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Expanding online offerings

Queen’s University has received approximately $1.2 million in funding from eCampusOntario to develop or redesign seven online programs through the New Program Development grant program.

eCampusOntario, which represents Ontario’s 45 colleges and universities, put out a call for proposals in July 2016 and received 174 submissions. A total of 61 submissions received funding totaling more than $21 million.

Of the seven successful proposals from Queen’s six were submitted by the Faculty of Arts and Science and one was submitted by the Faculty of Health Sciences.

The successful proposals cover a broad range of subjects including entrepreneurship and innovation, health leadership, and undergraduate research.

“Queen’s has a proven track record in securing funding to support the development of online learning,” John Pierce, Acting Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning), says. “In this round alone, over 10 per cent of the 61 successful proposals were from Queen’s. Our successes are a direct result of the expertise and engagement that our faculty and staff bring to the development of these innovative, well-designed courses. Collectively, we remain committed to facilitating a transformative online learning experience for our students, and these new projects will contribute to that.”

Queen’s already has more than 160 courses available online, as well as five full degree programs. More information about online offerings is available on Queen’s online learning hub.

Ontario’s shared online course funding program was created to promote the development of online courses at universities and colleges and to give students greater flexibility as they pursue their degrees. 

The Queen’s online programs receiving grants from eCampusOntario are:

Doctor of Science - Rehabilitation and Health Leadership
Grant:
$182,594
Project will work to develop the new Doctor of Science in Rehabilitation and Health Leadership (DSc RHL) plus four courses within this program. The DSc (RHL) is a professional doctorate that will produce ‘leader scholars.’

Queen's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Certificate (QEIC)
Grant:
$363,835
Project is to develop a new fully online certificate program in innovation and entrepreneurship to be launched in Fall 2018. This will be a uniquely collaborative academic initiative that brings together participants from nine Queen’s faculties, schools, departments and service units to develop, design and deliver the program.

Master of Earth and Energy Resources Leadership
Grant:
$151,317
Project will develop three courses for the new online Master of Earth and Energy Resources Leadership (MEERL) to be launched in January 2017. MEERL is a part-time, course-based, graduate program introduced by the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering at Queen’s that: 1) Capitalizes on Queen’s widely recognized strengths in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Faculty of Law, the Smith School of Business, the School of Policy Studies and the Department of Economics; 2) Works with industry to deliver courses that take an interdisciplinary approach focused on resource-related decision-making; Can be leveraged by those working in natural resources, policy, and regulation.

Certificate in Employment Relations (CEMPR)
Grant:
$262,956
Project will redesign a certificate program in employment relations for fully online delivery, to be launched in Summer 2018. Project brings together two universities and participants from several Queen’s Faculties, Schools, Departments and Programs to develop, design and deliver the program.

Global Action and Engagement Certificate (GAEC)
Grant:
$212,517
Project will develop a new, fully online undergraduate Global Action and Engagement Certificate (GAEC), and three core courses, to launch in Fall 2018. The fully online delivery model will make this innovative program: 1) Accessible to learners across Ontario and Canada; 2) An ideal way to earn a recognized credential that demonstrates cross-cultural competencies, intellectual creativity, collaborative problem solving skills; 3) The standard for proficiencies to work/volunteer in complex global settings.

Certificate in Advanced Research Skills
Grant:
$187,298
Project will develop a new, fully online certificate program in advanced research skills, to be launched in Fall 2017. The fully online delivery model will make this innovative program accessible to learners from all disciplines in Ontario and across Canada. To our knowledge, it is the first interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary research skills certificate. This ground breaking course will: 1) Recognize the ability of the learner to construct her or his own learning; 2) Create opportunities for self-directed learning; 3) Be aligned with the pedagogical approach of inquiry-based learning.

French for Professionals Certificate
Grant:
$214,047
Project is to develop a new fully online undergraduate certificate in French for Professionals to be launched in Fall 2018. In Canada, new graduates, professionals and other job-seekers who can communicate effectively in French as a Second Language (FSL) are more likely to be successfully employed in bilingual workplaces (Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, 2016). Goal of this new certificate program is to enable learners of French as a Second Language to develop and enhance language skills to work in bilingual professional environments such as health care, government, law and other industries.

Focusing on frailty

Queen’s based Canadian Frailty Network receives renewal funding of $23.9 million.

  • John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, Canadian Frailty Network, talks about the work by the internationally-recognized research network that is focused on improving health care for an aging population. (University Communications)
    John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, Canadian Frailty Network, talks about the work by the internationally-recognized research network that is focused on improving health care for an aging population. (University Communications)
  • Taking part in Friday's funding announcement were, from left: Richard Reznick, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences; Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands; Bettina Hamelin, Vice-President of Research Partnerships, NSERC; John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, Canadian Frailty Network; Russell Williams, Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Frailty Network; and John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). (Photo by Garrett Elliott)
    Taking part in Friday's funding announcement were, from left: Richard Reznick, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences; Mark Gerretsen, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands; Bettina Hamelin, Vice-President of Research Partnerships, NSERC; John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, Canadian Frailty Network; Russell Williams, Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Frailty Network; and John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). (Photo by Garrett Elliott)
  • Bettina Hamelin, Vice-President of Research Partnerships, NSERC, speaks during Friday's announcement of $23.9 million in renewal funding Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) from the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. (University Communications)
    Bettina Hamelin, Vice-President of Research Partnerships, NSERC, speaks during Friday's announcement of $23.9 million in renewal funding Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) from the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. (University Communications)

An internationally-recognized research network focused on improving health care for an aging population has received renewal funding from the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program. Launched as an NCE in May 2012, Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) will receive $23.9 million in renewal funding for the next five years, matched by $30 million in contributions from 150 partners

Hosted by Queen’s, CFN is a national initiative to improve the care of older Canadians living with frailty. Its goals are to increase frailty recognition and assessment, support new research and engage frail older people and their caregivers to improve decision making, and mobilize evidence to transform health and social care to meet the needs of the aging population.

“This Queen’s-led Networks of Centres of Excellence demonstrates the importance of the research at Queen’s and is evidence of how knowledge-mobilization can be done effectively and lead to a measurable impact,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University.

For its second term, CFN has prioritized standardizing how frailty is identified and measured in various care settings, continuing to increase evidence on frailty to aid decision making, and mobilizing knowledge to catalyze change in care. Canada is a leader in frailty research but, despite this, the Canadian health care system has lagged behind other jurisdictions in applying what is known about frailty.

“Implementing standardized ways to identify and measure frailty will support comparisons between jurisdictions and identify variations in care, outcomes and healthcare resource utilization,” says John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, CFN. “This can increase value from healthcare resources by avoiding under use and overuse of care. Informed by evidence, our goal is the right care, delivered in the right setting, as determined by older frail individuals with their families and caregivers.”

Over the past five years, CFN has had a number of successful outcomes:

  • Pilot study of in-bed cycling as a rehabilitation intervention for older frail patients in the ICU has led to full study.
  • A national partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) and Mount Sinai Hospital implemented elder-friendly models of care in 17 Canadian hospitals and an international hospital, and further collaboration is planned for Term 2.
  • A study testing ICU screening for frailty has been rolled out across Alberta.
  • ICU patients in Alberta are now screened for frailty. Promising feasibility study result has led to volunteer patient navigators for frail rural dwelling seniors being tested across Canada.
  • Testing by home care teams in the province of Quebec examined how a training program for doctors and interprofessional teams can improve the experience of the frail elderly and their families and caregivers in confronting the decision to stay at home or move to a care facility.
  • CFN’s Interdisciplinary Program is the only one in Canada targeting frailty, and nearly 550 young scholars, students and trainees have developed enhanced specialized skills and knowledge to provide the best evidence-based care.

“The unique challenges posed by frailty require a shift in Canadian health policy and planning on a national level,” says Russell Williams, Chair, Board of Directors, CFN. Canada needs frailty assessment standards implemented across care settings; better frailty training for caregivers and healthcare professionals; and funding models to address the needs of older adults living with frailty.”

For more information, visit the website.

Online opportunities

New funding supports virtual simulations for nursing students.

Queen’s nursing professors Marian Luctkar-Flude and Deborah Tregunno are part of a research team that has earned a $100,000 grant from eCampus Ontario to investigate the cost effectiveness of using computer simulation in nursing education.

The funding is going to create online virtual simulations which will better prepare students for hands-on work once they enter the simulation laboratory at Queen’s. A number of scenarios will be developed to teach students the best way to approach a variety of nursing situations.

“Virtual reality is really an emerging field and this funding is enabling our students to be leaders in that area,” says Dr. Luctkar-Flude. ““The project is also a real highlight in the collaborative process between institutions.”

Dr. Luctkar-Flude is a Canadian leader in nursing education using simulation, and was one of the first in Canada to bring simulation training and interprofessional education together. She recently became the first Canadian to earn the Excellence in Research Award from the International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning.

 “Having students training in the lab is expensive so these online learning modules will better prepare them to work efficiently while in the lab,” explains Dr. Luctkar-Flude. “The project will help drive the innovation of online learning in Ontario.”

The project is being led by Dr. Jane Tyerman (Trent University), and Dr. Luctkar-Flude and Dr.  Tregunno from Queen’s School of Nursing are the co-principal investigators. Dr. Rylan Egan, Director of the Office of Health Sciences Education at Queen’s is a co-investigator. Other institutions involved include Nipissing University, the University of Ottawa and York University.

The grant and the research collaboration between the nursing programs involved builds upon the partnerships and research opportunities that were created from a 2013-2014 Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities Productivity and Innovation Fund grant, led by Dr. Tregunno. The grant saw more than $5 million awarded to 13 universities and four college partners to create simulation scenarios to support fourth-year nursing students’ transition to practice.

A new approach to allergies

Study reveals using synthetic peptides could be a better solution for grass allergy sufferers.

A new approach to treating grass allergies offers potential as a shorter and more effective alternative to traditional allergy shots, according to a recent study led by Queen’s researcher Dr. Anne Ellis (Medicine, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences).

“For many Canadians, the misery of grass allergy season can be lessened through allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots,” says Dr. Ellis. “But this well-known treatment not only involves the discomfort of weekly needles for  four to six months, followed by monthly injections for up to five years after, it also carries a not insignificant risk of severe reactions, including anaphylaxis. This new approach could change all of that.”

One of the largest ever conducted on this allergen, the Phase II clinical trial looked at the effectiveness and safety of a grass peptide-based immunotherapy, compared to a placebo, in 226 study participants.

This revolutionary study is the first-ever completed Phase II study using synthetic peptides to treat grass allergies. Unlike traditional grass allergy injections – which use all of the proteins from grass – the peptide therapy works through a different mechanism, using tiny bits of specific proteins to target the most important immune cells.

“It’s a new way of giving immunotherapy that bypasses the indirect route of traditional treatment and goes right to the most important effector cells” says Dr. Ellis, who also works as a clinician scientist at the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute. “The theory is that the proteins used in this kind of therapy are so small, they avoid anaphylaxis.”

Participants were treated with either the peptides or a placebo four months before grass season. After just eight injections – given every two weeks over the course of 14 weeks in total – they were exposed to grass pollen in the Environmental Exposure Unit (EEU) at Kingston General Hospital. The EEU is a state-of-the-art controlled environmental exposure facility that enables up to 140 participants to be tested at the same time. 

Dr. Ellis’ study revealed participants who received the peptide treatment showed a significant reduction in allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, and runny nose upon exposure to grass pollen, while avoiding serious reactions such as anaphylaxis.

The study also showed that this treatment could be delivered over a shorter period of time – one dose every two weeks over 14 weeks, compared to the nearly year-round frequency of traditional allergy shots. Interestingly, a higher dose of the peptide treatment, delivered over four-week intervals, was no more effective than the lower dose given biweekly.

“We saw the same thing in studies using synthetic peptides for allergies to cats and dust mites,” says Dr. Ellis. “It’s clear that immunotherapy using these peptides is different – it causes a bit of a rethink about how the immune system works.”

Dr. Ellis’s study was published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It was also highlighted in the “Latest Research” section of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

A family affair

Queen’s Family Health Team a leader in patient care for the past 10 years.

For the past 10 years, the Department of Family Medicine’s Queen’s Family Health Team (QFHT) has taken a leadership role in providing health care in a timely and efficient manner to its patients. The team offers a collaboration of physicians, resident physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, a dietitian, a pharmacist, various clerks and other forms of administrative support – all working together to provide patient-centred care.

By offering such a wide range of health services, department head Glenn Brown says they are giving their patients the best care possible.

Enjoying the 10th anniversary celebrations are (l to r): Glenn Brown, Head, Department of Family Medicine; Ruth Wilson; Diane Cross, QFHT Clinic Manager; Walter Rosser; and Karen Hall Barber, QFHT physician lead.

“I truly believe in this model,” says Dr. Brown, who will soon be stepping down as department head after two five-year terms. “Queen’s University has taken a leadership role in developing the family health team model and our patients are benefitting. Our patients want a relationship with the members of our team and we are providing that.”

The department got its start in 1965. At the time, it was located in a five-room family care unit based at Kingston General Hospital. It was in 1971 that the department became an academic unit at Queen’s. In 1975, the Family Medicine Centre, on Hotel Dieu Hospital property at 220 Bagot Street, opened with a number of health professionals from various specialties, representing an approach to family medicine that would later be known as a family health team.

“We have moved far beyond the days when doctors worked in silos; they now work in professional groups,” says Dr. Brown, who uses care of diabetic patients as an example.

“Our nurse practitioners, dietitian and pharmacist work, with the physicians, nurses and other staff, to provide a collaborative approach to the care of our diabetic patient population. All members of our team are able to utilize our electronic medical records system, which ensures there is good communication among everyone involved and no duplication.”

To ensure patients are getting full support, the QFHT is always expanding and improving its services. “We have a number of different baby programs, weight-management and healthy-eating programs, and pain-management clinics, just to name a few,” says Karen Hall Barber, QFHT lead physician. “These programs allow us to focus on prevention and identify issues before they get bigger.”

With all of the positive, there is some negative.

“The government has lost some faith that the model is working, but politicians are also aware data is limited in regards to patient satisfaction. All the studies available are showing family health teams are working,” says Dr. Hall Barber. “Part of the issue is the inequality of services available from family health teams. They aren’t all the same and that can lead to dissatisfaction.”

Dr. Brown agrees and says the Queen’s model can lead others to success.

“We need to make sure all citizens have access to the services because part of the issue is the equality of services. We are trying to help by expanding our own services to show this model can work. And it does work.”

Improving patient care

Queen's researcher examines impact of quality improvement efforts in Canadian hospitals.

A recent pan-Canadian research study from Queen’s University has found that hospitals need to make improvement efforts a top priority and engage frontline health care professionals to be most effective in improving the quality and safety of patient care. The study suggests that improvements in key areas could lead to more efficient use of health care resources and improvements to patient care. 

[Zoutman]
The study on quality improvement efforts in Canadian hospitals, published by Queen's researcher Dr. Dick Zoutman, found that quality improvement efforts need to be made a top priority, but that budget restraints often restrict the level of programming possible.

Queen’s researcher and Professor, Dr. Dick Zoutman (School of Medicine and Graduate Program in Health Care Quality), was the lead author on the report. The study surveyed the chief executives at 125 Canadian acute care hospitals on how they were approaching improving the quality of care in their hospitals – defined through such metrics as a reduction in ER wait times, triage times, improving discharge processes and connecting patients with outside resources. Dr. Zoutman looked at how hospitals carry out their quality improvement activities, which staff were involved, as well as the major barriers to achieving success in the quality improvement initiatives.  

“Improving the quality of the care in our hospitals is critical,” says Dr. Zoutman, who also serves as Chief of Staff for Quinte Health Care. “Quality of care should always be the paramount concern in all areas of health care.  Yet our hospitals have struggled with the best way to deliver the kind of quality care everyone expects of us.”

The study found that senior and middle management were most likely to be involved in a hospital’s quality improvement efforts, as opposed to frontline staff. As a result, many survey respondents found that time constraints limited their ability to solve quality of care issues. The results of the study showed that involving the frontline health professionals was the key to the success of a hospital’s quality improvement efforts.  The hospitals surveyed who involved their frontline doctors and nurses in improving health care delivery found that their quality of care improvement efforts had a positive impact on patient safety (90 per cent), better patient care results (88 per cent), and patient satisfaction (77 per cent).

The most commonly reported barriers to quality improvement were a lack of investment (89 per cent), an inability to collect data on the quality of care they were delivering to their patients (81 per cent), and not involving the doctors themselves in solving quality of care problems (77 per cent). Dr. Zoutman explains that the Canadian health care system as a whole lags behind in quality improvement programs compared to other countries. For example: 26% of Canadians wait four or more hours to be seen in the Emergency Department. Canada ranks as the worst internationally on ED wait times and these long wait times have not improved much in the last 10 years.

“Improving the quality of the care we provide in our hospitals should be our top priority,” says Dr. Zoutman. “However, it seems that quality improvement and patient safety programs are still in their infancy in Canadian hospitals compared to other industries such as automotive manufacturing and the airline industry. We know that quality improvement programs do have very significant positive impacts on the patient care experience.”

Dr. Zoutman says the results of this “inadequate” investment in the quality of care hospitals deliver is telling, as only 29 per cent of Canadian hospitals reported that they had accomplished over 90 per cent of their quality improvement priorities.

The full study, titled Quality improvement in hospitals: barriers and facilitators, was published in the International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance.

Big Data's promise and perils for health-care delivery

Queen's in the World

Exploring Big Data, and its great promise and serious perils for the delivery of health care, will be the theme of a lecture presented at Queen’s Feb. 7 by Dartmouth College Professor Denise Anthony. The talk – titled Big Data, Cybersecurity, and Health Care – is the first lecture of the Matariki Network of Universities Lecture Series and part of the Queen’s Big Data 175th Anniversary series.

“We are very pleased to host this inaugural Matariki Network lecture. Not only is it an opportunity to deepen our connection with Dartmouth College and our other Matariki partners around the world, but it is a chance to hear from an expert, Dr. Anthony, who brings a wealth of knowledge on a subject that is pertinent to all of us,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor.

Denise Anthony, Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives and Professor of Sociology at Dartmouth College, will visit Queen's Feb. 6-10 and give a lecture on Big Data, cybersecurity, and heath care on Feb. 7. (Supplied photo)

In the lecture, Dr. Anthony will illuminate the important implications of rushing to turn the digital promise into reality, without understanding how Big Data analytics change institutions. For the institutions of health-care delivery, the use of Big Data will require changes in information governance that affect not only the security and privacy of health information, but also the role of patients, the profession of medicine, and the meaning of health itself, says Dr. Anthony in her abstract.

Dr. Anthony, who is vice provost for academic initiatives and professor of sociology at Dartmouth, has held adjunct appointments at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and at Geisel School of Medicine. She was also research director of the Institute for Security, Technology, and Society from 2008-2013.

During her visit to Queen’s, Dr. Anthony will meet with colleagues and students in the Queen’s Surveillance Studies Centre and continue to develop Queen’s-Dartmouth collaborations through visits with Queen’s senior administrators.

“I am so honoured to be part of Queen’s University’s 175th celebration. What an impressive milestone! The Matariki Network is really a unique and special partnership among seven institutions across seven countries, and this kind of international collaboration seems especially important right now in an uncertain world,” says Dr. Anthony. “I have been a long-time admirer of the Surveillance Studies Centre, and particularly the work of Professor David Lyon and his colleagues and students, who are world leaders in helping us to understand the impact – positive and negative – of Big Data in our world today. I look forward to meeting with many students and scholars at Queen’s University over the course of my visit.”

Dr. Anthony’s lecture will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 pm in the Britton Smith Foundation Lecture Theatre, School of Medicine. A reception will take place beforehand, beginning at 5:30 pm, and all are invited.

The Matariki Network of Universities is composed of seven like-minded, research-intensive universities from around the world. One of the network’s aims is to build on the collective strengths of its member institutions to develop international excellence in research and education. Within the network, each institution is responsible for advancing a key research theme, with Dartmouth focused on cybersecurity.

The Queen’s anniversary series, Big Data 175, has been designed to engage intellectually and practically with a major analytic development and pressing public issue, from multi-disciplinary and cross-campus perspectives. The series, organized by a cross-campus, multi-faculty group, has so far held three events, with more planned for 2017. Visit the website for more details.

 

Opportunities for international collaboration

Queen's in the World

Applications are open for the International Visitors Program of the Principal’s Development Fund, a program that helps connect Queen’s with academics and institutions around the world by sponsoring visits by international scholars. The program also works to foster connections between Queen’s and its partners within the Matariki Network of Universities.

“This program provides a tremendous opportunity for collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas between the Queen’s community and scholars and universities around the globe,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “I am very pleased to offer this funding as part of our ongoing support for international partnerships and, in particular, alliances with the Matariki Network.”

Last year, Professor Karol Miller from the University of Western Australia visited Queen's through the International Visitors Program of the Principal's Development Fund.

The International Visitors Program includes three application categories, each of which offers grants of up to $3,000. Category one is the open program, which helps to cover the costs of bringing an international scholar to Queen’s for a period of at least three days. 

The other two application categories focus on leveraging Queen’s membership in the Matariki Network of Universities. One of these is an extension of the visiting scholars program, specifically aimed at bringing visitors to Queen’s from the other Matariki universities, which include the University of Western Australia (UWA), Tübingen University, Uppsala University, Dartmouth College, University of Otago, and Durham University. Last year, Professor Karol Miller from UWA visited Queen’s through the program and gave a talk about his research into computational biomechanics at the School of Computing Distinguished Speaker Seminar.

The third application category provides funding to assist Queen’s faculty and staff to travel to Matariki partner institutions to build new collaborations. This seed funding may be used to initiate new academic, research, or administrative initiatives.

Applications for these categories are due to the relevant dean’s office by April 21, 2017. For more information, including program details and application forms, visit the Principal’s website.

Questions about the Principal’s Development Fund may be directed to Csilla Volford, Coordinator, International Projects and Events, in the Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (International).

 

An eye-catching result

Research determines how the brain recognizes what’s important at first glance.

Researchers at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies (CNS) at Queen’s University have discovered that a region of the brain – the superior colliculus – contains a mechanism responsible for interpreting how visual input from a scene determines where we look. This mechanism, known as a visual salience map, allows the brain to quickly identify and act on the most important information in the visual field, and is a basic mechanism for our everyday vision.

[Brian White]
Dr. Brian White, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies at Queen's University, is the lead author on the study, which determined where in the brain the first information about a scene is deciphered.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, found that neurons in this region of the brain create a visual saliency map (a representation, or distilled version, of the scene that highlights the most visually conspicuous objects), which correlated with established computer models of saliency. The research opens up new opportunities in a wide range of fields including neuroscience, psychology, visual robotics, and advertising, as well as applications for diagnosing neurological disorders.

“When we look out at the world, the first things that attract our gaze are the low-level visual features that comprise a scene – the contours, the colours, the luminance of the scene – and computational models of visual saliency are designed to predict where we will look based on these features,” explains Brian White, a postdoctoral researcher at the CNS and the study’s lead author. “Our colleagues at the University of Southern California – led by Professor Laurent Itti – are at the forefront in the development of these models. With our neurophysiological expertise, we showed that neurons in the superior colliculus create a saliency map that guides attention, in much the same way as predicted by the saliency model. Until now, this was largely just a concept with little supporting evidence, but our latest study provides the first strong neural evidence for it.”

Dr. White and his co-investigators, including fellow Queen’s researcher Douglas Munoz, measured how the activation of neurons in this area of the brain respond to natural visual stimuli, such as video of dynamic nature scenes. The research team found a strong correlation between the model’s predictions of visual saliency across the scene, and the patterns of activation by these neurons – demonstrating  not only the validity of the model in predicting visual saliency and attention, but opening new possibilities in a range of fields.

Dr. White says the findings have important applications in the development of diagnostic tests for neurological disorders – such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Patients with such disorders show patterns of gaze that differ from controls when viewing natural scenes. These differences can be distinguished using the saliency model, and can then be used to help understand what the different brains are doing based on the neurophysiological results.

“While a number of fields can benefit from an improved understanding of saliency coding in the brain, the real benefit is the opportunity for further study on the superior colliculus and how it integrates inputs from other brain areas,” Dr. White says. “We’re very interested in furthering both the clinical and diagnostic benefits that can be derived from these findings, as well as the opportunity for further basic research.”

The full paper, titled Superior colliculus neurons encode a visual saliency map during free viewing of dynamic video, was published in the journal Nature Communications and is available online.

Enhancing health care

New research highlights the importance of culturally safe care for Indigenous patients with diabetes.

In Canada, rates of Type 2 diabetes are three to five percent higher in Indigenous peoples when compared to non-Indigenous peoples. Not only this, but Indigenous Canadians typically have poorer health outcomes during treatment of diabetes.

Queen’s family medicine professor Dr. Michael Green has co-authored a study with colleagues from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, the University of Calgary, and the University of British Columbia on the healthcare experiences of Indigenous patients with diabetes.  The study found that many patients experienced culturally unsafe care – a factor that may contribute to poorer health outcomes. 

“Many of the participants in our study reported that negative experiences with the health care system made them reluctant to seek the care they needed or to want to actively engage in the care of their diabetes,” says Dr. Green.

Participants in the study reported issues with the health-care system including having the health system experience trigger traumatic childhood memories at residential schools, interactions that patients felt were racially motivated, limited access to care due to physician shortages and geographic isolation, and negative interactions with health-care professionals.

This study also found that many Indigenous patients avoided or disengaged from their diabetes care because of negative experiences such as derogatory or judgmental comments by health-care providers, or visual triggers in health-care settings

The research showed health-care relationships can be repaired when health care providers demonstrate empathy, humility, and patience.

“We also learned important lessons directly from Indigenous patients about what health care providers and health systems can do to help build positive relationships and what they need to learn to provide care that is both effective and culturally safe,” says Dr. Green.

The research suggests a two-pronged approach to improving health care for Indigenous peoples. First, the study recommended a stronger focus on cultural safety training and antiracism education for health-care workers including a stronger emphasis on relationship development and advocacy.

Second, the study recommends enhancing patient-centered approaches to care to respond to the cultural and social needs of Indigenous patients.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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