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Research Nova Scotia (RNS) has announced that two Acadia Professors, Dr. Melanie Coombs of Biology and Dr. Daniel Blustein of Psychology have each been awarded a prestigious New Health Investigator Grant. Valued at $100,000 over two years, New Health Investigator Grants support early-career researchers who are engaged in innovative work that aligns with the province’s health research priorities. The funding, provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, will help these and 13 other exceptional scholars, across six Nova Scotia universities and healthcare centers, expand their research productivity and obtain long-term external funding.

Acadia’s Dr. Melanie Coombs is a leading researcher on colorectal cancer. As an estimated 1000 Nova Scotians are diagnosed with the disease each year, improved screening, diagnosis, and treatment are critical. While cancer treatment varies significantly between cancer types, patients typically receive a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, and/or receptor targeted therapies. As chemotherapy fails to kill slow-growing or dormant cancer cells, and resistance to current anti-cancer drugs is common, there is a critical need for novel therapeutic agents with the ability to selectively kill cancer cells, irrespective of their growth rates and capacity for chemoresistance. Dr. Coombs’ lab explores the way that Mastoparen (an anti-cancer peptide found in wasp venom) derivatives kill cancer cells. As Mastoparan destroys cancer cells without harming normal cells, Dr. Coombs is hopeful that these anti-cancer peptides can be used in treatment to limit the debilitating side-effects associated with traditional chemotherapy.

In Acadia’s Department of Psychology, Dr. Daniel Blustein, in partnership with the Valley Regional Hospital, is working on new rehabilitation therapies for patients who have suffered strokes and related disabilities. New therapies are required because most of the effective stroke rehabilitation therapies are time-intensive and expensive to implement. Further, existing therapies are often only available to a sub-set of patients without severe stroke effects. Dr. Blustein seeks to develop a low-cost virtual reality neurorehabilitation treatment that can be completed in the comfort of a patient’s home. Impaired movements can be artificially improved in the virtual environment to make the treatment less frustrating, more individualized, and accessible to patients with more severe disability. Dr. Blustein’s work will also assess how different psychological aspects associated with the virtual reality experience may be manipulated to make the therapy more engaging and effective. The portable and low-cost aspects of the resulting treatment will increase access to post-stroke therapy for home-bound patients, long-term care residents, rural patients, and those that cannot afford ongoing physiotherapy consultations.

Acadia is fortunate to have two exceptional, early career researchers engaged in work that is of critical importance to the long-term health of Nova Scotians. The New Health Investigator Grants awarded by Research NS will advance innovation in health and wellness research in the province, further build capacity for health research at Acadia, and offer excellent opportunities for training of the next generation of health professionals.

Dr. Chelsea Gardner, an archaeologist and Associate Professor of Ancient History in Acadia’s Department of History & Classics, is the co-host and producer of the popular podcast “Peopling the Past”. The podcast is one part of a larger project of the same name, which aims to lift up the voices of “Real People in the Ancient World and the Real People who Study Them.” She conceived of the idea for the project and accompanying podcast in the first year of the global pandemic, as isolated colleagues and scholars across the globe were unable to travel for research or fieldwork. Taking to social media, she asked if other academics would be interested in using short podcasts, which she planned to develop for her Acadia class on Greek Art and Archaeology, in their own courses. Her friends and former graduate school classmates from the University of British Columbia joined her in forming Peopling the Past, which now produces podcasts, videos, and blogs, and soon interested parties from across the globe were accessing the material.

Social history at its finest, Peopling the Past is tailored toward high school students, undergraduates, and anyone else seeking information about the ancient world or hoping to stay up to date with recent scholarship. Each episode features experts who describe their research on diverse topics like footwear at the Roman military fort of Vindolanda in Britain, or how waste from olive oil processing was used as a sustainable fuel source across the ancient Mediterranean.

The project has received considerable attention. Profiled in the Winter 2021 Bulletin of The Canadian Institute in Greece, Peopling the Past has received awards from the Society for Classic Studies’ “Ancient Worlds Modern Communities Initiative,” an honorable mention from the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute’s Emerging Open Scholarship Awards, and a grant from the National Geographic Society.

In 2020-2021, the podcast won the Women’s Classical Caucus Public Scholarship Award, which was a special recognition for Gardner. “I’ve been a member of the WCC for several years now and it truly is an incredible organization that works so hard to promote underrepresented groups and strives for equity in the fields of Classics and Mediterranean studies,” she explained, “to be recognized by this group in any way is wonderful and to receive the award was very special because the core of the Peopling the Past mission is to break down barriers between academia and the public by creating free, accessible, fun, appealing content that is available to everyone. Our project goals also align nicely with the WCC community, since we aim to highlight aspects of human history that are often omitted from more traditional popular media and curricula, and which are vital for fostering inclusive scholarship, teaching, and learning."

Overwhelmed by the interest in the podcast, Gardner plans to keep growing the content. While there are many challenges, including “funding, time, and access to resources,” she is pleased by the support that she has received both from her own department and the university.  She not only has two Acadia RAs, Lauren Millett (History) and Cassy Palmer (Music), who worked on sound engineering and content editing for the most recent podcast season, but she was recently awarded a SSHRC Institutional Exchange Grant, which will help ensure there is ample content for their third season, which will focus on Women in the Ancient Mediterranean.

Acadia’s Professor of Biology, Dr. Philip Taylor, has been awarded the Doris Huestis Speirs Award by the Society of Canadian Ornithologists/Société des Ornithologistes du Canada. Named after Speirs (1894-1989), highly prominent in art, literary, and ornithological circles, it is the society’s most prestigious award, and is given annually to an individual who has made outstanding lifetime contributions in Canadian ornithology.

An ecologist and Director of Acadia’s Field Station on Bon Portage Island, Dr. Taylor has spent his career studying the movement behaviors of animals in landscapes. In the early 2000s, his lab developed automated telemetry to track flying animals across regions. Tiny tags, lighter than a dime, are attached to birds, bats and even insects. When one of the tagged animals flies past a station, the detection is recorded. By having many hundreds of stations across vast landscapes, all listening to the same transmitting frequency, researchers, including NGOs and agencies, can co-operatively contribute to science. That system, “Motus,” is now managed by Birds Canada and encompasses over 1000 automated stations situated throughout North and South America, and Europe. The extent of the system has allowed (for example) Taylor’s lab to track Thrushes from Bon Portage Island migrating to south America and back. "The Doris Huestis Speirs Award is well deserved," notes Acadia's Associate Vice-President Research & Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Anna Redden, "Dr. Taylor has had an outstanding career in ornithology and is a nationally and globally recognized leader in avian conservation and ecology."


The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) has announced that Biology professors Dr. Allison Walker and Dr. Melanie Coombs have been awarded $99,376 through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) toward a $248,441 project to create a Flow Cytometry Station at Acadia University. This important funding, matched by Research Nova Scotia (RNS) support of $99,376, will build capacity on the Wolfville campus and allow researchers to examine the physical and biochemical characteristics of cells to quantitatively assess cell size, shape, granularity, DNA content, cell cycle, cell surface markers and viability.

This cutting-edge equipment will enable Drs. Walker and Coombs (and their collaborators) to obtain vital information about cells that will lead to healthier populations and environments. Following Acadia’s long tradition of high-quality student training, the Station will also give young researchers vital lab and analysis skills relevant for multiple biotechnology companies and other research-based careers.

Specifically, Dr. Walker will use the Station to support her innovative marine mycology research program by studying and quantifying marine fungi in seawater. Active in cancer research, Dr. Coombs will use the equipment to examine the anti-cancer and immune modulatory effects of host defense peptides and phytochemicals on cells. Both leading-edge research programs will have tremendous benefit for the health of Nova Scotians.

Through the CFI JELF program Ottawa is contributing more than $77 million to support 332 research infrastructure projects at 50 universities across the country. “Our researchers have always thought big,” Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry commented in a press release, “now, more than ever, they need state-of-the-art labs and equipment to turn their visions into reality. Acadia’s Associate Vice-President Research & Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr. Anna Redden, agrees. “This kind of investment is critical for Acadia to continue its role as a leader in innovative research that impacts the well-being of Canadians," she noted, also adding that “the state-of-the-art infrastructure helps institution’s like Acadia retain internationally recognized scholars.”




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