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Scholars receive prestigious national chairs

Three Queen’s researchers receive Canada Research Chairs from Government of Canada.

An internationally-renowned chemist who has reshaped the field, Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) has been named the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry.

Arriving at Queen’s in 2002 as a Queen’s National Scholar, Dr. Crudden’s research investigates the interaction of organic compounds with metals in the synthesis of novel materials and for the development of highly active catalysts. Her work has widespread applications in pharmaceuticals, manufacturing and agriculture – a testament to the depth and breadth of her research.

Dr. Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) has been named the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry. She is joined by Dr. Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering) and Dr. Mohammad Zulkernine (Computing, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Reliability and Security) who saw their Canada Research Chairs renewed.

Dr. Crudden’s work in the field of organic chemistry has been lauded as revolutionary and has allowed for the synthesis of compounds previously thought impossible. In recent years, she has published nearly 100 papers in high-impact journals, and her research has been cited nearly 3,000 times. Committed to training the next generation of leading multidisciplinary researchers, she has also supervised 20 doctoral candidates, 19 master’s candidates and 31 postdoctoral fellows – many of whom have taken positions in research and industry.

“This grant will let me spend more time on research while still having the pleasure of teaching Queen’s undergraduates,” says Dr. Crudden. “Our research program has also become very international lately and this research chair will allow me to set aside time to visit collaborators in the U.S., Finland, Scotland, Japan and the rest of Canada.” 

Two other Queen’s researchers have seen their Canada Research Chairs renewed. Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) has been renewed as the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering, while Mohammad Zulkernine (Computing) has been renewed as the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Reliability and Security.

“The CRC program allows Queen’s to attract top-calibre researchers, to provide them with the tools to succeed, and to make Canada an international leader in research and development,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “Queen’s researchers, including the three CRC recipients announced today, are at the forefront of their fields, conducting research that addresses some of the most challenging and complex problems in science, with potential to have a global impact.”

Dr. Davies’ research focuses on how a protein’s structure enables it to carry out its purpose and how the function of a protein can be changed by altering its structure. His research has numerous potential applications in healthcare and biotechnology.

“I am delighted to have the support of the Canada Research Chair program for another seven years,” Dr. Davies says. “This renewal is a vote of confidence for the research we have been doing in recent years, and it will allow my group to branch out into a new area. We have recently become involved in the study of adhesin proteins that bacteria use to form biofilms and infect various hosts. By studying and engineering these proteins we hope to interfere with their infectivity.”

As technology becomes a larger aspect of our day-to-day lives, security and reliability are of paramount concern. Dr. Zulkernine’s research is focused on addressing these issues at different stages of the development cycle, in order to better protect the next generation of mobile and cloud computing environments.

“This award actually belongs to my current and former graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have worked hard with me to achieve my research goals,” says Dr. Zulkernine. “I am also thankful to my collaborators in the School of Computing, Queen's, and industry partners for their continuous support. This award will attract more high quality students and world renowned software security and reliability researchers to our Queen's Reliable Software Technology (QRST) research group.”

Queen’s will receive $200,000 per year over seven years for each Tier 1 Chair and $100,000 per year over five years for each Tier 2 Chair.

The Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program is at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development since 2000. The CRC program invests approximately $265 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Canadian universities both nominate Canada Research Chairs and administer their funds.

For more information on the Canada Research Chairs program, please visit the website.

Queen’s researchers lead the way in numerous fields, with notable advances made recently in particle astrophysics, cancer research, ecological history and environmental change, and clean energy technology. Through leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines. Queen’s University is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

The heart of the matter

Queen’s researcher Amer Johri brings unique technology to Science Rendezvous.

A main focus of Science Rendezvous has always been the hands-on experience – being able to touch, experience and do.

This year’s Heart and Stroke booth promises visitors a unique experience thanks to Amer Johri and his ultrasound machine.

Using volunteer student models, Dr. Johri, a Queen’s University professor,  cardiologist and ultrasound specialist, will be scanning and explaining the different parts of the human heart.

“I really want to explain how the human heart works and how to keep it healthy,” says Dr. Johri, a clinician scientist in the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute. “What better way than to use a real person and a real heart? It will also give kids an opportunity to learn more about ultrasound so they aren’t scared of the technology. We are really just taking a photograph of your heart.”

Each year, Queen’s partners with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to engage the public in an event promoting heart health. A number of Queen’s researchers, including Dr. Johri, receive funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Last year, after attending the event last year with his son, he wanted to participate in providing other children exposure to science.  He and his lab are all volunteering in 2017.

 “The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides critical funding,” says Dr. Johri, “and Science Rendezvous provides a unique opportunity to explain our research in a public forum. It’s also a team bonding experience for everyone that works in our lab – we have a group of interesting and dynamic researchers that are doing amazing work.”

Dr. Johri is the director of the Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen’s (CINQ). The goal of the network is to position CINQ as the central node in a global network, working to translate novel cardiovascular imaging and treatment technologies into clinical practice. Some of Dr. Johri’s main research focuses are 3D echocardiography and early stage heart disease detection.

The 10th annual Science Rendezvous Kingston 2017 runs Saturday, May 13 from 10 am to 3 pm at the Rogers K-ROCK Centre. Admission is free.

Unique technology

Queen’s University professor recognized for innovation in medical education.

Sanjay Sharma, a professor of ophthalmology and epidemiology at Queen’s University, has received the John Ruedy Award for Innovation in Medical Education from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada.

Dr. Sharma was recognized for spearheading the development of MEDSKL, a free, open-access platform for medical students that uses video to deliver clinical education from leading physicians around the world. MEDSKL was designed for medical school students and practicing physicians to learn and review the fundamentals of clinical medicine.

“Being a doctor requires the ability to apply knowledge and theory in often unpredictable circumstances. Yet today’s medical students still receive their core education primarily through textbooks and lecture halls. Students need earlier access to clinical knowledge and case studies that bring the fundamental aspects of practicing medicine to life,” says Dr. Sharma.

The John Ruedy Award, named after the former Dean of Medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, recognizes physicians who have developed innovative digital or materials that support undergraduate, postgraduate, or continuing medical education.

“Queen’s University and the School of Medicine are proud to recognize Dr. Sharma for the work he’s done in innovating medical education,” says Dean Richard Reznick. “His contributions will provide students with yet another opportunity to enhance their medical training.”

When starting his medical career, Dr. Sharma says he chose Queen’s for his residency due to the amount of surgery performed, which fit his interests perfectly. He arrived at Queen’s in 1991 and has continued to work to change the care and treatment of patients with eye conditions ever since.

“In 2007 eye injections using new medicines were proven to have remarkable benefits in patients with wet macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease and other retinal conditions,” says Dr. Sharma. “To achieve these benefits, frequent eye injections called intravitreal injections are often required. Through our work at Hotel Dieu Hospital we realized that one of the barriers to quality health care was easy access to a clinic where these procedures are provided.”

To address these location issues, Dr. Sharma opened his first part-time intravitreal clinic in Belleville in 2011. After positive feedback, he opened a number of new clinics in Brockville, Smiths Falls and Port Hope. He always does the first assessment of patients at his Hotel Dieu clinic but is now able to provide injections at four different sites.

“In the clinics we feature some of the best young medical minds in the country, including medical students, residents and fellows,” says Dr. Sharma.

It’s this interest in students and their education that led Dr. Sharma to present a new way for medical students to learn. He created the open access website Medskl.com, which features more than 100 TED talk-style on dozens of clinical topics, from general surgery to public health and the legal and ethical aspects of medicine. Each learning module includes a two-minute whiteboard presentation, a 15-minute lecture and a 1,000 word written document.

The award will be presented at the end of April at the 2017 Canadian Conference on Medical Education, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines. Queen’s University is a member of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities.

Examining the mind

Queen’s researchers Doug Munoz, DJ Cook, Ron Levy, and Steve Scott (Centre for Neuroscience Studies) have received a three-year, $857,062 grant from Brain Canada’s Multi-Investigator Research Initiative with financial support from Health Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund. The project will study how Alzheimer ’s disease affects the brain and to devise new therapeutic strategies for slowing the progression of the disease.

(From L-R) Drs. DJ Cook, Doug Munoz and Ron Levy, (as well as Dr. Steve Scott, not pictured) have received a three-year grant from Brain Canada to examine new therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer's disease.

“This project stems from collaboration between our team and Dr. Fernanda De Felice, a leader in the study of Alzheimer’s disease from Rio de Janerio,” explains Dr. Munoz. “Her team has developed a way to create what looks like Alzheimer’s-like pathology in tissue cultures. Our project represents the evolution of this research and brings with it exciting new opportunities for Alzheimer’s research - including the potential for us to test therapeutics that may improve quality of life for patients and slow the progression of the disease.”

The team will use amyloid-beta oligomers – amino acid peptides that are a main component of the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients – to mimic several attributes of the disease and its progression. Their study will also explore using trophic – growth-promoting – molecules and electrical stimulation to promote regrowth and plasticity of affected cells.

“The study proposed by Dr. Munoz and his colleagues at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies has the potential to lead to tremendous breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s University. “As the population demographics continue to shift and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia increases, projects such as this will help us better understand and manage this disease. Queen’s is proud to support field-leading health research, such as this Brain Canada-funded project.”

An estimated quarter of a million Canadians have a diagnosis of dementia – a group of disorders affecting brain function, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common form. The disease leads to a decline in memory, communication, reasoning and emotional control, and has a tremendous impact on patients, families and the health care system as a whole. Dr. Munoz says he is hopeful that the project will lead to the development of new treatments that can alleviate the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and improve quality of life for patients with the disease.

“If you have an older patient with a brain that is no longer working the way it used to, you won’t be able to reverse it back to the time when that brain was young and healthy,” explains Dr. Munoz. “What we aim to do, on the other hand, is to develop treatments that could allow the brain to work around the disease – alleviating some of the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s for the patient.”

The Brain Canada Multi-Investigator Research Initiative grant supports research that will “fundamentally change our understanding of nervous system function and dysfunction and its impact on health.” The grant aims to encourage and support research that will reduce the social and economic burden of neurological and mental health problems by developing means to prevent disease, diagnose disease earlier or to improve treatment.

The Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen’s is a  leading hub for research and scholarship in all facets of neuroscience.The Centre’s mission includes furthering the understanding of brain organization and function, as well as enhancing societal neurological and mental health, with emphasis upon improving the quality of life for those affected by neurological and psychiatric diseases.

Tackling youth concussions

Queen's outreach initiative provides on and off-field training for youth football players.

  • A youth football player learns how to approach a tackle safely to minimize injury risk, during on-field CESAP training. Allen Champagne (MSc'17) (in the white hoodie) offers technique coaching as the player prepares to go through the drill.
    A youth football player learns how to approach a tackle safely to minimize injury risk, during on-field CESAP training. Allen Champagne (MSc'17) (in the white hoodie) offers technique coaching as the player prepares to go through the drill.
  • Trevor Morley (Meds'17), right, explains to parents and coaches the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
    Trevor Morley (Meds'17), right, explains to parents and coaches the signs and symptoms of a concussion.
  • Chris Griffiths (Meds'18) explains the mechanism of injury behind concussion to a group of Thousand Islands Minor Football League coaches and parents.
    Chris Griffiths (Meds'18) explains the mechanism of injury behind concussion to a group of Thousand Islands Minor Football League coaches and parents.

On Saturday, April 22, representatives of the Concussion Education Safety and Awareness Program (CESAP) took part in the Thousand Islands Minor Football League community day at Kingston's Caraco Field. The organization, led by Queen's neuroscience and medical students, held off-field seminars for parents and coaches, providing information on concussions in sport. The presentation covered topics including how concussions occur, signs and symptoms and return-to-play protocols – all designed to ensure that players who suffer concussions receive appropriate treatment for their injuries.

While the parents took in the presentation, current and former Queen's Gaels football players took the participants through a series of drills aimed at improving their technique and minimizing injury risk. The players ran routes, practiced safe tackling and received on-the-spot guidance to improve their skills and play the game they love as safely as possible.

Started by Queen's neuroscience student Allen Champagne (MSc'17), CESAP aims to empower athletes and their parents to improve player safety through education and behaviour modification.

Indspire Award winner embraces personal journey

University often offers young people more than just a degree. For Thomas Dymond, currently a first-year medical student at Queen’s, post-secondary education has been a journey of self-discovery.

“It wasn’t until I got to Memorial University for my undergraduate degree that I started getting to know about my culture. I jumped over that barrier of not being sure how I fit being an Aboriginal person in modern society,” says Mr. Dymond, who recently accepted an Indspire Award, the highest honour the Indigenous community bestows upon its achievers.

[Thomas Dymond]
Indspire recently recognized first-year medical student Thomas Dymond for his significant volunteer work and his advocacy for Indigenous students. 

Mr. Dymond is Mi’kmaq from the Bear River First Nation in Nova Scotia. He lived off reserve growing up and didn’t learn a lot about his Aboriginal culture from his mother and relatives.

“Even though my grandfather didn’t attend a residential school, the system definitely impacted the way he felt he should share knowledge with his children and grandchildren,” Mr. Dymond says. “Given his own background and the racism he experienced, my grandfather never really forced our family to self-identify.”

Despite having minimal affiliation with the culture, Mr. Dymond says he always felt an Aboriginal presence inside of him growing up. When he moved to Newfoundland to attend Memorial University, he started to get more in touch with his Aboriginal identity.

However, as someone with mixed ancestry – his father is white – Mr. Dymond felt he faced another barrier to expressing his Aboriginal identity.

“I wanted to get involved, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to be received. I worried about walking in and being the whitest looking person in the room. I thought about how I was going to be received by other Indigenous students in the room,” he says. “Once I overcame all of that, it just sparked something in me. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to do more, and I wanted to get involved more.”

[Thomas Dymond accepts the Indspire Award]
Thomas Dymond accepted his Indspire Award on March 24 from Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Carolyn Bennett, Canada's Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. (Photo courtesy of Indspire)

Mr. Dymond was elected the Aboriginal student representative on the Student’s Union at Memorial University, a position he held for three years. He advocated for Indigenous students on campus, and also got involved in national campaigns such as Sisters in Spirit, which raises awareness about violence against Aboriginal women and girls, and Education is a Right, which seeks to increase financial support for Indigenous post-secondary students.

Mr. Dymond also got involved with a number of initiatives across the university and in the local community. He co-founded the Wape’k Mui’n drum group and facilitated events such as sharing circles. He sat on the board of the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre for two years as the youth representative. As a member of the board, he voiced the needs and desires of Aboriginal youth in the community, which helped shape planning and policy within the friendship centre.

“I have gone from a level of trying to be educated and to learn more about my culture to this point where people turn to me for knowledge.”
-- Thomas Dymond 

Reflecting on his volunteer and community work, Mr. Dymond can’t pinpoint one activity that he is most proud of.

“I do things because I have a passion and I am driven to do them. Everything along that path has led me to where I am today. All of those experiences have made me who I am,” he says. “I find it interesting that I have gone from a level of trying to be educated and to learn more about my culture to this point where people turn to me for knowledge.”

New beginnings, new challenges

After years of contributing to the university and broader community in St. John’s, Mr. Dymond found himself navigating a new and unfamiliar environment last fall after arriving at Queen’s to pursue his medical degree. When he came to campus for his School of Medicine admission interview, he visited Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and walked through the building on Barrie Street. Mr. Dymond said he received a warm welcome from the staff at FDASC, which made him feel comfortable going there.

Mr. Dymond admits that there was an adjustment period coming to Queen’s. It took him a while to get comfortable with the other medical students and the Aboriginal community on campus. Furthermore, the demands of medical school meant that he couldn’t attend as many events or get as involved as he had been at Memorial University.

Expanding access to Queen’s for Indigenous youth
The Faculty of Health Sciences has joined with the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science to expand the pool of qualified Indigenous applicants. Learn more about Ann Deer, Indigenous Access and Recruitment Coordinator, on the Queen’s Law website.
Improving access to Queen’s programs for Indigenous youth is one of the recommendations contained in the final report of the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Task Force. Read the full report and learn more about task force and its membership.

Over the past few months, though, Mr. Dymond feels he has come out of his shell, opening up about who he is and where he comes from.

“The more comfortable I’ve gotten with the people I am surrounded by now, the new community, the more I’ve been open and able to share my knowledge, understanding, and perspective on a lot of things,” he says. “And that’s really what it’s all about: I have a perspective as one person, and it’s nice that I am being heard.”

Having the opportunity to share that perspective with Aboriginal youth is what excites him the most about the Indspire Award. As part of the honour, Mr. Dymond will visit several different cities across Canada and deliver his message to other Indigenous youth: “stay in school and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”

“If you had asked me five years ago, I never thought I would have been here. It’s amazing where I have come from and how I got here, and I am excited to share that with other Indigenous youth and let them know they can do what they want in life.”

Visit the Indspire website to learn more about Mr. Dymond and the awards. 

Fostering connections at Royal Society of Canada seminar

[RSC Eastern Ontario]
Three Queen's researchers – Elizabeth Eisenhauer, Ugo Piomelli, and Una Roman D’Elia – will be making presentations at the Eastern Ontario Regional Seminar of the Royal Society of Canada on Saturday, April 22.

Four members of the Royal Society of Canada will be presenting their ongoing research at an upcoming event being hosted by Queen’s University on Saturday, April 22.

Four researchers – three from Queen’s and one from Carleton University– will provide insights into their work at the Eastern Ontario Regional Seminar of the Royal Society of Canada, set for the University Club from 10 am-4 pm.

The schedule of presentation includes:
10 am: Ugo Piomelli, FRSC, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering – Queen’s University “Turbulence simulations: unravelling disorder, one vortex at a time”
11 am: Una Roman D’Elia, College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Department of Art History and Art Conservation – Queen’s “Donatello and Pygmalion”
2 pm: Elizabeth Eisenhauer FRSC, Department of Oncology – Queen’s “Moving from the lab to the clinic – 30 years of progress in cancer treatment”
3 pm: Donald Beecher, FRSC, Department of English - Carleton “Boccaccio's ‘Tale of Titus and Gisippius’ (Decameron X.8) with a Coda on Friendship from a Cognitive Perspective

Along with presenting the research by Fellows and Members of the New College of Young Scholars Artists and Scientists one of the goals of the seminar is to foster discussion and connections, explains Pierre du Prey, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Art History and co-chair with Mike Sayer, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy.

“Participants, including our four speakers each year, make fruitful contacts among each other and the audience; contacts which stretch between the four universities represented and which cross disciplinary lines,” says Dr. du Prey. “Overarching themes emerge as if by magic from the diverse papers presented and the discussion that follows them. In this way arts and science become reunited by the common quest for knowledge.”

After 12 years at the helm, Dr. du Prey and Dr. Sayer are handing over direction of the forum, confident that it is set on a stable course, and bound for exciting new destinations. Hosted by Queen’s and actively encouraged by the RSC, it gives New Scholars and Fellows of the Society, as well as members of the general public, a chance to benefit from discourse at the highest level. The presentations are open and free to the public.

RSVP by April 19 at sayerm@queensu.ca, or 613-531-4853. 

A link to disability

Study finds new genes linked to intellectual disability.

A new study jointly led by Queen’s University’s Professor Muhammad Ayub and Professor John Vincent from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and has identified 26 new genes linked to intellectual disability. Currently the majority of intellectual disability patients receive no molecular diagnosis, which significantly affects their health and shortens their lifespan.

The study has implications for the diagnosis and clinical care of those affected, and also adds to the growing knowledge of brain development. It also may eventually lead to personalized treatments for affected individuals. Several of the genes identified are also thought to be connected with autism spectrum disorders.

 “Developments in technology and our strategic advantage of access to families from consanguineous populations made this big study possible,” says Dr. Ayub, who also works with the Development Disabilities Consulting Program at Queen’s University. “It is a significant step in the long journey to discoveries that could change our treatment for intellectual disabilities.”

The study involved 192 families from Pakistan and Iran with more than one family member who had an intellectual disability. About one in 100 children worldwide are affected by intellectual disability, which is characterized by significant limitations in learning that also affect daily functioning. Intellectual disability also frequently accompanies symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, and many genes have been found to be shared by the two illnesses.

Intellectual disability is frequently caused by recessive genes, meaning that an affected child gets a defective copy of the gene from each parent. The families in the study all had a history of marriage among relatives, which occurs quite commonly in communities in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. This background increases the likelihood that recessive illnesses may occur. Families with such a background and with multiple affected individuals can enable researchers to identify disease genes that would otherwise remain hidden.

Drs Vincent and Ayub along with the Canadian research team pinpointed mutations in 72 different genes related to intellectual disability in half of these 192 families. The identification of 26 new genes adds to 11 genes that the team has previously linked to intellectual disability among these families.

“For the participating families’ future cases of intellectual disability can be prevented by genetic screening of unaffected family members and relatives and focused advice on the risks of ‘within family’ marriages. For cultural reasons this would need to be done with great degree of sensitivity,” says Dr Ayub.

A broader goal in identifying genetic mutations is to develop diagnostic screening tools that are also relevant to populations in which ‘within family’ marriages are rare, such as Canada, United, Japan, China, and Europe. These screens would allow physicians to identify what exactly, at the molecular level, is leading to the condition and symptoms, and to use this information to plan more personalized treatment.

“The genes we have identified will be further studied for their role in development of brain and how their derangement leads to intellectual disability and other brain disorders,” says Dr. Ayub.

The study was published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Exposing the source

Queen’s researcher dives deep into factors that cause allergies.

Researchers at Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre have published the first the set of findings stemming from the Kingston Allergy Birth Cohort – a study tracking the developmental origins of allergies in nearly 400 mother-child pairs from pre-birth into early childhood.

New research by Dr. Anne Ellis examines factors that may play a role in the development of childhood allergy. The study is the first published results from the Kingston Allergy Birth Cohort, which has followed over 400 mother-child pairs to examine environmental and genetic causes of allergies.

The study confirmed a number of previously-known factors that play a role in the development of respiratory symptoms, and also uncovers a new link between air fresheners and respiratory issues. Researchers looked at parent-reported symptoms of respiratory symptoms – such as wheeze, recurrent infections, use of asthma medications, etc. – in the first year of a child’s life, as well as external and internal factors that play a role in the development of allergies.

“The Kingston Allergy Birth Cohort is truly a novel experimental group,” says Anne Ellis, the study’s lead author and an associate professor in the departments of Medicine and Biomedical & Molecular Sciences. “Kingston has a number of unique characteristics – such as a rate of smoking that is above the national average, a rare mix of urban and rural populations and a wide array of socioeconomic levels. All of these factors allow us a unique insight into factors involved in allergy.”

The cohort study examined the patient’s exposomes – the combination of all internal and external factors that can play a role in health of a patient. These include general external factors (such as socioeconomic status), specific external factors (such as exposure to cigarette smoke), and internal factors (such as age, parental history). Dr. Ellis and her team were then able to determine which exposures were already significantly associated with each other and control for the factors individually to determine which correlations could be more meaningful.

The researchers uncovered a previously unknown positive correlation between the presence of air fresheners in the house and respiratory symptoms, independent of other causes. The study also confirmed a number of previously known correlations between exposome factors and likelihood of developing allergy symptoms. Exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy increased the likelihood of respiratory symptoms, while post-natal factors such as breastfeeding, the presence of older siblings or the mother being older at the time of gestation correlated with lower instances of allergy.

Dr. Ellis says the ability to follow the cohort – many of whom are now three to five years of age – through time will allow for a more thorough understanding of the factors contributing to allergy development. Further studies involving the cohort group are underway, using skin tests to identify allergies, as well as in-home investigations.

“This is the first real feedback we have for the participants in the Kingston Allergy Birth Cohort,” explains Dr. Ellis. “There are so many other factors that can contribute to the development of allergies. With the approach we used in the cohort, we’re able to account for general external factors, specific external factors and internal factors that can contribute to the development of allergies so that we can whittle it down to what’s truly significant.”

The full study, titled The Kingston Allergy Birth Cohort, Exploring parentally reported respiratory outcomes through the lens of the exposome, is available online from the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Addressing addictions

Study reveals some women with prenatal opioid dependence are not being treated.

A new study by Queen’s University researcher Susan Brogly (Surgery) has revealed that 25 per cent of women suffering from a prenatal opioid dependence were not being treated for their addiction. Using data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the study also shows rising numbers of affected mother-infant pairs and associated health care costs.

“The information on health care costs are new for Canada, which goes along with the 16 fold increase in the number of mother-infant pairs affected by opioid dependence over the past decade,” says Dr. Brogly. “That is a striking finding but not new data. A larger concern is the 25 per cent of affected women that did not have an opioid agonist prescription recorded in the Ontario Drug Benefit program database.”

Opioid agonist treatment with methadone or buprenorphine is used to prevent maternal illicit opioid use and withdrawal and to improve prenatal care and pregnancy outcomes.  Methadone is predominately used in pregnant women in Ontario, largely because the form of buprenorphine used in pregnancy is not available in Canada and has to be imported from the United States under a special Health Canada program.  The long delay in getting buprenorphine can result in ongoing drug use, relapse or other complications in the pregnancy.

Many practitioners use methadone (which requires a special license in Ontario) and which may cause more severe withdrawal in the neonate. Buprenorphine, in the form used in pregnancy, can be prescribed by family physicians, obstetricians and other physicians without a special license. 

“This is an important finding because it could indicate barriers and stigma towards specific groups of women accessing care in our socialized healthcare system,” says Dr. Brogly. “More effective programming to prevent opioid dependence and prescription drug misuse is clearly needed and buprenorphine needs to be more readily available for pregnant women.”

In the study, Dr. Brogly revealed the number of infants born to opioid-dependent women in Ontario rose from 46 in 2002 to almost 800 in 2014. In addition rates of preterm birth, birth defects, still birth and infant mortality were higher than those reported for the Ontario newborn population.  All of these complications translate into significant increased costs to the system.

“The next steps are to confirm whether there are barriers to care, to try to tease out which exposures and what period of exposure in gestation causes poor birth outcomes in this population,  to identify longer term outcomes of the mothers and infants, and to prevent substance in young women,” says Dr. Brogly. “These data can be used to argue for more treatment options, including buprenorphine, and drug treatment programs tailored to women and their children. Support should also be given to the mothers and their children beyond the immediate post-partum period to facilitate the growth of healthy families and children.”

The research was conducted in conjunction with Queen’s professors Greg Davies (Obstetrics and Gynaecology)), Adam Newman (Family Medicine), Ana Johnson (Public Health Sciences), Kimberly Dow (Pediatrics) and University of Toronto professor Suzanne Turner (Family Medicine).

It was recently published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

ICES is a not-for-profit research institute encompassing a community of research, data and clinical experts, and a secure and accessible array of Ontario's health-related data. There is a branch of ICES located at Queen’s University.


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