Over the last few years, something of a research corridor has popped up along Ramsey Lake Road.
Cancer research has been performed for years at the Northeast Cancer Centre. Now, efforts are underway to build a new research institute on the Health Sciences North campus, where the hospital can expand its research efforts.
Research is also performed at a number of institutions on Laurentian University's campus, including the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, the Willet Green Miller Centre and the recently opened Vale Living with Lakes Centre.
Some of these researchers gathered Aug. 9 at the Living with Lakes Centre for a meeting of minds of sorts at an event dubbed A Midsummer's Night's Research.
After listening to the jazz group Frequency and munching on snacks, participants listened to presentations from researchers working at both the Living with Lakes Centre and Health Sciences North.
Living with Lakes Centre director John Gunn said there's many connections between the environmental research done at his facility and the health research done at the hospital.
“All of our research questions we ask in this building ultimately have a public health perspective to them,” he said.
“We work on mercury to make sure that First Nations food sources are safe to eat. That's a public health issue. We work on issues that affect things like blue-green algae. All of those become the quality of the water that we all live in.”
Similarly, health researchers look at the relationship between the environment and the disease, Dr. Francisco Diaz-Mitoma, Health Sciences North's vice-president of research, said.
For example, the C. difficile and helicopacter pylori bacteria are both transmitted through the environment — usually by water, he said.
“We want to look at all of these interactions with the environment,” Diaz-Mitoma said.
Health Sciences North plans to launch its new Research Institute in October, he said.
Right now, the Northeast Cancer Centre is hosting all of the hospital's research. However, Diaz-Mitoma said he hopes to have built a 75,000-square-foot research building on the hospital's campus within two years. A capital campaign will be launched to cover some of the costs, he said.
As a temporary measure, Health Sciences North has purchased the former St. Theresa Catholic Elementary School building, which is about a block away from the hospital campus. About a quarter of the building will be used as research space, and the rest for other hospital programs.
He said the hospital is expanding its research focus from its current focus on cancer into vaccine development and health issues of concern in northern Ontario.
“I think it's very exciting when you are starting to build something relatively new,” Diaz-Mitoma said. “It will bring new people to enjoy Sudbury. I think it feeds itself. It adds as a magnet. We're going to see a very different health research environment with probably another 100 people in Sudbury doing health research.”
Gunn, who has been working at Laurentian for more than 30 years, said he's excited to see an expansion of all kinds of research in Sudbury.
“I think it's really quite fabulous,” he said. “We were a small, undergraduate university, and we created six or seven PhD programs in the last decade.”
The Living with Lakes Centre is Laurentian's first standalone research institute, Gunn said. Now the university is expanding beyond its traditional research focus on the environment and mining engineering to health.
“Tonight we're just going to see how much common ground we have among ourselves,” he said.
The event included presentations by several young researchers at both Health Sciences North and the Living with Lakes Centre.
One example is Sam Peters, a Laurentian University master's student who is currently conducting research on developing a vaccine which may help with smoking cessation.
“The way that works is we want to trick our body into recognizing nicotine as a foreign molecule,” the student, who was recently accepted at the Northern Ontario School Medicine, said.
“When you give a vaccine against nicotine, it'll hopefully create antibodies that will bind to the nicotine molecules and stop the nicotine molecules from actually reaching the receptors in your brain, so you don't get that euphoric effect or the pleasure pathway.”
Peters said he hopes the vaccine will be able to help people kick the habit, as smoking is a serious problem, especially in northern Ontario.
Erik Szkokan-Emilson, a PhD candidate working at the living with lakes centre, does research on the city's wetlands.
Wetlands act as a natural filter and storage area for historical pollution. Given Greater Sudbury's history, that means there's a lot of sulphur and metals in our wetlands, he said.
The problem is that many of our wetlands are being disturbed as subdivisions and businesses are being constructed, Szkokan-Emilson said. Drought caused by warmer temperatures can also release these pollutants, he said.
“Any disturbance to wetlands, including development on or around them, definitely threatens our water quality, even more so when coupled with this new, warmer climate we're experiencing,” Szkokan-Emilson said.
Nadia Mykytczuk, a research scientist who started working at the Living with Lakes Centre earlier this month, said she'll be focusing on how bacteria can be used to harvest metals from mining wastes.
This process can result in the extraction of “economically favourable amounts of metal while at the same time reducing the pollution that results from mining waste and turns into that acid mine drainage we see flowing in the orange streams.”