Medical researchers garner MRC millions

UBC health scientists have received research grants worth almost $4.5 million from the Medical Research Council of Canada (MRC).

Researchers from disciplines ranging from ophthalmology to psychiatry will study health challenges such as lung disease, cancer and birth defects.

"Several good projects have been funded, but I am disappointed with our overall success rate this year," says Bernard Bressler, vice-president, Research. "Our goal in subsequent competitions will be to significantly increase the number of approved grants."

Fifteen of 99 UBC projects submitted were approved for funding.

Determining if there are occupational risk factors that contribute to Parkinson's disease is the focus of a three-year research project for Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tsui of UBC's Neurodegenerative Disorders Clinic.

"Our goal is to trace the cause of this disease," says Tsui. "Investigating possible workplace connections may give new information to add to our knowledge about genetic and other factors that influence Parkinson's."

Tsui will work with B.C. physicians and 600 consenting Parkinson's disease patients to get detailed information about occupational environments. Another 600 people will be recruited for a control group.

Parkinson's disease, a chronic nervous disease characterized by a slow spreading tremor, muscular weakness and a peculiar gait, affects 80,000 Canadians.

Pathology Prof. James Hogg is investigating how inhaled particulate pollutants affect body systems other than the lungs or pulmonary system.

When particles of cigarette smoke, wood smoke or other pollutants enter the lungs, they are processed by protective cells called alveolar macrophages.

Chemical products from these cells enter the blood and stimulate the bone marrow and the liver. The bone marrow overproduces circulating white blood cells and the liver creates an excess of proteins important for coagulation.

These changes may aggravate existing lung and cardiovascular illnesses according to Hogg, and account for increased hospital admissions and deaths associated with air pollution.

By unraveling the exact mechanism of pulmonary and cardiovascular injury associated with air pollution, Hogg and his research group aim to lessen the effects of inhaled pollutants.

UBC ranks among the four top funded research universities in Canada with McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of Montreal.

MRC distributed a total of $108 million in funding for health research grants and clinical trials over the next five years.

A list of the MRC granting recipients at UBC and a brief summary of the projects can be found on the MRC Web site at