Five York-led research projects receive over $3M in new CIHR funding

Aspire lightbulb idea innovation research

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

York University researchers are leading five projects awarded a combined total of more than $3 million in new funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Mark Bayfield in the Faculty of Science and Elham Dolatabadi, Skye Fitzpatrick, Anthony Scimè and Jeffrey Wardell in the Faculty of Health are among the latest recipients of CIHR’s Project Grants, which support a variety of health-related research initiatives from initial discovery to practical application.

“I extend my congratulations to these five exceptional faculty members whose projects hold promise for advancing health research, care and outcomes, both locally and globally,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “CIHR’s Project Grants empower York researchers to continue to create positive change through their leadership and unique expertise in addressing many of today’s health-related challenges.”  

Bayfield’s project, “Regulation of gene expression by the La and La-related proteins,” received $921,825. His team will study the process of how genes are translated into proteins, advancing the understanding of the roles these proteins play in causing diseases and how human cells respond to stress.

Dolatabadi’s project, “The socioeconomic impact of the post-COVID-19 condition in the Canadian context,” received $100,000. Using machine learning, among other methods, Dolatabadi and her team will investigate how various societal and environmental factors such as gender and ethnicity affect the health of people with post-COVID-19 –condition (also known as long COVID) differently.

Fitzpatrick’s project, “A randomized controlled trial testing Safe: a brief intervention for people with borderline personality disorder, their intimate partners and their relationship,” received $952,425. The research tests a couple therapy for borderline personality disorder (BPD) developed by Fitzpatrick and her colleagues and compares it to the standard care couples receive when one member has BPD.

Scimè’s project, “A new paradigm for managing myogenic stem cell fates,” received $787,950. Scimè’s research aims to develop innovative treatments in regenerative medicine for neuromuscular disorders such as sarcopenia, a condition that causes muscle degeneration due to aging.

Wardell’s project, “Disentangling medicinal and recreational cannabis use among young adults,” received $374,852. The research team will analyze participant data collected from a smartphone app to better understand the distinctions between medicinal and recreational cannabis use and how factors like gender influence reasons for cannabis use.

The York-led projects are among 374 funded across the country in the Fall 2023 competition, totalling approximately $325 million.

York immunologist’s work recognized as standout achievement in arthritis research

Doctors in a medical lab

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

A York University researcher’s work on blocking inflammation in gout has been named one of the most significant advancements in arthritis research in 2023 by Arthritis Society Canada. 

Ali Abdul-Sater

Ali Abdul-Sater, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, alongside his research team, discovered that a protein called TRAF1 can help limit the body’s production of a substance called interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), which is a main cause of gout.

“It is a great honour to see that our work is recognized for its impact, and all the credit goes to the trainees that did the research,” said Abdul-Sater, who is also a York Research Chair in Regulatory Mechanisms of Inflammation. “In the future, we are developing new methods to target TRAF1 in a way that improves its ability to lower IL-1 β  and reduce joint inflammation.”

The research team’s findings were published last year in the Journal of Immunology, detailing how adequate levels of TRAF1 in the body can alleviate the severity of gout.

Gout, a type of inflammatory arthritis, is a disease that typically affects the feet and can include symptoms of joint pain, stiffness and swelling, among others. According to Arthritis Society Canada, six million Canadians – or one in five adults – live with arthritis.

“Given the impact on patients, the health-care system and society at large, research is critical to transforming how arthritis is diagnosed, treated and prevented, and ensuring people receive the best possible care to improve the quality of their lives,” said  Siân Bevan, chief science officer at Arthritis Society Canada, who helped fund the work.

For a full list of the top 10 research advances of 2023 recognized by the non-profit organization, visit Arthritis Society Canada’s website.

YSpace startup receives $2M to develop health-care technologies for space travel

View of the Earth from space

By Diana Senwasane, student and community engagement coordinator, YSpace

A YSpace-supported startup has been awarded $2 million by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to develop new health-care technologies designed for astronauts during space flight and for people living in remote communities across the country.

Phyxable, a virtual physical therapy platform, was one of five companies selected earlier this year by the CSA for their Health Beyond Initiative, which aims to develop innovative and sustainable solutions for remote health-care delivery.  

The Phyxable Advanced Medical Pod prototype, currently located north of Brampton, Ont.

As space flights go further and become lengthier, access to medical care becomes challenging, with problems such as delays in telecommunication, medical emergencies and restocking supplies proving increasingly difficult.

The CSA initiative is focused on building state-of-the-art medical technologies that can all be contained in a mobile structure, called the Connected Care Medical Module (C²M²). Phyxable’s version of the C²M² prototype, known as an Advanced Medical Pod, is fully autonomous, and uses equipment operated by artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and more.

Jim Feng
Jim Feng

“Our pod is essentially alive,” says Jim Feng, CEO and founder of Phyxable. “It can do extraordinary things remotely, like medical imaging, ultrasounds, live communication via voice and text. We can do it all with data reporting directly into the Phyxable platform.”

Developed with support from its partners, Micron Digital and WizCraft Design, the Advanced Medical Pod uses a core computer system to connect advanced devices and collect medical data.

C²M² is intended to be a plug-and-play system that allows users to independently detect, diagnose, treat and monitor health conditions on site, which can improve the timeliness, quality and cost of transporting patients from remote regions to urban hospital facilities.

“It’s all about empowering the individual to take charge of their own health care, says Feng. “This is exactly what Phyxable was created to do. We want the user to be able to have all the tools to effectively manage their own health, whether it be on Earth or beyond.”

Although the modules will initially be tested and used for the first five years in remote communities, it is anticipated to be used in space in the years to come.

“With applications beyond Earth, we will be able to use our innovative technologies to essentially allow astronauts to manage their own health,” Feng says. “It will be a monumental stride in the way health care is delivered.”

Phyxable’s version of C²M² has completed its testing phase and will be showcased at the Canadian Space Agency.

Since its conception in 2017, Phyxable has been supported by York University’s entrepreneurship and innovation hub YSpace, through mentorship, connections to investors and undergoing an intense, four-month accelerator program designed for technology startups.

The startup has since grown, impacting over 5,600 patients and establishing partnerships with companies like League Insurance, Right at Home and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Osgoode prof named Woman of the Year by Canadian Italian business community

3d golden star golden with lighting effect on black background. Template luxury premium award design. Vector illustration

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

Pina D’Agostino, an associate professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, has been named Woman of the Year by the Canadian Italian Business & Professional Association of Toronto (CIPBA).

Pina D'Agostino
Pina D’Agostino

“I am incredibly humbled and honoured to be recognized by the very community that I have deep roots in,” said D’Agostino. “My parents were both immigrants from Italy to Canada and, like many others seeking a better future for their families, came without speaking a word of English and with nothing but their dreams for a better future. I dedicate this award to them for all their sacrifices.”

She added: “As a woman, I stand with so many other women who continue to face barriers in their personal and professional lives. I join an impressive group of female recipients of this award and am grateful to CIBPA for shining the spotlight on our many successes.”

Last week, D’Agostino assumed her new role as scientific director of Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society, the $318.4-million, York-led research program focused on socially responsible technologies, supported in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

In addition to her role with Connected Minds, D’Agostino is the founder and former director of IP Osgoode and the co-director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence & Society. Her research explores issues related to artificial intelligence through a legal lens, including data governance and ownership, intellectual property, emerging technologies, and innovation law and policy.

Since 2010, D’Agostino has also been the founder and director of the IP Innovation Clinic based at Osgoode Hall Law School, where she has helped startups across the University and beyond by engaging law students and leading intellectual property lawyers to provide help pro-bono amounting to more than $2 million in otherwise billable fees.

“Her remarkable contributions to law, technology, and education have set her apart as a leader in her field and an inspiration to us all,” said CIBPA President Tony Cocuzzo.

D’Agostino and her work will be honoured at a CIBPA event on March 20.

Amir Asif and David Phipps

Amir Asif and David Phipps

Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation, and David Phipps, assistant vice-president research strategy and impact, call for a broader approach to knowledge mobilization and translation in an op-ed in the Hill Times

York U in the news: artificial intelligence, health-care delivery and more

Toronto AI company Cohere to indemnify customers who are sued for any copyright violations
Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Giuseppina (Pina) D’Agostino was quoted in the Globe and Mail Feb. 29.

Multimodal AI promises transformative changes to health care delivery
York University Professor Elham Dolatabadi was quoted in DX Journal Feb. 28.

Canadians regularly shortchanged in banking and investment disputes, analysis contends
Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Poonam Puri was quoted in the Globe and Mail Feb. 28.

How high school ‘university’ courses matter for all post-secondary access – more than the name implies
An op-ed co-written by York University professors Carl E. James, Robert S. Brown and Gillian Parekh was published in the Conversation Feb. 20.

These GTA organizations are leading the way when it comes to diversity and inclusion
York University was mentioned in Now Toronto Feb. 28.

See more ways York University is making headlines at News @ York.

York University professors help shape national pandemic strategy

Medicine doctor and robotics research and analysis. Diagnose checking coronavirus or covid-19 testing

Earlier this month, two York University professors – Mathieu Poirier and Susan Rogers Van Katwyk – joined Canadian experts and government representatives at the Pandemic Agreement Regional Engagement Series. Organized by the Government of Canada, this series of meetings held across the country were intended to facilitate productive discussion about Canada’s role in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Mathieu Poirier

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that there were real inequities that emerged, and there were issues with the International Health Regulations, which are the main international law we use to deal with pandemic threats,” said Poirier. “So when we see medical countermeasures, vaccines that were extremely inequitably distributed, it became clear that we need a new agreement – a Pandemic Agreement – to deal with these pandemic threats.”

Attendees at the meetings, which built on the Pandemic Instrument Partner and Stakeholder Engagement Forum that took place in Ottawa last March, were encouraged to share their input on and updates to the development of the Pandemic Agreement (previously referred to as the Pandemic Instrument). The agreement seeks to address policy gaps in preventing, preparing for and responding to pandemics, and is scheduled to be presented to the 77th World Health Assembly in May of this year.

Poirier, an assistant professor in York’s School of Global Health, a Tier II Research Chair in Global Health Equity and co-director of the York University- and University of Ottawa-based Global Strategy Lab (GSL), participated in a Toronto-based meeting focused on enhancing capacities to detect, understand, and act on public health threats through improved global co-operation on data standardization and interoperability.

“It’s important to remember that Canada is less than one per cent of the world’s population, and that means that there’s something like a 99 per cent chance that a future pandemic will emerge outside of Canada,” said Poirier. “And in the likelihood that occurs, we have to have strong international co-operation between countries so that we are prepared to detect, understand and act on those pandemic threats, and that other countries are as well.”

The session he attended, he said, brought widespread support for creating a committee to facilitate the adoption of international data standards and interoperable systems. Participants emphasized the importance of supporting low-and middle-income countries in strengthening their systems and advocating for a decolonized approach that learns from best practices globally while minimizing potential harms to countries that choose to participate in data sharing.

Rogers Van Katwyk, an adjunct professor at York and managing director of the AMR (Antimicrobial Resistance) Policy Accelerator at the Global Strategy Lab, participated in the Vancouver-based session, which focused on equity within the pandemic agreement.

The Global Strategy Lab’s previous research on the pandemic treaty has gained significant recognition. A comment in The Lancet, by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body spearheading negotiations on the pandemic agreement, cited GSL’s research on what makes for an effective international treaty, and a symposium issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics (JLME) on the inclusion of AMR in the Pandemic Agreement, co-edited by Rogers Van Katwyk and GSL Director and York Professor Steven J. Hoffman, has greatly contributed to the discussion. With GSL members taking part in high-level discussions like the recent Pandemic Agreement Regional Engagement Series, the lab’s international influence is sure to continue its trajectory of growth.

To hear more from Poirier about his participation in the meetings and their potential impact on our global health future, watch the video below:

Experts unite for third annual Climate Change Research Month

A city showing the effect of Climate Change

This March, York University and its Organized Research Units (ORUs) are hosting the third annual Climate Change Research Month, which features a range of activities, including panels, lectures and workshops.

The month-long event series spotlights the University’s expertise in climate change-related research, the interdisciplinary work of its faculty, and the York community’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

“From the work of political scientists helping to shape government policy to equity scholars tackling issues of climate justice to environmental scientists and engineers exploring pathways to decarbonization and sustainability, climate research is one of York’s great strengths,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Climate Change Research Month reflects York’s big-tent approach to addressing the climate crisis through knowledge sharing, collaboration and community engagement.”

Some of the planned events include several sessions by the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, including a March 6 event on building community-engaged emergency response systems for extreme weather events, including in rural Indigenous communities. The City Institute at York University (CITY) will host a panel discussion titled “Greening the Grey,” exploring infrastructural solutions to the climate crisis. And the Institute for Research on Digital Literacies and the Institute for Technoscience & Society will hold a showcase for graduate students whose research is related to technology and climate change, among other events from multiple ORUs.

“Climate Change Research Month is an opportunity to have faculty, staff and students come together as a uniquely qualified collective to engage in critical and thoughtful dialogue on an existential issue impacting us all,” said Professor Elaine Coburn, director of the Centre for Feminist Research, who has led the organizing efforts for the yearly event series for the past three years. “This annual series exemplifies the kind of work that York’s Organized Research Units engage in year-round.”

Climate Change Research Month is hosted by York’s ORUs, centres of research excellence that bring together diverse experts from across the University to conduct inter- and trans-disciplinary research on some of the world’s most pressing challenges.  

To learn more about the series and each event, visit yorku.ca/research/climate-change-research-month-2024.

York prof leads groundbreaking research on green hydrogen

Modern city and environmental technology concept

York University’s commitment to sustainability and innovation takes a significant leap forward with Professor Hany Farag’s pioneering work on green hydrogen integration.

As a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, Farag is spearheading efforts to revolutionize Ontario’s energy landscape.

As previously reported, Farag has been tapped to receive funds from a new initiative to revamp Ontario’s energy system.

Hany Farag
Hany Farag

The newly created Hydrogen Innovation Fund, a funding initiative administered by the Independent Electricity System Operator, will invest more than $15 million to help integrate hydrogen into Ontario’s clean electricity system over the next three years. Farag is among the first group of researchers to successfully attain this funding.

A York Research Chair in Integrated Smart Energy Grids, Farag will use government support to advance the work he does at York’s Smart Grid Research Lab, which aims to seamlessly integrate green hydrogen resources into electricity systems to decarbonize not only the power grid but also hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy-duty vehicles, fertilizers and steelmaking.

In collaboration with Alectra Utilities, Bruce County, York University Facilities Services and other industry partners, Farag plans to investigate the implementation of green hydrogen plants (GHPs) across Ontario. Addressing the lack of infrastructure to support electricity and hydrogen integration, his research project will look to optimize GHP design and integration into Ontario’s power systems.

Farag’s scientific inquiry dovetails with York University’s brand message of shaping a sustainable future. York’s leadership in sustainability and its focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) find resonance in Farag’s quest to lead the charge in decarbonizing energy production and utilization, particularly advancing SDG 7, which looks to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

It’s an important initiative.

Although the production of green hydrogen is currently expensive, with estimates ranging from $4 to $6 per kilogram, it remains pivotal in the quest for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Across the globe, nations such as Canada and the U.S. are unveiling ambitious hydrogen strategies and investment goals for the forthcoming decades. In a significant move in 2020, the federal government released a hydrogen strategy with the aim of solidifying hydrogen’s role as a cornerstone tool in reaching the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

But while hydrogen holds promise as a potential game changer in combatting climate change, the shift toward “green” hydrogen faces significant hurdles. A 2021 report by the International Energy Agency highlighted a staggering statistic: global hydrogen production emitted 900-million tonnes of carbon dioxide, exceeding emissions from the aviation industry by roughly 180-million tonnes.

This alarming figure underscores the pressing need for a transition away from fossil fuel sources, as highlighted in a recent CBC report.

Although currently not recognized as a low-emissions fuel, there is optimism that hydrogen will emerge as a pivotal player in the fight against climate change. Its potential lies in serving as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels in various sectors such as power generation, home heating and transportation – an area where Farag’s expertise shines through.

“In the Smart Grid Research Lab, we aim to develop new solutions that facilitate seamless and cost-effective integration of green hydrogen to decarbonize the power grid and hard-to-abate sectors/industries,” Farag says.

“This vision is aligned with York’s efforts to decarbonize our campus, where hydrogen could replace – either fully or partially – the existing natural gas–based co-generators.”

Student Support Certificate launches new course offerings

York students walking in Accolade Building on Keele Campus

Since its launch in January 2023, over 120 York University staff and faculty members are on track to complete the Student Support Certificate, a series of YU Learn workshops offered by experts across the University who share insights on student resources and how to make informed and effective referrals to York’s available student services.

York tapped into the wealth of knowledge across the University to create a professional development opportunity for faculty and staff to support York’s diverse student population in reaching their goals and dreams. With new courses added for 2024, and more to come, the impact of the program is expected to continue to grow.

The Student Support Certificate program involves a series of self-paced and instructor-led courses, which can be completed within about 10 hours. To receive the certificate, participants must complete three core courses covering topics including conflict mediation, effective communication and student referrals, as well as additional electives that offer insights into more specialized populations, such as international student advising and immigration, and working with students with disabilities.

“By learning about student supports available across the University and how to help students access them, we strengthen our collective capacity to respond to student needs and to foster a more caring and positive community,” says Nona Robinson, vice-provost students.

Participants learn how to respond to student issues and concerns, helping to strengthen York’s student-service focus. They are encouraged to apply this knowledge in their interactions with students, to help promote and foster a caring and supportive environment for learning at York.

“Delivering the practical, student-centred, ‘appreciative advising’ approach demonstrates York’s commitment to providing an excellent quality of care and service to our students, but also ensures that our community is united, aligned, and committed to supporting the unique needs of our diverse student body and meeting them where they are,” says Derrick Fairman, director academic advising, student petitions and student relations in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and an instructor for the certificate’s course on appreciative advising. “Everyone has a role in advising – students, staff, faculty and administration.”

Additional courses will continue to be added, and all staff and faculty are invited to take part. Those interested in registering can visit YU Learn to find out more. Once completed, the certificate will appear on the employee’s learning record.

“My experience with the workshops has been positive, as they are engaging and focused on many aspects of the student experience,” says Mazen Hamadeh, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and associate dean for students. “The workshops support student success and I recommend them to any staff, faculty and administrators who interact with students regularly.”