Drs Freda Miller and Terrance Snutch awarded CIHR Project Grants

Awards and recognition

Drs Freda Miller and Terrance Snutch awarded CIHR Project Grants

Drs Freda Miller and Terrance Snutch of the Michael Smith Laboratories have been awarded Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) Project Grants from the 2021 Fall competition. This CIHR program funds Canadian researcher projects with the potential to advance health research, care, systems, and outcomes. The CIHR approved 417 research grants, plus 1 bridge grant, for a total investment of approximately $325 million. 48 projects lead by UBC researchers were funded with an investment totaling $34.7 million. Additionally, 13 UBC-led projects were awarded priority announcement grants totaling $1.3 million. 

The focus of Dr. Freda Miller’s project is digit tip regeneration and the impact the immune system and inflammation have on the outcome of regeneration versus scarring. The discoveries from this project can be used to better understand human tissue repair and help prevent pathological scarring and fibrosis that can cause organ failure. 

Dr. Terrance Snutch’s research project builds on previous work developing new drugs to treat chronic pain. The project plans to design second generation drugs that narrowly target single intended proteins, improving upon previous drug candidates with wider ranging interactions. 

“The CIHR Project grant provides crucial translational support for our long-term objective of designing and developing novel small organic drugs that can be both administered orally and that efficiently cross the blood brain barrier to selectively target ion channels involved in serious neurological disorders.”  

Congratulations to both Dr Miller and Dr Snutch for the successful support of these important projects. We look forward to seeing how their work advances our understanding of human health and contributes to the innovation of healthcare and positive patient outcomes. 

Learn more about each project: 

Principal investigator: 
Dr. Freda Miller 

Regeneration at your fingertips: mechanisms determining mesenchymal tissue repair versus fibrosis 

Abstract: The finding that some animals can regenerate lost body parts has fascinated scientists for centuries. However, the ability to regenerate varies widely; some amphibians can regenerate entire limbs, while mammals have largely lost this ability.  One exception to this rule is the tip of the finger (or digit tip in mice, the model system studied here). Under the right circumstances the fingertip will regenerate completely appropriately, even in adult humans, as long as the base of the nail is still intact. By contrast, if the injury is only slightly further down the finger, and the nail is completely lost, then there is no regeneration, but only scar formation. In this proposal, we will study adult mice to ask why this one small part of the body has retained the capacity to regenerate, and will ask what controls the decision to regenerate or to form a scar, with a particular focus on the environment. We will also ask how the immune system and inflammation impact the decision to regenerate or scar, since these have been implicated in pathological scarring/fibrosis. Ultimately, it is our goal to use this information to enhance tissue repair, and to inhibit the pathological scarring and fibrosis that can cause organ failure. 


Principal Investigator: Dr. Terrance P. Snutch 
Design and Preclinical Development of First-in-Class Selective T-type Calcium Channel Blockers for Chronic Pain 

Abstract: The development of new drugs to treat chronic pain is vitally important; an estimated half the population have a chronic pain condition and 7% suffer debilitating daily pain. Further, more than half a million North Americans have died of opioid overdoses in the past 5 years as a result of the failure to develop effective non-addictive analgesic therapies. We previously designed and developed a novel non-opioid analgesic that targets a class of protein involved in nerve cell excitability. While highly promising, the drug has the drawback of interacting with multiple related protein family members of the same class. In this project we will combine state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, high resolution microscopy and focused drug screening to design and develop a second-generation drug that only targets the single intended protein. This effort will result in a novel non-addictive drug to treat chronic pain patients without the previous off-target liabilities. 

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