Acadia Researchers awarded RNS New Health Investigator Grants

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.

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