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Bioscience and health research centre named after Regis and Joan Duffy

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regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre The state-of-the-art bioscience and health research centre at the University of Prince Edward Island has been named the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre in honour of the well-known Island couple.

The naming took place at a ceremony on April 28 in the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre, where researchers from UPEI, the National Research Council Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH), and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) collaborate on health-related research projects and contribute to the Island’s growing bioscience cluster.

Speaking at the event were Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice-president of Life Sciences at the NRC; Wade MacLauchlan, President of UPEI; and Dr. Michael Mayne, Deputy Minister of the Office of Biosciences and Economic Innovation. Margaret MacFarlene, Vice-chair of the UPEI Board of Governors, presented Regis and Joan Duffy with a gift on behalf of UPEI.

“We are all proud that this magnificent research centre will bear the names of two distinguished Prince Edward Islanders who have given so much to their community and to the University of Prince Edward Island,” says MacLauchlan. “Regis and Joan Duffy exemplify community service and leadership.”

The Duffy's association with UPEI, and its predecessor St. Dunstan’s University, goes back almost 60 years. A native of Kinkora, Regis Duffy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Dunstan’s University in 1953, and his PhD in Chemistry from Fordham University in 1962. He returned to P.E.I. where he taught chemistry at St. Dunstan’s and then at UPEI where he became the new university’s first Dean of Science.

In 1970 Duffy created Diagnostic Chemicals Ltd. (DCL Ltd.), a company that makes fine research chemicals, enzymes and blood analysis systems. With its headquarters on P.E.I., the company eventually expanded into the United States and Mexico to serve hospitals, clinics, and laboratories around the world. In 2001 DCL Ltd. opened a new division called BioVectra dcl.

Duffy’s entrepreneurial success grew from his desire to contribute meaningfully to P.E.I.’s development and economy.

“The University provided a bridge to the bioscience business world,” says Duffy, who recently sold his company Diagnostic Chemicals Ltd. (DCL Ltd.) and shared the proceeds with employees and charities. He and his wife and business partner Joan Duffy have contributed $2-million to UPEI for scholarships and health research.

After serving as chair of the UPEI board of governors from 1996 to 2006, Regis Duffy was named board chair emeritus in 2007 for his contributions as a board member and chair, and for his many years of service to UPEI. His many honours include being named a member of the Order of Canada and of the PEI Business Hall of Fame. He is the founding chair of the PEI BioAlliance, a leadership organization for the bioscience cluster, and he is a member of the NRC Institute for Marine Biosciences-Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (IMB-INH) Advisory Committee.

In addition to contributing to the province’s education and business sectors, Duffy has been active in his community, including as a member of City of Charlottetown’s council from 1989 to 1997, and as a leader in his church.

Joan Duffy is a retired teacher and respected volunteer in community and cultural activities. She has been active in the family’s business enterprises from the beginning. She has been a private tutor; a volunteer for three schools and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and a canvasser for local charities. She was also involved in Canadian Parents For French and in the American Field Services Program, which gave students from abroad the opportunity to attend school in P.E.I. while residing with Island families.

In the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre, researchers from each of the three partner institutions share knowledge, lab space, and specialized equipment and tools as they explore how natural compounds can be used to prevent and treat disease in animals and humans. Their research focuses on identifying, extracting and refining naturally-occurring compounds from renewable plant, animal and marine resources that help to prevent or treat diseases, infections or disorders affecting the brain, immune system or metabolism, such Alzheimer’s, Type-2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

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Photo: President Wade MacLauchlan, Joan and Regis Duffy, and Dr. Roman Szumski, Vice-president of Life Sciences at the NRC, at the naming ceremony for the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre on April 28

BACKGROUNDER

An Alliance for a Healthier Future

An effective human being is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
-Ida Rolf, biochemist, 1896-1979

The same is true of an effective and productive partnership; its whole should be greater than the sum of the organizations involved.

In Charlottetown, that accurately describes the teaming up of two federal government organizations and the local university. Collectively, they are researching ways to improve human and animal health.

The multidisciplinary skills and combined expertise of these researchers, together with the networks and reputations of their respective organizations, form a potent mix.

Beyond the benefits of exchanging knowledge with one another, select researchers from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the National Research Council Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH) and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) also share a building, core laboratories, lab benches, and specialized equipment and tools at the Regis and Joan Duffy Research Centre on the UPEI campus.

Here, scientists, technicians and students from all three organizations are collaborating on health-related research projects and contributing to the Island’s growing bioscience cluster.

Their research focuses on identifying, extracting and refining naturally-occurring compounds from renewable plant, animal and marine resources.

Bioactive compounds -- chemicals or molecules believed to positively affect human and animal health -- are of most interest to the researchers. These bioactive compounds may contribute to good health by helping to prevent or treat diseases, infections or disorders affecting the brain, immune system or metabolism. Specific examples of these afflictions include Alzheimer’s, Type-2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

Ultimately, bioactive compounds identified and refined by AAFC, NRC and UPEI researchers may be incorporated into:

  • consumer foods and beverages;
  • dietary supplements and functional foods;
  • personal care products; or
  • pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.

By relying on compounds drawn from land- and marine-based resources native to the region, researchers hope to help create new revenue streams and higher value crops for farmers and fishers in PEI and across Atlantic Canada, thus letting more people become involved in s prosperous bio-economy. The compounds as well as related processes and platforms may also be further developed or marketed by private bioscience companies in the region.

The strength of the partnership between NRC-INH, AAFC and UPEI is also evident outside of the lab. Individuals help one another organize research conferences, industry meetings, seminar presentations and public tours. They are called upon to serve on one another’s interview boards to hire highly-skilled individuals who can further strengthen the research alliance and grow the province’s bioscience cluster.

In collaboration, the three partners help groups--drawn from private sector companies, academia and other research organizations--successfully prepare proposals for R&D project funding. Teams from AAFC, NRC and UPEI have submitted joint proposals through AAFC’s Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program (ABIP) for projects involving bioactive potential for Island crops.

One such venture is the Atlantic Centre for Bioactive Valuation (ACBV), led by Dr. Tarek Saleh, a researcher at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College. ACBV, together with collaborators from NRC-INH, is working to fill a critical gap between preclinical laboratory studies and early clinical testing. The Island-based venture’s molecular modeling and screening of compounds are related to neuro-inflammation, neurodegeneration and metabolism, and are likely to be of interest to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries.

The partners’ business development and technology transfer officers also collaborate to facilitate new advances, tap professional networks and encourage firms to pursue potential funding sources, for example, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Atlantic Innovation Fund. This translates into stronger proposals, gains for local and regional companies as well as further value for PEI’s bioscience cluster.

Beyond industry applications, students reap rewards from the tripartite partnership. They can gain real-world lab experience with AAFC, NRC and UPEI researchers. In addition, federal researchers are appointed adjunct professors at UPEI where they teach, take part in various graduate committees, and benefit from proximity to important campus facilities, including the Atlantic Veterinary College.

The researchers also lead projects and supervise trainees supported by funding institutions like the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Armed with guest worker status, AAFC and UPEI researchers interact with industrial technology advisors from NRC-IRAP and gain access to key NRC resources, such as the national science library, the NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information.

For more information about joint research projects or partnership opportunities, please contact:

Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada (AAFC)
Dr. Christiane Deslauriers
Tel.: 902-367-7536
deslauriers@agr.gc.ca

NRC Institute for Nutrisciences and Health (NRC-INH)
Dr. Jeff Zidichouski
Tel.: 902-566-7465
jeff.zidichouski@nrc.gc.ca

University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI)
Dr. Katherine Schultz
Tel: 902-566-0561
kschultz@upei.ca

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