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CIHR Boosts Fundamental Research in the IIDR

Feb. 4, 2014 – Research in the labs of Charu Kaushic, professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and Lori Burrows, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, is set to accelerate as the result of five years of funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR).

The researchers from the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research secured funding in the 2013 Open Operating Grant Program (OOGP) competition, that provides operating funds to support research proposals in all areas of health research including randomized controlled trials. It is the largest of the open calls for proposals within CIHR’s programming.

Charu Kaushic received $663,890 over five years to study mechanisms of female sex hormone regulation of susceptibility and immune responses to sexually transmitted viruses.

“Over 150 million women worldwide take hormonal contraceptives and millions more are on various hormonal therapies for reproductive disorders,” Kaushic says. “Many studies have shown that female sex hormones affect a woman’s ability to get sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes and HIV-1 as well as her ability to fight these infections, but we do not understand why.”

Her work over the past ten years has shown that estradiol protects against sexually transmitted viral infections such as genital herpes while progesterone increases inflammation. “On the other hand,” Kaushic says, “progesterone-based hormonal contraceptive have been shown to increase susceptibility to sexually transmitted viruses. With the help of this recent funding, we hope to conduct studies to understand how cells from the reproductive tract interact with viruses and immune cells when different hormones are present and how that can lead to better or worse protection against inection. Our hope is that these studies will help us to suggest ways to decrease women’s risk for sexually transmitted viral infections and safe choices for hormonal contraceptions for women.”

Lori BurrowsBurrows received $742,698 over five years to try and understand the characterization of the type IV pilus assembly system. Her grant was a renewal with Lynne Howell, a senior scientist in molecular structure and function at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

“We are studying how bacteria make long sticky retractable fibres called type IV pili,” Burrows explains. “They use them to attach to all kinds of surfaces to initiate an infection, and to crawl along those surfaces by using the fibres as grappling hooks. We also think that they use their pili as whiskers to detect surface contact, signaling that they should turn on other weapons required for successful infection.”

Retraction of the pili, she explains, pulls the bacteria forward and allows them to move away from the first point of contact, thus spreading the infection. To see this in action visit

“I am extremely proud of our researchers for securing this funding,” says Gerry Wright, scientific director of the IIDR. “Their work is an excellent example of the fundamental science that is required to develop strategies to address these significant global health threats.”

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Photos: Charu Kaushic, pictured top, and Lori Burrows, pictured below.