Interdisciplinary teams earn research grants

Two interdisciplinary teams of UBC researchers and external scholars have each received $500,000 in the form of coveted thematic grants from the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS) this year.

A research team studying narratives on illness, disability and trauma, and a team working on the mechanisms of infectious diseases, are the recipients of the institute's 1999 Major Thematic Grant.

The grant provides funding of up to $500,000 over a three-year period to a broad interdisciplinary team of UBC and external scholars to research a new area.

"More and more grant agencies base their awards solely on the practical applications of the research," says PWIAS director Prof. Ken MacCrimmon. "But without the basic research it makes it tough to do the applied research. It's all about challenging people to take risks here."

It's no easy task to receive one of the grants. Indeed the selection process is so rigorous that in the award's six-year history, no recipients were selected in 1994, 1995 or 1998.

French Prof. Valerie Raoul's research team will examine narratives of illness, disability and trauma from comparative cross-cultural and historical perspectives.

The team hopes to contribute to the understanding of these experiences and their cultural and social significance from the point of view of those who have illness, disability or trauma, as well as their caregivers.

"Among other things, it's a look at how people manage to express things that are unspeakable," says Raoul, the team's principal investigator and director of UBC's Centre for Research in Women's Studies and Gender Relations.

In total, 10 UBC faculty members and a number of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers from various disciplines are involved with the project.

Besides Raoul main faculty members involved are: Anthropology and Sociology Assoc. Prof. Janice Graham; English Assoc. Prof. Susanna Egan and Asst. Prof. Judy Segal; French Asst. Prof. Gloria Onyeoziri; Education Prof. Patricia Vertinsky; Nursing Asst. Prof. Connie Canam and Assoc. Prof. Angela Henderson; Rehabilitation Sciences Assoc. Prof. Isabel Dyck; and Psychiatry Prof. Susan Penfold.

Medical Genetics Prof. Ann Rose heads a research team also awarded a Major Thematic Grant. Rose's team is taking a unique, interdisciplinary approach to studying infectious diseases.

Despite a host of physiological and biochemical studies into the mechanisms of infectious disease, there remains much to discover about the processes of infection of a host organism by microorganisms, says Rose.

Her team will use pathogenomics, a combination of genomics, the identification of the complete set of heritable material from an organism, and bioinformatics, the analysis of information content, to reveal additional mechanisms of pathogen-host interactions.

Besides Rose, the core investigators are: Bioinformatics specialists Steven Jones and Francis Ouellette; Prof. Brett Finlay of the Biotechnology Laboratory; Microbiology Prof. Robert Hancock and Asst. Prof. Rachel Fernandez; Zoology Assoc. Prof. Don Moerman and Asst. Prof. Sarah Otto; and researcher Fiona Brinkman.

The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies brings together UBC researchers and noted scholars from around the world to work on fundamental research across a variety of different disciplines.

For more information on this year's winners and PWIAS, call the institute at 604-822-4782 or visit the Web site at