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Local researcher gets $10 million

A St. Albert scientist has received about $10 million to grow cells that could treat burns, lungs and diabetes. Gregory Korbutt, a professor of surgery at the University of Alberta (U of A) and St. Albert resident, got about $10.

A St. Albert scientist has received about $10 million to grow cells that could treat burns, lungs and diabetes.

Gregory Korbutt, a professor of surgery at the University of Alberta (U of A) and St. Albert resident, got about $10.6 million from the province this week to create a cell and tissue innovation research centre. The centre, which will cost about $26.5 million, will help research new cures for diabetes, burns and lung disease using stem cells.

Those chronic diseases will become all the more important as Albertans live longer and grow older, said Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology. Stem cell therapies like the ones developed by Korbutt could help cure those diseases instead of treating their symptoms. "The idea that you wouldn't have to use a wheelchair, wouldn't that be wonderful?"

$44 million in research grants

Korbutt got one of the biggest shares of the $44-million pot doled out by the province this week. (He could not be reached for comment by press time.) The money comes from the province's Science and Research Investments program.

These dollars will cover about 40 per cent of the cost of new research in energy, medical science, nanotechnology and other areas, Horner said, and will help the province attract more top researchers. "It's critical to moving forward with our next-generation economy."

You can't get much more next-gen than Aksel Hallin's neutrinos. He got about $1.5 million to develop new neutrino and dark-matter detectors that could further our understanding of the universe.

Neutrinos are the second most common particle in the universe after light, said Hallin, a physicist at the U of A. "There's billions per square centimetre going through you now." But they also pass through almost everything, making them tough to detect.

We know even less about dark matter. "There's much more gravity in the universe than we can account for from just the usual matter," Hallin said, so researchers think there must be some sort of mystery material — dark matter — keeping the universe from flying apart.

His grants will help build huge underground detectors that will use hundreds of tonnes of fluid to detect neutrinos and dark matter. (The hope is these particles will hit one atom of fluid at random, causing a literal flash of insight.) "There are big questions like why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter, and that may be linked to the characteristics of neutrinos."

Randall Weselake's research is a little more down to earth: better biscuits.

Canola oil produces artery-clogging trans-fatty acids when baked, explained the U of A researcher. His team will use the $2.3 million it got to make canola oil that won't do that. "We're going to develop oils that are better for health."

Alberta is one of the biggest plant oil producers in Western Canada, Horner said, and needs to make sure its oil stands out in the future. "If consumers are saying they want low-cholesterol oil, that's what's going to change the production side of things."

Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa will use his approximate $700,000 grant to make miniature wireless sensors. These palm-sized devices will be cheap units meant to track locations, temperatures, and carbon emissions over a wide area, he said. He hopes to use them to track environmental conditions over huge stretches of forest or ice-shelf, both of which could further our understanding of climate change.

Other grants went towards projects researching the northern lights, the oilsands, meteors, plastics, aging, writing and water.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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