may be possible to stimulate sufficient numbers of beta-cells to grow back, or generate new beta-cells from stem cells. Alternatively, it may be possible to genetically modify other cells in the body to produce insulin or other anti-diabetic factors automatically in a meal-dependent manner.

Bruce Verchere (Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Surgery) is investigating how insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreatic islet normally function and why they are dysfunctional or destroyed in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. He aims to find ways to protect beta cells and enhance beta cell survival following transplantation of pancreatic islets into diabetic patients.

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is dedicated to improving the health of British Columbians with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. Under the leadership of Julio Montaner (Division of AIDS), the centre has provided compelling evidence regarding the dramatic ability of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to decrease HIV transmission in all settings. In 2014, “HIV Treatment as Prevention” (TasP) was formally adopted by the United Nations as the pillar of its post-millennium development goal for the global HIV/AIDS control strategy. Dr. Montaner continues to work on exporting the TasP approach to other countries and therapeutic areas, including Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Evan Wood (Department of Medicine), Co-Director of the Addiction and Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, is currently investigating the prevention and treatment of HIV among injection drug users. He was the lead author of the first study to show that HIV treatment could prevent the transmission of HIV infection among those who inject drugs.

The Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT), co-directed by Dan Goldowitz and Wyeth Wasserman (Department of Medical Genetics), is a community of researchers dedicated to understanding how changes in genes cause disease.

A team led by Michael Hayden and Blair Leavitt (Department of Medical Genetics) developed a test that allows physicians to measure the effects of gene splicing therapy in Huntington’s disease and will support the first human clinical trial of a drug that targets the genetic cause of the disease.

The acclaimed breakthroughs of Dr. Hayden include the development of a predictive genetic test for Huntington’s disease and the discovery of the role played by genes in coronary artery disease and adverse drug reactions. He has also conducted innovative work into predictive and personalized medicine and provided the first evidence of a potential cure for Huntington’s disease.

The Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences’ research in basic science is advancing knowledge in the field, while its clinical studies are applying new discoveries to develop more effective ways to prevent and treat blindness.

Kevin Gregory-Evans is developing novel molecular approaches to treat retinal diseases, including macular degeneration—the most common cause of blindness in the western world. He is investigating two ways cells can be used to repair damaged retinato replace lost cells (tissue regeneration) or as vehicles to deliver drugs to the retina. He also continues work on identifying the genes underlying retinal diseases, as a means of developing better methods of diagnosis and, more importantly, to identify new therapeutic targets through a better understanding of how these diseases develop.

Orson Moritz and Cheryl Gregory-Evans are making breakthroughs with unique approaches to understanding the genetic causes of retinal diseases and testing novel therapies that hold promise to preserve children’s sight. Dr. Moritz found that a class of drugs called HDAC inhibitors can have beneficial effects for certain forms of retinitis pigmentosa, which  begins in childhood and leads to loss of night vision and peripheral vision. Dr. Gregory Evans has developed a novel treatment for aniridia that may be able to reverse the damage when administered as an eye drop after birth. Her approach relies on reversing abnormal genetic codes, allowing the normal gene to be reactivated. This treatment is currently in clinical trial, and she is testing the same therapy it in other retinal diseases such as Leber congenital amaurosis and Usher syndrome.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers at ICORD (International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries) is dedicated to the development and translation of more effective strategies to promote prevention, functional recovery, and improved quality of life after spinal cord injury (SCI). ICORD fosters excellence across the entire research continuum, including preclinical discovery science, the development of therapies for acute and chronic SCI, and solutions for successful and fulfilled living with SCI.

ICORD Director, Wolfram Tetzlaff, is currently focused on two distinct areas of research—early strategies that will assist in protecting against secondary damage after SCI and repair strategies such as gene manipulation to enhance the regenerative potential of nerve fibers and the construction of new myelin sheathes to replace those lost from the nerve fibers due to injury. Dr. Tetzlaff’s landmark work demonstrated that chronically injured rubrospinal neurons survive for more than a year, and that these neurons can be rescued and stimulated to regenerate after spinal cord injury.

To support life sciences research at UBC, please contact us to explore opportunities.