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Research Prominence

Last chance to see New Eyes on the Universe exhibit

The New Eyes on the Universe exhibit – featuring the groundbreaking work of Queen's Professor Emeritus and Nobel Laureate Art McDonald, and his team at SNOLAB – will be on view at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre for one more week, until July 9.

The interactive exhibit highlights the discoveries of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project. Dr. McDonald shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for this experiment, which proved that solar neutrinos change their flavour en route to Earth, an important discovery for explaining the nature of matter and the structure of the universe.

Created by SNOLAB with Science North, this touring installation in the Agnes atrium features a special component for the Queen's setting: a real-time cloud chamber that makes visible some of the subatomic particles that continually bombard us.

Admission is free. More information available in the Gazette or on the Agnes website.

International research leader earns top honour

Queen’s Professor Paula James was recognized for her work with inherited bleeding disorders.

Queen’s University Professor Paula James, one of Canada’s leading researchers in inherited bleeding disorders, has been honoured with the Cecil Harris Award by the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

The award is presented to a physician in recognition of distinguished contributions in the areas of research or the advancement of the care of patients with inherited bleeding disorders. The award has not been presented in 10 years.

Dr. Paula James has earned the Cecil Harris Award.

“I’m proud and humbled to receive this national honour,” says Dr. James (Medicine and Pathology and Molecular Medicine, School of Medicine). “It was made even more special to receive the award from my mentor Dr. David Lillicrap.”

Drs. James and Lillicrap are principal investigators of the Clinical and Molecular Hemostasis Research Group located jointly between Queen’s and Kingston General Hospital. The focus of the lab is to utilize a variety of experimental approaches to understand the molecular basis of blood coagulation and to develop strategies to translate this knowledge into clinical benefits.

After completing her training in internal medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. James came to Queen’s to complete her clinical hematology fellowship. She then entered a 30-month training in basic laboratory research in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine. During this time, she honed her talents as an accomplished clinician and researcher in the field of inherited bleeding disorders.

In her clinic, Dr. James directs the Southeastern Ontario Regional Inherited Bleeding Disorder Program and has established a Women’s Bleeding Disorder Clinic. Her expertise in the care of von Willebrand Disease (VWD) – a lifelong bleeding disorder which affects the blood’s ability to clot – has been recognized by the international bleeding disorder community. She also leads a research program with a focus on VWD along with hemophilia.

“For sure, an award like this is a recognition of a team effort,” says Dr. James.  “I’m fortunate to work with great people on a daily basis.”

Dr. James’ Let’s Talk Period website features a bleeding assessment tool to help women that may be suffering from bleeding disorders. More than 2,000 women have taken the test in 106 countries and the website has had more than 15,000 views.

“Receiving this award has given me even more motivation to work harder and help more people,” says Dr. James. “I’m committed to my patients and passionate about my work and I want to help. That’s always been my goal.”

For more information on the award please visit the Canadian Hemophilia Society website.

Two 2017 Queen’s National Scholars announced

Queen's University’s Faculty of Arts and Science will gain two prominent new academics following successful applications to the Queen’s National Scholar (QNS) program.

“The QNS program is designed to enrich teaching and research, especially in newly developing fields of knowledge, and is an important initiative supporting our faculty renewal efforts,” says Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Provost and Vice Principal (Academic). “The Principal and I extend our warmest welcome and congratulations to both Dr. Isabelle St-Amand and Dr. Michael Doxtater, our newest Queen’s National Scholars. Both will contribute significantly to our scholarship in the areas of Indigenous studies and culture, a growing need strongly identified in our Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.”

Isabelle St-Amand is one of two new Queen's National Scholars. She will be joining the French Studies and the Languages, Literatures and Cultures​ departments.

Dr. St-Amand received her PhD in 2012 from the Université du Québec à Montréal. Her thesis investigated the Oka Crisis through the study of lndigenous and non-Indigenous documentary films and narratives, and was published in 2015. She has worked with the leading scholars in migrant literatures on an anthology of critical texts, and a special journal issue on environmental ethics and activism in Indigenous film and literature. Dr. St-Amand has a proven record of working collaboratively with Indigenous organizations to develop her research.

As a QNS in Aboriginal and Migrant Literatures, Dr. St-Amand will fill a critical need in the departments of French Studies and Languages, Literatures and Cultures to enhance the scholarship of Aboriginal Francophone Literature, and will provide a strong link to Aboriginal Anglophone Literature. She brings with her an impressive teaching dossier that includes teaching at three universities, and will contribute significantly to the new graduate program in Transcultural & Linguistics Studies. Dr. St-Amand will start at Queen's in July.

“I am excited about the research and teaching opportunities that are opening for me at Queen’s,” says Dr. St-Amand. “This opportunity aligns perfectly with my area of research, so I could not have dreamed of a better place for continuing my work.”

“On a personal level, I am looking forward to exploring the city of Kingston and the surrounding environment,” she adds. “I love the way the water is present all around the city. I hope to find opportunities to swim, do outdoor activities in the region, and try the beautiful night skating rink at the city hall in the winter.”

Michael Doxtater is one of two new Queen's National Scholars. He will be joining the Languages, Literatures and Cultures and Global Development Studies departments.

Dr. Doxtater is an award-winning documentarian and scholar of international stature. A member of the Haudenosaunee Nation, and fluent in Kanyen'keha (Mohawk), Dr. Doxtater has both a deeply-rooted understanding of traditional oral knowledge and a clearly articulated vision for the future of lndigenous Studies at Queen's. Involved in grassroots organizing around environmental protection, he is highly regarded as an art practitioner, community activist, educator, strategic planner, and administrator. He possesses extensive professional and scholarly experience in addition to his status as a healer and mediator within his own communities. He will be joining the Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Global Development Studies departments in July.

The university's reputation is part of what attracted Dr. Doxtater to Queen’s.

“When I opened the email and saw it was a posting at Queen's University...It's one of those universities that has a certain place in the higher learning sphere. It is a first-class university,” he says.

His ambition is to develop a Centre of Excellence Dedicated to Aboriginal Recovery (CEDAR) that would place Queen's at the forefront in the growing field of applied, land-based pedagogies.

“Having Queen's be the platform for this initiative makes sense because of the pilot project’s orientation, which is working with the Iroquois community,” he adds. “With their traditional territory stretching from the Montréal area to the Six Nations territory in southern Ontario, we are geographically in the middle.”

In his free time, Dr. Doxtater stays in shape through visits to the gym, daily runs, and Wasáse – a type of tai chi based on Native dance forms. He is working on selling a screenplay he wrote, and plays guitar.

The QNS program was established in 1985. Since then, more than 100 QNS appointments have been made in a wide variety of disciplines, and the appellation of Queen’s National Scholar has become synonymous with academic excellence.

To learn more about the program, click here.

Queen’s University joins The Conversation Canada

[The Conversation]
The Conversation was founded in Australia in 2011, and has grown to include seven editions, including a newly-launched Canadian edition.

An exciting new partnership between Queen’s and The Conversation Canada will see researchers access an innovative model of journalism: one that relies on their academic expertise, and allows academics to write about current events, topical issues, and their own research on a range of subjects – from science and technology to politics, arts, culture, business, the environment, health, and education. 

First founded in 2011 in Australia, The Conversation is a proven and independent online news platform which academics from around the world can use to contribute their thoughts and expertise. It is not a traditional news site with a team of journalists writing the stories – rather, the voices featured are researchers who are assisted with editing support and pointers from The Conversation’s editorial team. The pieces are free to read, enjoy, and republish. Content is also made available to other media outlets via national newswire services.

With great anticipation, and support from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grant, The Conversation has recently launched in Canada, and Queen’s University has signed on as a founding member. This means faculty and graduate students from across the university can visit The Conversation Canada’s website, register as an author, and begin submitting story ideas and opinion pieces to the editorial board. It also means staff from The Conversation Canada will be reaching out to Queen’s researchers, as well as researchers from a number of other Canadian universities, seeking story ideas and columns to be shared on the platform.

The Conversation has become the largest network of global expertise in research and scholarly activity,” says Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Provost and Vice Principal (Academic). “We are thrilled that the platform has launched in Canada, and we hope that our academic community embraces this concept as has happened in other parts of the world. The Conversation is a powerful tool for community engagement and will bolster the efforts of our researchers to share their expertise and build their own profile.”

The Conversation is a tremendous resource and opportunity for any academic seeking to promote their research beyond the academy,” says Michael Fraser, Vice Principal (University Relations). "We look forward to contributing to this important platform, which will relay the importance and impact of the research and scholarship happening at Queen's to a variety of external audiences."

The Conversation Canada is free to use, and content from the platform is shared with news organizations from coast-to-coast-to-coast via The Canadian Press newswire service. Scott White, formerly the editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, has been tapped as The Conversation Canada’s first editor.

“I believe the primary role of good journalism is to provide the public with factual information about the world they live in so they can, in turn, make informed decisions about important issues in their lives,” says Mr. White. “The model of The Conversation is that it combines the deep knowledge of academics with the ability of journalists to convey information to a broad audience.”

White notes the other six editions of The Conversation – Australia, U.K., France, Africa, U.S., and Global – attract 4.8 million web visitors per month, and the content is shared with 35 million readers through syndication agreements. Academics and universities will benefit from this relationship because it will allow important research to reach a wider audience, while news outlets receive free, vetted content to supplement their news coverage.

To learn more about The Conversation Canada, and register as a contributor, visit theconversation.com/ca.

Are you a Queen’s academic interested in contributing to The Conversation Canada or learning more about the platform? Please contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca for more information.

Celebrating Queen’s Research

  • A building banner celebrating the achievements of researchers at Queen's University is installed on the front facing of Joseph S. Stauffer Library.
    A building banner celebrating the achievements of researchers at Queen's University is installed on the front facing of Joseph S. Stauffer Library.
  • Streetlight banners featuring Queen's Research have been installed along University Avenue on Queen's campus as well as on Princess Street in downtown Kingston.
    Streetlight banners featuring Queen's Research have been installed along University Avenue on Queen's campus as well as on Princess Street in downtown Kingston.
  • Using a heat gun, workers from Jet Signs install a banner on the tower of Grant Hall highlighting Queen's Research and Art McDonald's 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.
    Using a heat gun, workers from Jet Signs install a banner on the tower of Grant Hall highlighting Queen's Research and Art McDonald's 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • Queen's Research and Art McDonald's 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics are highlighted with a new banner installed on the tower of Grant Hall.
    Queen's Research and Art McDonald's 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics are highlighted with a new banner installed on the tower of Grant Hall.
  • A banner adorns the wall near the front entrance of Duncan McArthur Hall on the West Campus of Queen's University.
    A banner adorns the wall near the front entrance of Duncan McArthur Hall on the West Campus of Queen's University.

Queen’s is celebrating the groundbreaking work of the university’s researchers and to help promote the achievements a series of banners are being placed on prominent buildings around campus as well as on light poles along University Avenue and downtown Kingston.

Research is core to the foundations of Queen’s as an institution. The banners highlight the importance of research prominence to our internal and external communities, and draw attention to how research and scholarly activity plays a critical role in our ability to develop the talent and ideas that serve all aspects of society.

The banners display the imagery of Queen’s Research as well as highlighting the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics received by Arthur McDonald, for his longtime research and groundbreaking findings into neutrinos – sub-atomic particles considered the basic building blocks of the universe.

The new banners are being placed directly onto the buildings, much like a giant sticker, by staff from Jet Signs. At the same time the banners celebrating the 175th anniversary of Queen’s are being removed. The new banners have been placed on Grant Hall, Stauffer Library, Walter Light Hall and Duncan McArthur Hall.  

New Queen’s research hub harnesses IBM’s Watson technology

Don Aldridge, Executive Director, Centre for Advanced Computing at Queen's poses with Colette Lacroix of IBM Canada.

The Centre for Advanced Computing (CAC) at Queen’s University has partnered with IBM to establish a new academic research support initiative leveraging the company’s Watson cognitive technology.

“This collaboration between IBM and the CAC promises to increase our research capacity and help prepare our community for the next wave of technological innovation,” says Daniel Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University. “With access to IBM’s state-of-the-art technology, the CAC will have an increased ability to harness data and help a wide range of researchers use information in new and exciting ways.”

The CAC and IBM are creating the “Cognitive Development Hub”, a team of cognitive developers at the CAC who will engage with academic researchers, and support collaboration with industry partners to explore the potential of incorporating cognitive technologies into their businesses.

“Queen’s is committed to fostering partnerships that enhance our strengths and accelerate research outcomes on the regional, national, and global stages,” says John Fisher, Queen’s Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “This collaboration is another exciting example of IBM and Queen’s working together on mutually beneficial and innovative projects that positively impact our research digital infrastructure and knowledge translation.”

The Cognitive Development Hub will develop proofs of concept solutions using Watson technologies. Industry partners will learn how the technology can work for them, and Queen’s post-doctoral fellows and undergraduate interns will have the opportunity to develop their cognitive skills by working on real-world projects.

“IBM sees great value in expanding our already strong relationship with one of Canada’s top research universities. This is an important and unique collaboration with Queen’s University – our first Canadian academic partner to establish a development centre using Watson technologies. We are also excited by the focus of Queen’s to engage students in the centre – they will be Canada’s future IT leaders,” says Dino Trevisani, General Manager, IBM Canada Limited and graduate of Queen's University's MBA program.

“Academic collaboration with industry not only accelerates the creation of new innovative solutions and technologies, it also helps to drive the economy by transferring knowledge gained at our universities to industry, increasing skills both in our graduates and within our industry partners, and creating new jobs and business opportunities,” says Don Aldridge, Executive Director, Centre for Advanced Computing at Queen’s University. “As Canada becomes a true knowledge economy and executes on our innovation agenda, partnerships such as this will prove essential for everyone involved.”

The CAC’s Cognitive Development Hub is the latest example of Queen’s and IBM working together on innovative projects. Most recently, the new “IBM Canada | Smith Cognitive Computing Centre” was unveiled in Toronto. The first of its kind at a business school in Canada, the centre is a collaborative space that will provide an exclusive artificial intelligence demonstration experience for IBM clients and enhanced access to cognitive computing solutions for Smith students and faculty. IBM’s partnerships with the Smith School of Business and the CAC are complementary, covering the spectrum from education through to hands-on application development and execution.

Visit the Centre for Advanced Computing website for more information.

A week of honours for Art McDonald

  • University of Toronto Chancellor Michael Wilson confers an honorary degree upon Arthur McDonald, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics on Thursday, June 8.
    University of Toronto Chancellor Michael Wilson confers an honorary degree upon Arthur McDonald, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics on Thursday, June 8. (Photo by Lisa Sakulensky)
  • Arthur McDonald receives an honorary degree from McGill University Chancellor Michael Meighen during the convocation ceremony on Monday, June 5 in Montreal.
    Arthur McDonald receives an honorary degree from McGill University Chancellor Michael Meighen during the convocation ceremony on Monday, June 5 in Montreal. (Photo provided by McGill University)
  • Arthur McDonald, third from left, stands with Rector Cam Yung, Principal Daniel Woolf, and Chancellor Jim Leech after receiving an honorary degree from Queen's. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
    Arthur McDonald, third from left, stands with Rector Cam Yung, Principal Daniel Woolf, and Chancellor Jim Leech after receiving an honorary degree from Queen's. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

It has been a busy week for Professor Emeritus Arthur McDonald, as the Nobel Laureate received three honorary degrees.

Beginning on Monday, June 5 Dr. McDonald traveled to Montreal to receive an honorary degree from McGill University. He then returned home to Queen’s where he was honoured on Wednesday, June 7 at Grant Hall. Then on Thursday, June 8 Dr. McDonald was conferred a third degree from the University of Toronto.

A faculty member of the Department of Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy, Dr. McDonald shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for his longtime research and groundbreaking findings into neutrinos – sub-atomic particles considered the basic building blocks of the universe.

Dr. McDonald arrived at Queen’s in 1989 and was the inaugural Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics. He also was the co-recipient of the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics and the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

He continues research on neutrinos and dark matter at the SNOLAB underground laboratory near Sudbury and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics.

Raising the curtain on TECTA-PDS’s latest act

The Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Collaborators series profiles regional innovations, startups and collaborations that are flourishing and which engage Queen’s faculty, staff and/or students.

[TECTA-PDS]
TECTA-PDS Technology Manager Eric Marcotte explains how the company's automated system for microbiological water testing works to Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson during an open house at the firm's headquarters in downtown Kingston. (Wing Studios Photo) 

TECTA-PDS never left Kingston but today it is truly at home here.

On May 11, the manufacturer of the world’s first automated system for microbiological water testing held an open house in its corporate offices at 382 King St. E. in downtown Kingston, to celebrate the return of its ownership to Canadian hands.

These new headquarters set the stage for the latest act in a multi-year performance that has seen the company grow from lab to start-up, to scale-up, to global pacesetter in E. coli testing, a market valued at an estimated $2.2 billion a year worldwide.

TECTA-PDS has developed  the world’s first automated system for microbiological water testing. (Wing Studios Photo)

TECTA-PDS’s story begins in Kingston in the early part of this century. Seven people had died in the town of Walkerton, Ont., after drinking contaminated water in Canada’s worst-ever outbreak of E. coli. Among the factors leading to this preventable disaster were shortcomings in how water was tested for E. coli and dangerous delays caused because samples had to be sent to an outside lab. The government wanted to know what could be done to prevent such a disaster in the future. In response, an interdisciplinary group of researchers at Queen’s University joined with industrial partners to find a solution. Their goal, says Stephen Brown, the lead inventor and a professor of chemistry and environmental studies, was to develop a fully automated system that “would provide laboratory-grade results and be portable enough that you could take it to a town like Walkerton and test the water on the spot.”

Thus was Pathogen Detection Systems born.

Doug Wilton, a Queen’s engineer by training and the firm’s CEO, joined the company in 2005, becoming its second-ever employee. The firm set up in the ground floor of the Biosciences Complex at Queen’s in an incubation space controlled by KTEC, a collaboration between the university and Kingston’s economic development agency.

By 2008, says Wilton, “we had a prototype and our first regulatory approval, but we still needed a lot of commercialization work to take it to market.”

They had to find a major partner. French water giant Veolia Environment seemed a good fit.

“They were willing to take a risk on a start-up company with a technology that could potentially revolutionize water testing,” Wilton says.

Folded into Veolia’s new water monitoring division (Endetec), and with their future financing intact, the fledgling firm moved to larger labs and offices on the fourth floor of the Biosciences Complex.

For several years, Endetec continued to grow. Then, in 2014, trouble hit.

“The challenging economy led to a massive reorganization from the very top on down (at Veolia),” says Wilton.

Facing high debt levels and slow growth, a new CEO decided Veolia needed to concentrate on its core businesses. And everything else was under review. Endetec just didn’t fit.

“Our division was a luxury that could no longer be justified,” Wilton says.

However, what might have been a catastrophe for the young firm turned into an opportunity.

“They (Veolia) could have said, ‘Let’s just be done with it,’” says Wilton, and wound up Endetec completely.

Instead, in mid-2016, he was given the chance to spin off the business and create TECTA-PDS.

“I am very appreciative of the people at Veolia who made that conscious decision,” he says.

The decision cemented the company’s connection to Kingston.

“Under Veolia, we were surprised that we hadn’t been moved, and there was always a risk that we would be,” says Wilton. “But now we are able to say we’re privately held and we have no intention of going anywhere.”

Focusing on Kingston brings benefits. The key ingredient in their detection system had been produced at GreenCentre Canada since 2012; now the actual manufacture of the portable testing units has been brought home from the United Kingdom and handed over to Kingston-based Bojak Manufacturing.

“Richard (Zakrzewski, Bojak’s president) was at Transformix when they built our original prototype in 2006. When we were bringing the manufacturing back here, Richard was just starting Bojak. It’s the sort of thing that could only happen in Kingston,” says Wilton.

The company continues to work closely with Queen’s.

“We’ve had a formal research agreement with Queen’s since the beginning,” says Wilton, “and we’ve just launched a new collaboration.”

PARTEQ Innovations, Queen’s commercialization arm, helped secure their patents, and Wilton praises patent agent Stephen Scribner, who continues to work with the company on strengthening these. Over the years about 20 Queen’s students have worked on different research projects relating to the company’s products; some have gone on to join TECTA-PDS on a full-time basis.  

The company now employs about a dozen people in Kingston plus those involved in the manufacturing of the components.

“We’re very much part of the Kingston community, very much part of the Ontario community, and we’re part of this broader ecosystem of innovation, technology development and clean technology,” says Wilton.

Today the company’s products are in use in about 25 countries. They continue to focus on E. coli testing, a global market that Wilton estimates is growing at a rate of 6-7 per cent a year.

“We’re working very closely with the federal government, and by the end of this year, we’ll be in two dozen First Nations communities with our technology,” he says.

In addition, major water companies, such as the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Singapore’s Public Utilities Board are using TECTA-PDS’s automated technology. Plans are also afoot to extend the portable testing unit’s capabilities to detect other pathogens, such as Enterococcus.

“In some situations, that’s a more useful indicator than E. coli,” says Brown.

Their system is, says Wilton, “a platform technology. We’re continuously trying to expand what we test beyond water – to milks, and other food products – and there is even potential to move beyond environmental testing in a clinical direction.”

The company’s primary challenge is to remain focused.

“We probably have almost too many opportunities at this point,” says Wilton.

“Most technology start-ups have only a single act,” he adds. “Very few make it to a successful conclusion. Our first act led to our acquisition by Veolia. Although considered a successful conclusion by many, this really was just the beginning of a second, and in many ways more challenging, act of expansion and commercialization. We are so very fortunate that we are now able to embark on a third act, to continue our mandate to revolutionize water monitoring, to continue to take this Queen’s University discovery to the entire world, and to continue as a Canadian company.

“This third act is the most exciting so far.”

Queen's earns two Banting Fellowships

Two postdoctoral fellows earn one of Canada’s top honours for young researchers.

Two young researchers at Queen’s University have been awarded Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships to continue their research. Nicolle Domnik (Medicine) and Sarah Yakimowski (Biology) received two of 70 fellowships awarded across Canada this year.

Dr. Domnik is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Dr. Yakimowski is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. The Fellowships are designed to attract and retain top-tier post-doctoral talent, both nationally and internationally. It also positions the winners as leaders of tomorrow.

Nicolle Domnik and Sarah Yakimowski have both earned Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships.

“The Fellowship recognizes our top post-doctoral trainees as future leaders in their respective fields,” says Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies. “For Queen’s to earn two this year is a testament to Queen’s being a place where early career researchers can refine their research focus and skills, as well as work alongside leading academics.”

Dr. Yakimowski is working with Robert Colautti (Biology) on a new research project focusing on an invasive species. Amaranthus palmeri is reducing the yield of soybean, corn and cotton across the United States. This crop weed is not yet in Canada but has moved north rapidly over the past 25 years and could have a huge impact on agriculture if it makes it north of the border.

“This weed has been fought with herbicides and, as a result, A. palmeri has evolved resistance. One of my primary goals is to understand how this weed’s reproductive strategies contribute to the origin and spread of herbicide resistance. This could provide insight into novel control strategies,” says Dr. Yakimowski.

A long term goal of this research is to understand whether herbicide resistance evolved once and spread, or whether resistance is evolving independently in many locations.

She adds the funding provides an opportunity to form the basis of her research for the next decade.

Dr. Domnik has always had an interest in respiratory physiology and the Banting Fellowship supports her research with Dr. Denis O’Donnell (Respirology). Her project at Queen’s and its affiliated teaching hospitals, Kingston General and Hotel Dieu, is focused on the impact of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD; a debilitating condition primarily caused by smoking) on breathing mechanics, lung function and respiratory symptoms at night.

“The intersection of breathing mechanics and sleep in COPD is a new and important area of research that I’m excited to explore,” she says. “This award allows me to dedicate myself fully to my research for the next two years, alleviating the stresses associated with funding that many postdocs experience. The Fellowships that Sarah and I have received also speak to the high level of research being done at Queen’s. It’s an honour to receive and I am very grateful for this opportunity.”

For more information on the Banting Fellowships, please visit the website.

Study compares cancer drug cost, benefit

Queen’s University researcher Christopher Booth reveals the price of new cancer therapies is not associated with treatment effectiveness.

A new study from Queen’s University professor Christopher Booth has revealed the pricing of cancer drugs appears to have no relationship to their effectiveness.

Through the review it was revealed that the most expensive drugs were not the most beneficial.

“Most members of the public (and many patients) may not understand that when they read about a new ‘breakthrough cancer therapy’ in the media it usually does not cure cancer but extends survival by a few weeks or perhaps a few months,” says Dr. Booth (Oncology). “Given that these drugs are very expensive and have important side effects, these small improvements may not lead to real improvements in the overall health and well-being of our patients or society as a whole.”

Using frameworks developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO), Dr. Booth and his team studied all randomized controlled trials of new cancer drugs in non-small cell lung cancer, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer over a four-year period.

The study found that there was no relationship between the price of a cancer drug and the extent to which it improves patient survival and quality of life. The authors concluded that to deliver optimal cancer care in a sustainable health system will require oncologists and policy makers to reconcile the disconnect between drug cost and clinical benefit.

“Our data does not suggest the use of these agents is inappropriate. These treatments have been established based on well-conducted clinical trials,” explains Dr. Booth. “Our concern is that the very small magnitude of benefit associated with many new treatments may not be fully appreciated by the public and by some patients.”

Dr. Booth advocates moving towards a value-based system where treatments and interventions that have a greater benefit for patients and society receive more resources than treatments that offer little benefit. He says one model that is being considered is value-based pricing where cancer drugs that offer the largest treatment benefit are sold at a higher price than drugs with negligible benefit.

“In our current system the price of a new cancer drug has no relationship to its benefit but is largely driven by the maximum price the market will bear,” says Dr. Booth. “A value-based pricing system would encourage companies and researchers to focus on developing more effective medicines by offering greater financial returns for those therapies with substantial benefit and smaller financial returns for treatments with negligible benefits. If you think about it, this relationship between quality and cost is what drives most economic transactions and it has always seemed strange to me that it does not apply to new cancer medicines.

The study was published in The Lancet Oncology.

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