Feb. 11, 2019

University of Calgary to lead pan-Canadian microbiome research core

Driving discovery with world-class facilities and expertise
A number of University of Calgary researchers will be part of a Pan-Canadian "brain trust" of microbiome experts including, top row from left: Paul Kubes, Joe Harrison, Braedon McDonald, Ian Lewis, and Markus Geuking. Bottom row, from left: Kathy McCoy, Marie Claire Arrieta, Shaunna Huston, and Laura Sycuro. Photos by Don Molyneaux, for the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases
A number of University of Calgary researchers will be part of a Pan-Canadian "brain trust" of microb

The microbiome has an impact on every organ in the body. It is associated with every chronic disease that affects humans. For the past few years, research has focused on cataloguing what microbes are present on and in our bodies, and connecting those microbes to specific diseases. The next step is to find out how those microbes function and interact during times of health and disease. With that knowledge, scientists hope to harness the power of the microbiome to develop preventive and therapeutic approaches to promote human health. 

The University of Calgary will be at the forefront of that research. With support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Dr. Kathy McCoy, PhD, the scientific director of the International Microbiome Centre (IMC) at UCalgary, has brought together a “brain trust” of microbiome experts from across the country to develop research protocols and provide advice. 

  • In the picture above, the University of Calgary researchers who will be part of a Pan-Canadian "brain trust" of microbiome experts include, top row from left: Paul Kubes, Joe Harrison, Braedon McDonald, Ian Lewis, and Markus Geuking. Bottom row, from left: Kathy McCoy, Marie Claire Arrieta, Shaunna Huston, and Laura Sycuro. 

The Integrated Microbiome Platforms for Advancing Causation Testing and Translation, or IMPACTT, includes a cross-disciplinary group of investigators made up of microbiologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, clinician scientists, ethicists, sex/gender champions, and computational biologists from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia.

“We are extremely proud to be leading the microbiome research core for Canada,” says McCoy, director of IMPACTT and member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “We will be leveraging the work we are already doing at the IMC to empower the wider microbiome community to move their research forward.” The IMC is a newly established $50-million state-of-the-art microbiome infrastructure at UCalgary. As part of its mandate, IMPACTT will provide access to world-class facilities, like the IMC, along with technological and analytical expertise to researchers. 

“With our current research on the microbiome, the University of Calgary is well positioned to help ensure Canadian scientists are well supported and able to move their research from association to causation,” says Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, and director of the Snyder Institute at the CSM. “Along with knowing which microbes are in our body, we want to know what they’re doing so that we can develop therapies based on the interaction of the microbiome.”

Two international research centres have already offered their support to expand Canadian researcher’s access to live microbes for studies. In addition to the samples available at the Alberta Microbiota Repository, researchers in Germany and Cambridge, U.K. will open their collections to support IMPACTT.

“One of the first steps for our group will be to develop national guidelines for doing studies,” says McCoy. “In order to share and benefit from each other’s work, we need to have standardized protocols and best practices for everything from collecting, storing and analyzing microbiome samples to developing protocols for microbial isolation, culture and cryogenic storage.” 

One of IMPACTT’s long-term goals is to create a system where every study that is collecting human samples would also include a microbiome piece. Alberta’s Tomorrow Project (ATP) is a long-term study collecting health and lifestyle information and samples from healthy people for research on what causes and what may prevent cancer and chronic diseases. ATP understands the value of collecting microbiome samples in the future, and provided a letter of support for IMPACTT.

The CIHR is providing $3 million over five years to establish the research core. 

Kathy McCoy, the scientific director of the International Microbiome Centre at the University of Calgary, received a CIHR grant to set up a Pan-Canadian Microbiome Research Core to support microbiome research in Canada.

Kathy McCoy, the scientific director of the International Microbiome Centre.

Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases

McCoy is joined by 14 principal applicants who will oversee and advise on their areas of speciality. IMPACTT has broken down microbiome research into five platforms. The following is a list of the platforms along with the leads and co-leads:

  1. Gnotobiotic Animal Models 
    Dr. Kathy McCoy, PhD, University of Calgary (lead)/Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, University of Calgary (co-lead)
  2. Human Cohort Design and Analysis 
    Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, PhD, University of Alberta (lead)/Dr. Maria-Claire Arrieta, PhD, University of Calgary (co-lead)
  3. Microbial and Human Tissue Repository
    Dr. Karen Madsen, PhD, University of Alberta (lead)/ Dr. Joe Harrison, PhD, University of Calgary (co-lead)
  4. Functional OMICS Platform 
    Dr. Laura Sycuro, PhD, University of Calgary (lead)/ Dr. Ian Lewis, PhD, University of Calgary (co-lead)
  5. Computational
    Dr. Celia Greenwood, PhD, McGill University (lead)/ Dr. William Hsiao, PhD, University of British Columbia and Dr. Fiona Brinkman, PhD, Simon Fraser University (co-leads)

The other principal applicants include:

  • Dr. Markus Geuking, PhD, University of Calgary (lead) Educational Committee
  • Dr. Diego Silva, PhD, University of British Columbia (lead) Ethics Committee
  • Dr. Jayne Danska, PhD, University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), (lead) Sex and Gender Champion
  • Dr. Philippe Gros, PhD, McGill University.

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The IMPACTT team also includes many co-applicants and collaborators across Canada that will provide additional expertise in specialized areas of microbiome research.

The IMC is a unique world-class centre designed to mobilize ground-breaking research into the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. With support from Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Government of Alberta, and the CSM, the IMC provides cutting-edge tools to study the microbiome, allowing the university to be a leader in this evolving field of research. The centre opened in November, 2017.

Dr. Kathy McCoy, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Physiology & Pharmacology and a member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Disease at the Cumming School of Medicine.

Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, is a professor in the departments of Physiology & Pharmacology, MedicineCritical Medicine, and Microbiology, Immunology & Infectious Disease at the CSM and is the director of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Disease.

The University of Calgary is uniquely positioned to find solutions to key global challenges. Through the research strategy for Infections, Inflammation, and Chronic Diseases in the Changing Environment (IICD), top scientists lead multidisciplinary teams to understand and prevent the complex factors that threaten our health and economies.