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The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) recently awarded two significant grants to support the work of Dhingra and Moghadasian respectively.

Dr. Mohammed Moghadasian, Principal Investigator of the Pathology Research Laboratory, Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine at the Albrechtsen Research Centre, will be using $140K in funding to continue his work investigating the dietary effects of phytosterols and Saskatoon berries on cholesterol and glucose metabolism: the crosstalk between gut microbiota and functional foods.

“Genetics and diets are two main contributing factors to physiologic organ function. Some foods offer more benefits than just their nutritional values; these foods are called ‘functional foods’ a term coined in Japan in the 1980’s. Since then hundreds of functional foods have been produced and marketed worldwide,” Moghadasian said.

Since the mid-90’s, Moghadasian’s research team has contributed to the understanding of how phytosterols (plant sterols and stanols) impact cholesterol metabolism and cardiovascular function. Phytosterols are produced by all plants and reduce blood bad cholesterol levels in humans. More recently, his team came to understand the mechanisms of the effects of several other foods, including wild rice, Saskatoon berries, and wild watermelon seeds on normal vessel function as well as glucose and cholesterol metabolism in animal studies.

Moghadasian’s long-term goal is to develop new ways of synthesizing and/or formulating novel nutraceuticals and/or active pharmaceutical ingredients for preserving physiologic cholesterol and glucose metabolism, producing data that will help shed light on understanding how dietary agents preserve the integrity of biological systems. This in turn can help provide directions for the development of new nutraceuticals and/or active pharmaceutical ingredients, with long-term positive impacts on Canada’s agricultural, economic and health sectors.

Dhingra, Principal Investigator, Cardiac Regeneration and Tissue Engineering Program, Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, Albrechtsen Research Centre at St. Boniface Hospital will apply $165K in NSERC funding towards the design, synthesis and immunocharacterization of next generation bio-materials.

“A biomaterial is any material that interacts with a biological system such as our bodies,” Dhingra explained. “Many newer bio-materials have been designed to guide the cells in a body on a microscopic level. An example of this is MXene, a family of very small particles with a wide range of biological functions, including sensors, bone replacements and drug delivery systems.”

The NSERC funding will support Dhingra’s team to look at the design and synthesis of biomaterials as well as the language they use to ‘talk’ to immune cells, which is important because the immune system normally protects our body from harmful foreign substances and can act as a barrier between any implanted material and our body. So, for any biomaterial to perform its function, it needs to be compatible with immune cells to stay in the body and not be rejected.

“We recently found that MXenes can interact directly with immune cells due to their structure – essentially a carbon and metal core surrounded by many groups of atoms called ‘functional groups’. These surface functional groups are what MXene uses to interact with cells, and we think the message delivered by biomaterials to immune cells can be altered by changing their surface functional groups,” he explained.
Dhingra’s long-term goal for this research will be to help develop a new way for biomaterials to be made and ensure they are friendly to immune cells.

For more on Dhingra’s discoveries around MXene, please see our other story, available here: