CIHR awards major funding to two York researchers

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research recently announced $557,364 in funding for two major research projects underway at York. Grant recipients are biology Professor Imogen Coe, Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, and kinesiology and health science Professor David Hood, Faculty of Pure & Applied Science. Both researchers are conducting studies in health-related areas.

Below is more information on each of the projects.

Imogen Coe – “Adenosine transporters in the cardiovascular system”

Coe (right) is keen to understand how a remarkable, small, organic molecule, called adenosine, affects heart cells. It has been known for a long time that adenosine is generally beneficial to heart cells, but exactly how adenosine does this is not clear.

Adenosine, and compounds that affect levels of adenosine, are used clinically to promote healthier heart tissue. However, despite the widespread use of these drugs, scientists don’t understand how and why they work. This lack of knowledge is partly due to the difficulties associated with studying adenosine in whole hearts or tissues from hearts. Coe and her research team have circumvented this by using a new type of cell that can be grown indefinitely in the lab and which mimics the way normal heart cells function. Using this new cell culture model, they are looking at all the factors that are involved in the functioning of adenosine.

Coe is interested in where adenosine is made in the cell, how it gets in and out of the cell and how it tells the cell to respond quickly to stressful situations such as low oxygen levels or decreased blood flow. Since cardiac disease is a major health issue in society, her research and findings may provide information which could be useful in developing strategies for promoting healthier hearts in people.

David A. Hood – “Mitochondrial dysfunction in aging skeletal muscle”

David Hood (in the lab, right) is aiming to evaluate unique aspects of mitochondrial function in animal models of aging to find out just what the role of mitochondria is in producing muscle dysfunction. He also wants to evaluate the role of regular exercise in reversing this trend.

During the aging process, muscles become weaker and lose their endurance capabilities. This is because of the progressive loss of muscle cells (sarcopenia) and the drop in mitochondrial content within each cell. Mitochondria are the organelles which provide the energy (ATP) for certain muscle function and endurance capabilities. However, these organelles are, on the other hand, a potential source of reactive oxygen species – something that can damage cellular molecules and accelerate the aging process. In addition, they house proteins which can provoke cellular death when released from the mitochondria into the cell cytoplasm.

Although Hood recognizes that mitochondria are potentially responsible for poor muscle performance as well as the loss of muscle cells which occurs with age, he says the role of mitochondria in these events is not well understood.

Regular exercise can increase the content of mitochondria in muscle, but the role of exercise in attenuating processes of cell death as well as in the production of reactive oxygen species and in improving muscle function during aging, needs to be established. The purpose of this proposed work is to evaluate unique aspects of mitochondrial function in animal model of aging to assess the role of mitochondria in producing muscle dysfunction, and to evaluate the role of regular exercise in reversing this trend.

What is CIHR?

CIHR, founded in 2000 to replace the Medical Research Council, is Canada’s premier federal agency for health research. Its goal is to excel in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, and in the creation of more effective health services and products and a strengthened health care system. To implement its goals, the agency has joined a collaboration of 13 “virtual institutes,” linking more than 8000 health researchers in universities, teaching hospitals and other health organizations, research centres, and government laboratories.