Brock biological sciences researcher recognized as international leader

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Brock biological sciences researcher recognized as international leader

Published on August 03 2010

A Brock researcher whose work supports our understanding of degenerative brain diseases has been recognized for her potential as an international leader in her area of study.

Gaynor Spencer, associate professor of Biological Sciences, is one of only 125 researchers across the country awarded funding under the Discovery Accelerator Supplement program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

“My goal is help the knowledge base of how (retinoic acid) is acting at a cellular level,” noted Spencer, who works with the nervous system cells of the Lymnaea stagnalis, or fresh-water snail.

The research on invertebrates can be applied to vertebrates, eventually at a human level, she added. Deficiencies in retinoic acid have been implicated in degenerative disorders of the brain, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and in certain cancers, and in Vitamin A deficiency. Researchers are trying to find ways to prevent degeneration of neurons in the brain and study factors that may one day help in producing a regenerative process.

One particular application for Spencer’s research is in the area of Vitamin A deficiency, which can affect pregnancy development.

“Understanding the role of retinoic acid, which comes from Vitamin A, helps us better understand the problems associated with Vitamin A deficiency,” Spencer said.

“It is wonderful that Dr. Spencer’s work is receiving this kind of recognition,” said Ian Brindle, vice-president Research at Brock. “Brock researchers, like Dr. Spencer, are making important impacts on our understanding of disease processes that will ultimately lead to treatments, and even cures, for devastating diseases.”

Initially, Spencer’s work was one of more than 11,000 researchers to receive funding under the NSERC Discovery Grants competition. But her work captured the interest of the peer-review panel awarding the Accelerator funding. Her Discovery grant is worth more than $300,000 over five years, while the Accelerator grant will add an additional $120,000 over three years to update aging equipment and increase the student and technician staff in her lab at Brock. Spencer’s lab includes several master’s and PhD-level students.

According to NSERC, the program allocates extra funds to provide substantial, timely support to outstanding researchers who show strong potential to become international leaders. Gary Goodyear, federal minister of State (Science and Technology), delivered the funding announcement at an event in New Brunswick.

Professor Gaynor Spencer

Professor Gaynor Spencer is one of only 125 researchers across the country awarded an NSERC Discovery Accelerator Supplement grant