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Where ideas get their start

Researchers in Ontario got a boost Monday with the announcement of $11.5 million in funding through the Early Researcher Awards.

Some 82 projects across the province will benefit from the funding. In Waterloo, Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Leeanna Pendergast announced $1.54 million for 10 research projects at the University of Waterloo and one project at the Perimeter Institute.

The Early Researcher Awards provide funding for researchers like Russ Tupling, right, to hire students and assistants for their research teams.
The Early Researcher Awards provide funding for researchers like Russ Tupling, right, to hire students and assistants for their research teams.

Each lead reseacher will receive $140,000 through the ERA program, which will be matched by an addition $50,000 from the researcher’s institution or a private-sector partner.

The funding must be spent on the salaries and research-related expenses of the lead researcher’s team.

For Russ Tupling, an associate professor in Waterloo’s Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, the funding will mean being able to hire a post-doctoral fellow to do research and train graduate and undergraduate students to work in the lab.

Tupling’s team is studying the role of calcium regulation in burning calories in muscles. His team has shown that removing a certain gene can make the body more efficient at regulating calcium. Now they want to see if expressing more of that gene could make the body less efficient at regulating calcium, requiring more energy and burning more calories.

Ultimately, their research could lead to the development of drugs or special diets to prevent and treat obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Tupling’s work wouldn’t have got off the ground without research grants. First was a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation for infrastructure to get his lab up and running. Next was a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to pay for lab supplies.

The Early Researcher Award will allow him to pay his team.

“It allows me to attract good top-level graduate students and post-grad students and pay their salary support during their program,” Tupling said. “Because they’re somewhat prestigious, they also contribute to our success in securing other research grants to actually do the work.

“It all depends on convincing granting agencies that this work is worth doing.”

This is the fifth round of the ERAs, which were first awarded in 2005. The awards are designed to support researchers who have started their independent academic research careers within the past five years.

“Young researchers are terribly important to us, and it’s part of our need to attract and retain the best and brightest research talent,” said Perry Blocher, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation.

“ERA gives these researchers a start. They’re young, they’re gifted, they’re looking to start and they need people.”

The awards are open to researchers at Ontario universities, colleges, research hospitals and research institutes affiliated with Ontario universities and hospitals. Of the projects that received grants in this round, 70 were based at universities, seven at hospitals and the remainder went to other research institutes.

There is a strong science and technology focus to the successful research projects. The provincial government has targeted three priority areas for innovation investment: life sciences, with an emphasis on tackling disease; the bio-economy, or targeting climate change through bio-based, environmental, alternative energy and clean technologies; and digital media and information and communication technologies.

“This program, among others, focuses on areas where the province is or should be a global leader,” Blocher said.

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