THUNDER BAY - For PhD student Melissa Togtema, being able to study and conduct research in the north provides advantages not seen anywhere else, and with the help of a nearly $2 million investment from the federal government, more opportunities will be opening up in the region.
On Wednesday, FedNor announced an investment of $1.85 million to allow the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute to purchase equipment and utilize new technologies in bio-marker research.
“I’m very excited,” Togtema said. “It’s creating wonderful opportunities here in Northern Ontario for students like myself. It’s going to give us access to equipment and resources that normally we would have to travel far away to obtain or have shipped to us. So it’s creating wonderful opportunities to allow us to do the work right here in Northern Ontario.”
The new research equipment installed through the investment will be used in discovering new bio-markers and evaluate the effectiveness of new treatments using isotopes produced through the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute cyclotron.
“There is a two pronged approach,” said Jean Bartkowiak, president and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and CEO of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute.
“One is research into developing new radio isotopes that are geared toward specific patients and conditions and almost specific to the patient. Once that is demonstrated through clinical outcomes, then we will be able to use that at the bedside in the hospital.”
The new project is expected to create 15 jobs within the research institute, as well as 10 indirect jobs through related research projects with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and Lakehead University.
Minister of employment, workforce development, and labour, Patty Hajdu, said Northern Ontario already has a strong cluster of medical research projects and this investment will help continue the work of researchers and benefit patients.
“When we see the partnerships between Lakehead University and the Regional Health Sciences Centre and Institute, these are the kinds of things that foster that innovation and drive that kind of research,” Hajdu said. “We are seeing more and more of that collaboration and it’s very exciting that we are diversifying our economy and attracting professionals from all over the world to conduct their research here, stay here, and create jobs for residents of the north.”
Bartkowiak added the investment by the federal government demonstrates that they believe in the work and research being conducted in Thunder Bay.
“It is definitely a significant investment and it speaks to the credibility of the research institute and the hospital has acquired over the years,” he said. “It’s also helping us attract and solidify research and clinical mission here in Thunder Bay.”
For students like Togtema, a biotechnology PhD candidate at Lakehead University and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Institute and originally from Manitouwadge, investing in research project in the north allow her to stay closer to home while pursuing her work.
“I’m really happy to be able to work here and do the work right here in the region instead of having to go to bigger centres like Toronto,” she said.
She also hopes investments like the one made by FedNor will encourage other students from across the country to pursue their research in Northern Ontario.
“There are wonderful opportunities here that are equal and surpassed by that in other larger institutions,” she said.