Jan. 7, 2020

UCalgary scholars share expertise with French colleagues on parasite protection, stress transmission, and why we eat

Research fund grant builds bridges for collaboration on brain and mental health research

Studying how peptides in the gut protect against parasites, exploring how astrocytes in the brain transmit stress, and delving deep into signals that make us eat: Three scholars at the University of Calgary have each received an award from the France Canada Research Fund (FCRF) to work with colleagues in France on specific research projects. The funding is aimed at encouraging collaboration among researchers in the two countries, enabling them to travel back and forth. 

“The grant is mostly for interaction,” says Dr. Eduardo Cobo, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Production Animal Health in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and member of the Cumming School of Medicine’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases. “It’s a limited amount for research, but it’s an opportunity for a student to go to France and people from France to come here. That’s important because they have different expertise.”

  • Photo above: Eduardo Cobo's lab will send a student to the Université de Bordeaux for a research collaboration. Photo by Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine   

Dr. Jaideep Bains, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and member of the CSM’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Mathison Centre, studies how stress can be transmitted from one individual to another. His FCRF grant will enable him and Dr. Giovanni Marsicano, PhD, at the Université de Bordeaux to co-supervise a PhD student. Paula Gomez-Sotres, who is registered in the PhD program in Bordeaux, will study the role of astrocytes, specialized cells in the brain, in transmitting stress.

Paula Gomez-Sotres, who is registered in the PhD program at the Université de Bordeaux will come to UCalgary for a collaboration in the Bain's lab.

Paula Gomez-Sotres, a PhD candidate at the Université de Bordeaux, will be joining the Bains lab.

Courtesy Paula Gomez-Sotres

“Paula will be coming to Calgary to conduct specific experiments because we have unique tools that are not available in Bordeaux,” says Bains. “Similarly, the Marsicano lab are world leaders in genetically manipulating astrocytes, so Paula will go back and forth between the two labs. 

"It’s an incredible opportunity to leverage complementary expertise to better understand how the brain controls social interactions to transmit stress and other emotions.”

The third grant will help scholars understand how consuming fructose, a simple sugar found in many processed foods, might lead to food over-consumption. “We want to know why some people crave sugar,” says Dr. Deborah Kurrasch, PhD, associate professor in the departments of Medical Genetics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and member of the CSM’s Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, Owerko Centre and Hotchkiss Brain Institute. 

The Kurrasch lab shares an interest with the lab in France on how brains respond to dietary cues.

The Kurrasch lab shares an interest with the lab in France on how brains respond to dietary cues.

Kelly Johnston, Cumming School of Medicine

“We have evidence that fructose might actually activate microglia, immune cells in the brain, instead of acting directly on the neurons that control food intake,” she says. “I am excited to work with Dr. Agnes Nadjar, PhD, at the Université de Bordeaux on this project. Our labs share an overlapping interest in how our brains respond to dietary cues, and our complementary tools create a unique opportunity to understand this topic at a deeper level.”

The FCRF was created in 2000 by the Embassy of France in Canada and a consortium of 20 Canadian Universities. It is supported by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, L’Oréal Canada, MITACS, and Total Canada. It provides support for new research partnerships and promotes mobility for researchers, giving priority to projects involving young researchers. The FCRF awards between 15 and 20 grants every year, ranging from $8,000 to $15,000 per project. Since its creation, the fund has supported more than 300 projects led by Canadian and French teams in all research areas.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain InstituteBrain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the University of Calgary in its Eyes High strategic direction. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community.