March 14, 2024

Making their mark: 2023 Canada Research Chairs unveiled

UCalgary chairholders from various disciplines step into the spotlight of research excellence
A ollage of 8 headshots

In the realm of academic brilliance, the University of Calgary proudly introduces the newest cohort of Canada Research Chairs (CRCs). Handpicked through a rigorous selection process, these exceptional scholars are committed to expanding the frontiers of knowledge across diverse disciplines.

“Today marks a momentous occasion as we introduce the latest cohort of Canada Research Chairs at UCalgary,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). 

“These ambitious scholars embody the spirit of innovation and academic excellence, dedicating themselves to addressing the most pressing issues facing our communities. Their contributions will undoubtedly leave a lasting impact, shaping the landscape of knowledge and discovery."

  • Photo above: Top row, from left: Javier Orlandi, Meredith Brockway, Jongbok Lee, Cindy Barha. Bottom row, from left: Jackson Cone, Diego Nobrega, Wesley Willett, Bas Surewaard.

The latest cohort of UCalgary Canada Research Chairs:

Dr. Cindy Barha, PhD | Tier II CRC in Neuroscience, Brain Health and Exercise 

  • Assistant professor, Faculty of Kinesiology 
  • Member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Libin Cardiovascular Institute and Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

A transdisciplinary researcher, Cindy Barha focuses on promoting healthy brain aging through personalized exercise interventions. Specializing in behavioural neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, and exercise neuroscience, she explores the impact of exercise on cognition and neuroplasticity. Her research targets critical neuroendocrine transition states, such as pregnancy, midlife, and older age, examining the short- and long-term consequences for brain health. With a keen interest in the role of physical activity, she addresses the pressing issue of dementia, aiming to identify factors influencing exercise efficacy through randomized controlled trials. Barha's innovative approach integrates diverse disciplines to inform precise exercise recommendations for specific subgroups during vulnerable periods like midlife and late life, contributing valuable insights to combat cognitive decline and dementia in an aging population.

Dr. Meredith Brockway, PhD | Tier II CRC in Early Life Exposures and Child Health Outcomes 

  • Assistant professor, Faculty of Nursing 
  • Member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

Meredith Brockway is an acclaimed clinician scientist who is spearheading transformative research for vulnerable infant populations. Her expertise spans preterm birth, infant feeding, and early-life exposures. Engaging clinicians, patients, and policy-makers, Brockway ensures meaningful outcomes with those she works with. In the DO-RE-MI trial, she investigates the impact of donor human milk on the infant microbiome following adverse early-life exposures. Brockway's unique blend of nursing expertise, microbiome training, and clinical trial experience enables the development of effective and feasible clinical interventions. Brockway incorporates an intersectional lens in her work, prioritizing EDI practices in her groundbreaking research.

Dr. Jackson Cone, PhD | Tier II CRC in Computational Behavioural Neuroscience 

  • Assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts 
  • Member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

Jackson Cone is a leading neuroscientist delving into the mysteries of how our brains interpret sensory information to shape our perceptions and guide behaviour. His research group employs advanced experimental and analysis techniques in mouse models to determine the timing and location of nerve cell activities that contribute to visually guided behaviours. Cone's work shows promise in advancing our understanding of fundamental brain functions as well as contributing to the development of neurotechnologies to restore functions for individuals with neurological conditions.

Dr. Javier Orlandi, PhD | Tier II CRC in Complex Neural Systems 

  • Assistant professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Science 
  • Member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

As head of the Complex Neural Systems Lab, Javier Orlandi is dedicated to understanding the intricacies of brain function. Over the past two decades, technological advancements have transformed our comprehension of how the brain works. Through his research, Orlandi explores how different parts of the brain communicate and process information during cognitive tasks. By studying these brain activities, he aims to discover how we perceive and learn. With his research team, Orlandi’s work could lead to advancements in drug discovery and the development of devices that better interact with the brain. 

Dr. Jongbok Lee, PhD | Tier II CRC in Cancer Immunology 

  • Assistant professor, Cumming School of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 
  • Member of the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute and the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine

Jongbok Lee, an innovator in health research, is passionate about finding better ways to treat a type of leukemia called AML. Using a special group of immune cells called double negative T cells (DNTs), he aims to develop new and more effective treatments. Lee’s work has already shown promising results in clinical trials, offering a safer and potentially more powerful option for patients. Through his work in his research lab, Lee is determined to understand these immune cells better and create innovative therapies, bringing hope to those fighting against AML.

Dr. Diego Nobrega, PhD | Tier II CRC in Antimicrobial Resistance and One Health 

  • Assistant professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine 

Diego Nobrega, a veterinary epidemiologist, investigates antimicrobial resistance through a holistic One Health approach. Nobrega uses advanced genomic techniques, machine learning and epidemiological analysis to understand how antimicrobial-resistant bacteria spread from animals to humans. He also pioneers interventions to curb antimicrobial resistance, including the development of innovative tools for farmers to reduce unnecessary antimicrobial use in agriculture. Committed to practical solutions, Nobrega’s work aims to safeguard human and animal health by addressing one of the root causes of antimicrobial resistance. 

Dr. Bas Surewaard, PhD | Tier II CRC in Wild Microbiome and Infections 

  • Assistant professor, Cumming School of Medicine  
  • Member of the Synder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the Cumming School of Medicine 

Another expert from the world of One Health, Bas Surewaard researches how our bodies respond to infections, especially those caused by harmful bacteria. As lead of the Surewaard lab, he and his team specialize in uncovering virulence mechanisms employed by microbes during bloodstream infections, focusing on disrupting these tactics to develop targeted antimicrobials in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. Surewaard's unique approach involves studying wild mice to better mimic real-world immune responses, which could lead to breakthroughs in preventing antibiotic-resistant infections. 

Dr. Wesley Willett, PhD | Tier II CRC in Visual Analytics  

  • Associate professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science  

Wesley Willett is bridging the gap between data analysis tools and real-world applications. His research focuses on integrating data visualization with physical environments, leveraging emerging technologies to democratize data analysis and make it accessible to everyone. Through innovative online, physical, virtual, and augmented reality systems, Willett empowers citizens to explore vast open-data collections and understand their personal information related to homes, habits, finances, and health. With a strong commitment to knowledge translation, Willett and his team strive to enable broader public engagement and decision-making based on data insights. 

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