UBC Okanagan lands new Canada Research Chair, $6M in federal research funding

Dr. Sarah Purcell sits with food and measuring cups.UBC Okanagan professor Dr. Sarah Purcell is now being recognized as a world-class researcher.

As part of the latest funding announcement from the federal government, Dr. Purcell, an Assistant Professor in the Southern Medical Program and in the Department of Biology, is the new Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism in Chronic Disease.

Dr. Purcell, who is also an Investigator for the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, focuses her research on understanding human energy balance in people with chronic diseases, both through the food they’re eating and how that energy is burned.

Energy balance for people with chronic diseases—such as obesity, cancer or diabetes—hasn’t been as well studied as for healthy populations. However, chronic diseases can have significant impact on factors like appetite, physical activity levels and even how many calories someone might burn while at rest.

“I’m very honoured to receive this award,” says Dr. Purcell. “It’s going to help us understand these really complex questions of what impacts energy balance in people with chronic disease. Currently, there’s not enough data for these populations to have targeted and evidence-based recommendations for energy intake. In the big picture, perhaps in the next 20 years, I’d love to have more effective nutrition recommendations for these groups.”

Thanks to a partnership between the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program and the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leadership Fund, Dr. Purcell also received funding to build her lab at UBC Okanagan. This infrastructure will include equipment to measure body composition, or the amount of someone’s muscle and fat, as well as different tools for the lab to measure how many calories people burn and how much food they eat.

Dr. Purcell stands in front of open fridge and smiles at research participant.

In the Experimental Behaviour Kitchen, Dr. Purcell’s team prepares and measures the food research participants eat in order to accurately measure calorie consumption.

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Official Languages, on behalf of the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and of the Honourable Mark Holland, Minister of Health, announced support for over 4,700 researchers and research projects across Canada. These investments of over $960 million through grants, scholarships and programs are part of the government’s ongoing support for Canada’s research ecosystem.

In total, UBC Okanagan researchers were awarded more than $6 million from the combined announcements. Across both campuses, UBC received $68.4 million in funding.

UBC Okanagan is now home to eight Tier 2 Canada Research Chairs.

The federal government established the Canada Research Chairs program in 2000 to promote excellence and innovation in Canadian research centres. Chairholders are some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds, improving our depth of knowledge and quality of life, strengthening Canada’s international competitiveness and helping train the next generation of researchers.