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Two York University professors receive large NSERC grants for research and development

Two York University professors receive large NSERC grants for research and development

Two York University professors have received Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Grants. The grants were awarded to Professors Gunho Sohn of the Lassonde School of Engineering and Faculty of Science Professor Derek Wilson, York Research Chair in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease and director of the Centre for Research in Mass Spectrometry. These large grants support well-defined projects undertaken by university researchers and their partners.

“York is delighted to see Lassonde Professor Gunho Sohn and Science Professor Derek Wilson awarded NSERC CRD Grants,” said Rui Wang, interim vice-president research & innovation. “These grants will expand the scope of research undertaken at York, foster dynamic interaction between discovery-based and innovative research, and allow the research results to be translated into new knowledge, products or processes.”

Sohn’s project uses artificial intelligence to update Canada’s infrastructure

Gunho Sohn

Sohn was awarded a grant worth $1,024,000, from NSERC, for his project. Additional cash and in-kind contributions made from industrial partners were also significant: the total cash contribution is approximately about $1.5 million ($1,536,000 total; $512,000 from Teledyne Optech) and $1 million in-kind contribution ($1,048,146). Total funding is $2.5 million over four years.

This project seeks to update Canada’s critical infrastructure – the independent network of utilities, transportation and facilities. Although Canada is the second-largest country in the world (in terms of area), with the world’s 10th largest economy, one-third of its infrastructure is in need of a significant update. In collaboration with Teledyne Optech, Sohn’s project will develop an advanced data processing system using a specific type of artificial intelligence (AI), called deep neural network, which has recently achieved remarkable success in computer and robotic vision and machine learning.

“This work will allow for the autonomous recognition of infrastructure assets using high-quality 3D models of critical networks, thus contributing to the field of infrastructure management and improving urban sustainability as a whole,” Sohn explains.

Importantly, this project will also train highly qualified personnel and, in this way, will contribute to Canadian industries and the fields of AI technologies, infrastructure management, urban planning, and 3D mobile mapping systems.

Wilson’s project will accelerate the development of new therapeutics

Derek Wilson

Derek Wilson

Wilson was awarded a grant worth $1,040,000 from NSERC, for his project: The Technology-Enhanced Biopharmaceuticals Development and Manufacturing (TEnBioDev) initiative. With additional cash and  in-kind contributions from industry, the total funding comes to $2.2 million over four years.

This project is aimed at the implementation of new Canadian bioanalytical technologies to accelerate pre-clinical development and enable precision manufacturing of protein therapeutics. The initiative links platforms developed by Canadian instrument manufacturer SCIEX, through unique technologies, methods and expertise held primarily at York University to the drug development pipelines of Canada’s research-active biopharmaceuticals companies Sanofi Pasteur, Treventis and Immunobiochem.

“Protein therapeutics have numerous advantages over conventional drugs, most stemming from the fact that they can be precisely directed at their intended molecular targets, even in the exceedingly complex environment of the cell. This makes protein therapeutics both highly potent and generally less prone to side-effects,” Wilson explains.

This work has huge implications for vaccines – the majority of which are protein therapeutics. The total market for protein therapeutics extends well into the hundreds of billions annually, says Wilson.

“Being home to a number of international leaders in protein therapeutics development and innovative biotech startups, Canada is well positioned to achieve and maintain a global leadership position in this industry,” he says.

CRD Grants are intended to:

  • Create collaborations among Canadian universities and private and/or public sector partners that lead to advancements that, in turn, result in economic, social or environmental benefits for Canada;
  • Provide an enhanced experiential learning environment for graduate students and postdoc fellows; and
  • Allow partners to access the unique knowledge, expertise, infrastructure and potential highly educated and skilled future employees graduating from Canadian universities.

Both grants were announced in October 2019. To learn more about Wilson, visit the Wilson Lab website, or his Faculty profile page. To learn more about Sohn, visit his Lab’s website or his Faculty profile page.