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UPEI researcher receives federal funding to seek answers to non-healing wounds

Adam Johnston has received more than $2 million over the past three years to fund his health research at UPEI.
Adam Johnston has received more than $2 million over the past three years to fund his health research at UPEI. - Jim Day
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Adam Johnston leans on science, not religion, to understand how to heal thy self.

The 37-year-old assistant professor uses his lab at UPEI to fundamentally study how the body repairs itself.

Johnston studies a number of different contexts and tissues, he explains, with plenty of research focused on muscle tissue but also peering into bone and skin tissue.

“The interesting thing is many of these tissues use the same sort of mechanisms to heal themselves,’’ says Johnston.

“So, if we can understand one, we can take that knowledge and apply to another one.’’

He has been awarded $745,000 in federal funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to spend the next five years investigating whether a special cell found in small nerves in the skin could hold the answer to treating non-healing wounds, such as those experienced by people living with diabetes.

“Diabetes,’’ he notes, “is the number one non-traumatic reason you get a limb amputated.’’

Although Johnston applied for a couple hundred thousand dollars more than the project funding announced Thursday by Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, the researcher says he is “more than happy with the support”.

“I love teaching at the university. It’s great to interact with the students. One really feeds off another where you get students inspired to join your lab and get involved in research.’’
-Adam Johnston

The funding comes at a good time for not only advancing Johnston’s research, but also his career.

He is receiving the $745,000 research grant, which brings the total funding awarded to Johnston in his relatively short time at UPEI to $2.1 million, just three months before his tenure file is to be submitted.

“I’m happy to get a grant like this at any time but especially at this time,’’ he says.

Johnston started at the university in January 2016 after completing a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

The Cape Breton native, who now lives in Charlottetown with his wife and the couple’s young son, puts roughly 20 per cent of his work time to “service’’ such as sitting on committees.

He splits the other 80 per cent of his work evenly between research and teaching. He teaches kinesiology courses at the university in areas like exercise physiology and the physiology of aging.

“I’ll be a busy man for the next couple of years,’’ says Johnston.

“I love teaching at the university. It’s great to interact with the students. One really feeds off another where you get students inspired to join your lab and get involved in research.’’

Johnston is an assistant professor on the cusp, he hopes, of progressing to associate professor and eventually to full professor.

He certainly appears to have the confidence of UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz.

“Dr. Johnston is an outstanding scientist, and this (research grant) is a tremendous opportunity for his lab and students,’’ he says.

“I’m excited to see the collaborations this research will bring between researchers in the Faculty of Science and the Atlantic Veterinary College.’’


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