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Dr. Champa Wijekoon

Dr. Champa Wijekoon

Principal Investigator
Bioactives Laboratory, Canadian Centre for Agri-food Research In Health and Medicine

Research Focus

Dr. Wijekoon is focused on 2 primary research directions:

  1. Improving Canadian grown crops which contain bioactive molecules that may provide significant benefits to our cardiovascular health. She has studied the use of gene silencing in model plants and forage crops and also disease resistance in potato. She continues to investigate the applications and roles of genes important in selected bioactive molecule synthesis, and plans to focus on improving Canadian grown crops with desirable traits to use them as functional food.
  2. Collaborative work studying the role of bioactive molecules of Canadian grown crops in hypertension and cardiac arrest. She is interested in understanding the molecular basis of the specialized crops and improving them in producing specific bio-active molecules.

Why is this work important?

Previous evidence showed some Canadian grown specialized crops and spices have potential for use in the treatment in obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. Plants exhibiting a wide variety of medicinal properties such as hypercholesterolemic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-allergic, anti-nociceptive and antiulcer effects will be improved. These crops may be capable of regulating high blood pressure and the incidence of heart attacks and stroke. Similarly, beneficial effects of bio-active compounds of specialized crops have driven a wide range of research activities including antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antioxidant activities, and their potential to decrease the risk of coronary diseases.

Dr. Wijekoon’s previous work testing gene silencing in various plants showed great potential in identifying the molecular basis of selected plant bioactive compounds. Improved specialized crops may be useful as functional food and nutraceuticals related to cardiovascular health.

What techniques and equipment are used in this laboratory?

Dr. Wijekoon’s lab will use techniques and equipment related to molecular biology, genomics, metabolomics, tissue culture and plant growth.

About Dr. Champa Wijekoon

Dr. Champa Wijekoon received her PhD in Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary on regulation of benzyl isoquinoline alkaloid biosynthesis in opium poppy in 2012. She has applied metabolomics and genomics approaches in her studies. After her post-doctoral research at the University of Calgary (Faculty of Medicine) on smooth muscle research, she moved to the Lethbridge Research and Development Center (LRDC) as a NSERC visiting fellow (2013-2016).

She has specialized in identification and characterization of late blight pathogen genotypes and applied molecular plant pathology and was involved in improvement of potato crop in disease resistance. Dr. Wijekoon then moved to the University of Alberta, at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutritional sciences and worked on lipid biotechnology and forage legumes with the collaboration of LRDC in 2016. She then continued her research on forage breeding and biotechnology at the LRDC from 2016 as a research biologist and involved in gene silencing, metabolite characterization and crop improvement of forage legumes.

For more information, contact:

Champa Wijekoon, PhD
Principal Investigator, Bioactives Laboratory
St. Boniface Hospital Research Albrechtsen Research Centre
Phone. (204) 258-1366
Fax. (204) 237-4018

In Detail

Understanding the association of crop metabolic pathways in producing plant bioactive molecules and crop improvement

Bioactive molecules produced by some specialized crops have numerous proven health benefits to humans. For example catechin, ferulic acid and quercetin are some of the plant bioactive molecules studied that are associated with heart health. Dr. Wijekoon has previously studied about gene regulation of benzylisoquinoline pathway in opium poppy which produces important pharmaceuticals such as morphine, codeine, thebaine, oripavine, papaverine and noscapine. Her lab focuses on unraveling the molecular basis of the metabolic pathways in Canadian grown crops and improving these crops as a functional food and nutraceutical.

Insights into using Canadian crops as a dietary intervention for heart diseases

Some specialized crop seeds may be used as a spice and their vegetative parts may be used for salads and cooking. The Wijikoon lab studies and coordinates metabolite profiling of these plants to identify novel metabolites important in human health. Improved Canadian crop varieties will be tested and the targeted bioactive molecules will be identified and tested to confirm their importance in human health, and as in order to improve them as a dietary intervention for heart diseases.