Leading researchers in a variety of sectors including sleep, power electronics and the event of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine are among the many five Canadians awarded $100,000 each for his or her revolutionary accomplishments.
The National Research Council of Canada announced the annual winners of the Killam Prize on Wednesday in multiple categories — health sciences, natural sciences, social sciences, engineering and humanities.
The privately funded National Killam Program was administered by the Canada Council for the Arts for over half a century before the research council took over last 12 months. Greater than $1 billion has been provided by the Killam Trusts for higher education in Canada, the council said.
This 12 months’s recipients, chosen by a committee of their peers, include Charles M. Morin, a Laval University psychology professor known for his finding that cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is as effective as medication for treating insomnia within the short term.
Praveen Jain, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Queen’s University, was recognized as an authority in power electronics. The technology helps control the quantity of electricity that flows for various devices and the way it could possibly be used to avoid wasting energy for various systems including those applicable to space, telecommunications and renewable energy.
Ajay Heble of the University of Guelph received the honour for his role in establishing the educational field of critical studies in improvisation through music and other forms as a model for social change through partnerships with community groups.
Two University of British Columbia researchers won the Killam Prize, including Pieter Cullis, who worked on a technology for the targeted delivery of 5 recently approved drugs for cancer and gene therapies in addition to vaccines.
They included the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and delivered to billions of individuals all over the world through the pandemic.
Sarah Otto, an evolutionary biologist at UBC, has pioneered several mathematical models to grasp how and why sexual reproduction happens in nature.
“It’s sort of crazy to breed by sex since it’s a extremely dangerous enterprise,” she said. “You could have to seek out a mate, you have got to have them mating with you and worst of all, you’re taking your personal genome, which allowed you to survive and reproduce, and then you definitely break all of it up by mating with someone else and recombining your genome to make an offspring. And their genome has no guarantee of working in the present environment.”
That’s against dandelion weeds, for instance, which reproduce asexually, Otto said.
The impact of human behaviour on the “evolutionary tree of life” is one other big area of study as some species are being driven to extinction and others are moved around through the elimination of wetlands and other changes to the environment, she added.
“Are there ways in which we can assist move individuals around to assist them evolve and adapt and survive, or what else can we do? That requires modelling to have the opportunity to say what the very best approach is.”
Otto has also co-led the COVID-19 modelling group in British Columbia to indicate the impact of the pandemic and its expected progression.
Morin, of Laval, said chronic sleep deprivation is increasingly being recognized as a risk factor for anxiety and depression in addition to hypertension — since it doesn’t have a likelihood to drop during sleep — together with diabetes and obesity.
Thirty years ago when he began his research, medication was the one treatment for insomnia but many individuals resisted that option and there have been no available alternatives, he said.
That led Morin to develop behaviour changes for which he has been globally recognized through training workshops for health-care providers and most people.
He began with a program that involved six to 10 visits with a psychologist or mental health counsellor. While a few of that information is now available online or through apps, Morin said personal coaching or therapy is best.
Nevertheless, most individuals don’t have access to a psychologist because that care isn’t universally covered, he noted, adding lack of productivity, equivalent to through absenteeism at work and accidents involving lack of sleep, cost the general system extra money.
While CBT is taken into account the treatment of alternative for chronic insomnia, it doesn’t work for some people, he said.
Morin recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health in america for a study to find out who can be the very best candidates for CBT versus medication.
“Perhaps everyone must have CBT first,” he said. “After which if it doesn’t work for a given person, we could have a look at other options — possibly medication, possibly complementary or alternative therapies. But we still have loads of work to do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.
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