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Research Prominence

A major step in treating genetic diseases

Queen's researchers demonstrate proof-of-concept therapy for genetic disorders.

Researchers at Queen’s University have published new findings, providing a proof-of-concept use of genetic editing tools to treat genetic diseases. The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, offers an important first step towards treatment for a rare liver disease, as well as other disorders caused by genetic mutations.

“Using the CRISPR-Cas9 system, we have demonstrated an important proof-of-concept in using gene editing to treat genetic disorders such as Arginase-1 deficiency,” says Angie Sin, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences at Queen’s.

Dr. Sin, working under the supervision of Queen’s researcher Colin Funk (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) examined the use of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, in combination with stem cell technology to repair Arginase-1 deficiency. The Arginase-1 enzyme plays an important role in the urea cycle – a key liver function that converts ammonia to urea for excretion in urine. Patients with a defective Arginase-1 coding gene are unable to convert ammonia, resulting in impaired ability to produce urea, as well as stunted growth, excess arginine in the blood, and progressive intellectual and neurological impairment.

The study offers an important first step towards treatment for a rare liver disease.

Like many genetic disorders, Arginase-1 deficiency is autosomal recessive – requiring two copies of the defective gene – and does not tend to result in symptoms before the age of three.

“Unlike many genetic disorders, there is a delay before symptoms present with Arginase-1 deficiency,” says Dr. Funk. “With this new gene editing technique, there might be a chance to cure the disease – as well as other similar disorders – much earlier.”

In testing the technique, Dr. Sin utilized a cell model with an induced genetic deletion, resulting in a defective Arginase-1 mimicking the disease in humans. Using the CRISPR system, Dr. Sin was able to reincorporate the repaired exons into the cell’s genetic structure and restore enzyme function.

While there are still many obstacles between the results of the cellular model and full-scale patient treatment, Dr. Sin explains that a new therapeutic strategy would offer tremendous benefits over current treatment methods. Current treatment for the disease is restricted to pharmacological agents, such as nitrogen-scavenging drugs, as well as protein-restricted diets. Demonstrating successful use of CRISPR gene editing technology for Arginase-1 deficiency would also offer clues as to treatment for other similar disorders.

”Using this approach may hold great promise for developing gene editing strategies to repair Arginase-1 and other similar genetic disorders,” she adds. “In current studies, we are using cells from Arginase-1-deficient patients to carry out a similar editing approach. The future goal is to transplant the corrected cells back to the patient and correct the disease. In addition, unlike the traditional gene therapy approach, there is no concern for loss of gene function over time or the potential for immune rejection.”

The full text of the study, titled Proof-of-Concept Gene Editing for the Murine Model of Inducible Arginase-1 Deficiency, is available online from Nature Science Reports.

Building the Super Soldier

Kingston Conference on International Security to examine the future of performance enhancement. 

The 12th annual Kingston Conference on International Security, taking place June 12-14, will bring together academics and military leaders to examine future enhancements to the physical, intellectual and social capabilities of soldiers. Panelists will also discuss the challenges in balancing the need for military effectiveness when enhancing individual performance with a commitment to reflect society’s values and norms.

“Different stakeholders bring with them different perspectives,” says Stefanie von Hlatky, Director of the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy and co-organizer of the conference. “Academics tend to think longer term, so bringing back the implications of their research to the immediate strategic, operational and tactical impacts is made possible through the conference. For the operational community and military leaders, engaging more analytically with concepts, doctrine and strategy is not something that the rigors of the job always permit, yet those lessons can be tremendously useful.”

Dr. Stefanie von Hlatky, Director of the Queen’s Centre for International and Defence Policy, says the Kingston Conference on International Security creates opportunities to bring together academics and practitioners to exchange knowledge and examine concepts and strategies in ways that aren't always possible in the separate donmains. (Supplied Photo)

By bringing together perspectives from academia, industry and military operators, the conference allows for a more detailed and nuanced examination of military performance enhancement. Panelists will examine the current and future states of leading-edge research in performance enhancement, as well as the social aspects of the military profession, which includes gender and cultural awareness. The final panel will consider the ethical and moral implications of developing super soldiers, who must later transition back to being citizens when the mission is complete.

The conference is a collaboration between the Centre for International and Defence Policy, the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre, the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, and the NATO Defense College in Rome. The conference program is jointly developed by the partner groups, with an eye on the implications of international security trends for the armed forces of Canada, the U.S, and NATO allies.

“It is our hope that the attendees gain knowledge and awareness on the multiple facets of the soldier and military performance – including spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, cultural and familial components,” says Major-General S.C. Hetherington, Commander of the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre. “More importantly, I hope they fully leverage this unique and diverse forum to contribute ideas and information on current fields of work and research akin to soldier and military performance. The Kingston Conference on International Security, as a world class international conference, bringing NATO and international perspectives, which are always valuable and informative for the attendees.”

For more information on the Kingston Conference on International Security, or to register to attend this year’s session, visit the website.

A good night's sleep

New research from Judith Davidson shows behavioural therapy helps fight chronic insomnia.

The battle against chronic insomnia is one that 12 per cent of Canadians fight every night. New research from Queen’s University’s Judith Davidson (Psychology) has shown group Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) in a primary care setting is effective in treating insomnia. This is the first study of group CBT-I offered as part of routine care in a North American primary care setting.

New research from Judith Davidson could help fight chronic insomnia.

“These results have important implications for health care across the country,” says Dr. Davidson. “Insomnia, if left untreated, can lead to major depression, Type 2 diabetes, more sick days and car accidents. Medication works in the short term and drugs do help with occasional sleepless nights but we need to properly treat chronic insomnia or it’s never really cured.”

Multicomponent CBT-I typically includes sleep restriction therapy, stimulus control therapy, cognitive therapy and relaxation training provided in five or six sessions. In her study of the first 81 patients who received group CBT-I as part of routine care, 88 per cent reported no clinical insomnia after five weeks of treatment.

While the positive effects of CBT-I are obvious, bringing that therapy to chronic insomnia sufferers across Canada is a challenge, according to Dr. Davidson. The treatment is not covered by provincial health plans and primary care physicians do not have the time to deliver CBT-I therapy in a group setting – despite them often being the first point of contact for people looking for help with chronic insomnia.

“I have been working with the Kingston Family Health Team to provide this treatment right in primary care, but this is rare,” says Dr. Davidson. “Outside of primary care teams, the treatment has a cost which makes it unattainable for many people. This research shows how the treatment can be integrated into primary care and is a starting point for determining how best to bring CBT-I to more patients across the country.”

The research was published in Behavioral Sleep Medicine and co-authored by Samantha Dawson and Adrijana Krsmanovic, both doctoral students in Queen’s clinical psychology graduate program.

Queen’s invests in 20 faculty researchers

Queen’s University will be funding the research of 20 faculty members following their successful applications to the Queen’s Research Opportunities Fund (QROF). Launched in 2015, QROF represents a strategic internal investment in areas of institutional research strength that provides researchers and scholars with the opportunity to accelerate their programs and research goals.

“Research is a core component of the mission of Queen’s University, and a key driver of our Strategic Framework,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Through the QROF program, we are making important internal investments that present new opportunities to build on research excellence and to enhance success of our faculty with external agencies and non-governmental organizations. I look forward to seeing the project outcomes for this year’s recipients.”

See the full list of funded projects, and learn more about one of the funded projects, below.


[Dr. Karine Bertrand]
Karine Bertrand, one of this year's recipients of QROF funding. Dr. Bertrand is an associate professor within the department of Film and Media, and teaches a course in Indigenous Women's Film and Media. (University Communications)

Film can be used to educate, to document, and to tell stories. Video works can also spark conversations about topics both inspiring and difficult. In doing so, film can build culture and understanding among different peoples – and, sometimes, we discover we are not so different after all.

This has been one early finding of Assistant Professor Karine Bertrand’s work through her project, “From Arnait Video Productions (Nunavut) to Video in the Villages (Brazil): developing a network of the Americas for Indigenous women filmmakers”. Dr. Bertrand, who teaches in the Department of Film and Media, is working to establish a film database for Indigenous women filmmakers to help them leverage what some call the modern ‘talking stick’ – a way for Indigenous women to make their voice heard on important subjects.

Dr. Bertrand is one of the recipients of funding through QROF 2017 under the category of “Research Leaders.” With this funding, one of her goals is to build a network that will allow Indigenous women filmmakers across North and South America to communicate with, support, and learn from each other. She is partnering with Indigenous filmmaker Sonia Bonspille Boileau, as well as Indigenous elders and Indigenous students at Queen’s, to help bring her vision to life.

“I have been teaching a course on Indigenous women’s film and media for the last few years and looking at a lot of different video works from the Americas and Oceania, and I realized that it is really hard to get a hold of these films,” Dr. Bertrand explains. “And, despite the fact many of these female Indigenous filmmakers are thousands of miles away from each other, they are living the same realities. If they could share and communicate about their experiences, it might be able to help them in the healing process. It is so inspiring to think that maybe we can make a difference for these women.”

Dr. Bertrand hopes to launch the database within two years, and is currently consulting with the filmmakers about the best approach and seeking tech-savvy students who could assist. In the meantime, she has successfully reached out to the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, whose elders are from Tyendinaga, and local Indigenous communities, including her community in Kitigan Zibi and the Outaouais region, to seek their blessing on the project.

With the support from the QROF, Dr. Bertrand also aims to establish a Minority Women’s Film and Media Production Centre here at Queen’s, and host a biennial conference showcasing minority women’s cinema with the first conference taking place in 2018. She believes there would be significant interest in the topic – 99 per cent of students enrolled in her Indigenous Women’s Film and Media course are non-Indigenous, and many of her fellow faculty have expressed their support for such a centre.

Below, please find the full list of this year’s QROF recipients. Thank you to all researchers who applied, and congratulations to all recipients.


Research Leaders’ Fund

Crudden, Cathleen

Chemistry

Carbon-based ligands for metal surfaces: a revolution in biosensing

$50,000

Jessop, Philip

Chemistry

Application of green chemistry concepts to CMF derived biofuels

$50,000

Lai, Yongjun

Mechanical and Materials Engineering

Novel wearable technology for better vision

$49,112

Renwick, Neil

Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Accelerating RNA-guided diagnostics through accurate RNA detection in neuroendocrine tumor liquid samples and cell lines

$50,000

Bertrand, Karine

Film and Media

From Arnait Video Productions (Nunavut) to Video in the Villages (Brazil): developing a network of the Americas for Indigenous women filmmakers

$50,000

International Fund

Cramm, Heidi

Rehabilitation Therapy/CIMVHR

Military & veteran family health research: a global alliance

$20,000

Aldersey, Heather

School of Rehabilitation Therapy

Setting priorities for sex and relationship education for women with intellectual disabilities (ID) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and their families

$20,000

Mousavi, Parvin

School of Computing

Improved diagnosis and prognosis of prostate cancer using deep learning and multi-parametric medical imaging

$15,000

Cunningham, Michael

Chemical Engineering

Sustainable materials derived from natural polymers as substitutes for petroleum-based synthetic polymers

$20,000

Ross, Robert

Kinesiology and Health Studies

Exercise and metabolomics – a novel approach to understanding the mechanisms by which exercise improves cardiometabolic health

$16,750

Fichtinger, Gabor

School of Computing

The integration of the Dartmouth electrical impedance imaging technology with the Queen's NaviKnife real-time electromagnetic breast surgery navigation system

$4,100

Post-Doctoral Fellow Fund

Mousavi, Parvin - Anas, Emran Mohammad Abu

School of Computing

No Title

$45,000

Mulligan, Lois - Moodley, Serisha

Cancer Biology & Genetics

Evaluating RET-inhibitors in lung cancer growth and metastasis

$45,000

French, Simon - Auais, Mohammad

Rehabilitation Therapy

No Title

$45,000

Arts Fund

Artistic Production

Renders, Kim

Dan School of Drama and Music

Rhinoceros or What's Different About Me

$5,000

Rogalsky, Matthew

Dan School of Drama and Music

Purchase of specialized loudspeakers for investigation and experimentation on an Indigenous language sound installation project

$2,742

Anweiler, Rebecca

Fine Art (Visual Art) Program

Animal/Séance: exhibition at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre's State of Flux Gallery, Kingston, Ontario

$4,900

Wanless, Gregory

Dan School of Drama and Music

Support for The Eliza Show

$5,000

Visiting Artist Residency

McKegney, Sam

English

“Conversation over co-existence: The limitless possibilities of poetic practice”
A Writer’s Residency featuring Karen Solie

$13,000

Kibbins, Garry

Film and Media

Richard Ibghy and Marilou Lemmens: The golden USB

$9,401

 

To learn more about the QROF program, click here.

Looking at the universe with 'New Eyes'

  • Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus Art McDonald helps open the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit on Friday, May 26. The exhibit is open to the public at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre from May 27-July 7.
    Nobel Laureate and Professor Emeritus Art McDonald helps open the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit on Friday, May 26. The exhibit is open to the public at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre from May 27-July 7.
  • One of the most popular features of the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit is a life-size virtual display of Art McDonald, presenting information about the work of SNO and SNOLAB.
    One of the most popular features of the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit is a life-size virtual display of Art McDonald, presenting information about the work of SNO and SNOLAB.
  • Art McDonald acknowledges the contributions of Gordon and Patricia Gray, the sponsors of the Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics, a position he once held at Queen's University.
    Art McDonald acknowledges the contributions of Gordon and Patricia Gray, the sponsors of the Gordon and Patricia Gray Chair in Particle Astrophysics, a position he once held at Queen's University.
  • Members of the Queen's and Kingston communities tour through the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit during a special opening event at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on Friday, May 26.
    Members of the Queen's and Kingston communities tour through the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit during a special opening event at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on Friday, May 26.
  • Art McDonald cuts the ribbon to officially open the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit alongside, from left, Principal Daniel Woolf, student Elizabeth Fletcher, MPP for Kingston and the Islands Sophie Kiwala and David Walker, Chair, Executive Committee for Queen’s 175th Anniversary.
    Art McDonald cuts the ribbon to officially open the New Eyes on the Universe exhibit alongside, from left, Principal Daniel Woolf, student Elizabeth Fletcher, MPP for Kingston and the Islands Sophie Kiwala and David Walker, Chair, Executive Committee for Queen’s 175th Anniversary.

Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald helped kick off an interactive exhibit highlighting the discoveries of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project and the ongoing experiments by Queen’s researchers at the SNOLAB underground facility.

[Queen's 175th anniversary]
Queen's 175th anniversary

A special event was held Friday at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre where the exhibit will be on display from May 27-July 7. Queen’s is hosting the exhibit as part of its 175th anniversary celebrations, which will conclude later this summer.

Dr. McDonald shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for proving that solar neutrinos change their flavour en route to Earth, an important discovery for explaining the structure of the universe and the nature of matter.

The exhibit, which debuted July 1, 2016 at Canada House in London before touring across Canada, features 40 panels presenting the history and development of SNO and SNOLAB, located two kilometres below the surface in the Vale Creighton Mine near Sudbury. Video kiosks allow visitors to explore themes and offer a virtual tour of SNOLAB, while, through a life-size virtual display, Dr. McDonald presents information about the work of SNO and SNOLAB and his perspective on the future.

Exhibit artifacts include unique detector components developed especially for SNO, as well as a scale model of the SNO detector.

Admission to the exhibit and the Agnes is free for everyone.

The SNOLAB Institute is operated under a trust agreement between Queen’s University, Carleton University, University of Alberta, Laurentian University, Université de Montréal, and Vale, and includes external and international membership from both academic and industrial sectors. 

New hope for cancer patients

Queen’s University researchers successfully synthesize cancer agent thapsigargin.

Queen’s University researchers have successfully synthesized the anticancer agent thapsigargin, which could now open the door to the creation of new cancer drugs.

The team of P. Andrew Evans (Chemistry) and his graduate student Dezhi Chen developed an efficient route to thapsigargin in only 12 steps.

P. Andrew Evans (l) and Dezhi Chen have successfully synthesized the anticancer agent thapsigargin.

“The first successful synthesis of thapsigargin required 42 steps, which was accomplished by at least 10 co-workers over a 10 year period,” says Dr. Evans. “What Dezhi did is impressive by any measure. He devised a new route to this important agent and successfully implemented his idea to complete a 12 step synthesis in only nine months.”

Thapsigargin was isolated from a wild poisonous plant, which is commonly known as the deadly carrot, in 1978. Despite numerous attempts to synthesize, the complexity of the molecule made it very challenging.

A key feature with thapsigargin is that it kills both slow and fast-growth cancer cells by inhibiting an enzyme that controls essential calcium balance inside cells.

With the anticancer drug Mipsagargin entering late-stage clinical trials, Dr. Evans says “it’s estimated that more than one metric ton of thapsigargin will be required per year.”

The prodrug Mipsagargin is being tested for the treatment of some of most challenging cancers, for example liver, brain, kidney and prostate cancer, thereby making it an exciting prospect.

“The efficient synthesis of this molecule is critical as relying on the isolation from a plant growing in the wild is not a sound strategy,” says Dr. Evans.

“The plant is resistant to cultivation in natural or greenhouse conditions, which coupled to the low yielding and tedious isolation makes our approach a timely development.  With our process we can make thapsigargin much more readily available with a more efficient process. We have also opened up this area for the preparation of simplified analogues.”

Dr. Evans confirmed the synthesis of thapsigargin was patented through PARTEQ, the Queen’s University technology transfer office.

The research was recently published in Journal of the American Chemical Society and highlighted in Chemical and Engineering News.

Queen’s University earns top marks for innovative thinking

The prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) has listed Queen’s as one of 55 international institutions, and only four in Canada, that “have innovation at the core of their strategy, strong industry links, and research that excels in technological areas such as engineering”.

THE compiled the roster of “tech challengers” by looking at institutions that have taken innovative approaches to help them adapt to the trend of declining public funding. They highlight that one common strategy among these institutions is their excellence in innovative areas of research associated with the technological and digital revolution. The tech challengers article is the second in a series of articles THE is writing based on "academic clustering" analysis by their data team.

“We can take pride that the work we are doing to foster innovation at Queen’s is being noticed internationally, and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this strong result,” says Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Benoit-Antoine Bacon. “Innovation and international impact are critical for our continued success, and the future looks bright with new investments in faculty renewal and in state-of-the-art facilities like our Innovation and Wellness Centre, including space for human-machine collaboration, and the Beaty Water Research Centre.”

“It is exciting to see this acknowledgement of our achievements,” adds Greg Bavington (Sc’85), Executive Director of the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC). “Our centre breaks down campus and regional boundaries to help create optimal conditions towards success, and to develop the next generation of innovative leaders. I know we will continue to build on this strong result as more of our students tap into programs such as the QyourVenture accelerator, our summer intensive QICSI program, and our Global Network.”

There are many initiatives underway to break down those boundaries. University employees have been involved in supporting a number of local budding entrepreneurs in recent months – from a pitch competition held at the DDQIC in April, to the ongoing support provided to faculty researchers such as Shahram Yousefi, to the coaching of some grade 5 through 8 students to help them develop their entrepreneurial ideas.

In April, alumni in Los Angeles and San Francisco were joined by Dr. Bacon and Mr. Bavington for discussions about the future of innovation at the university. Those discussions led to the establishment of two California nodes for Queen’s Global Network (a SoCal node for Los Angeles and San Diego, and a NoCal node based in San Francisco).

Additionally, Queen’s is in the process of consolidating technology transfer, industry partnerships, Innovation Park activities, and a research contracts unit to form the Office of Partnerships and Innovation, under the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research). This office will provide support and incubator space for startups, offer entrepreneurship programming, advance research partnerships with industry, government and not-for-profits, and provide the intellectual property and commercial expertise that are needed to advance discoveries and technologies to the marketplace.

“With the ongoing formation of the Office of Partnerships and Innovation, we will have the expertise needed to support technology transfer activities, cultivate research partnerships, and support our innovation ecosystem,” says Jim Banting, Assistant Vice-Principal (Partnerships and Innovation).

See the full THE tech challengers ranking list here. Data scientist Billy Wong, who conducted the “tech challenger” analysis for THE, said the cluster was created by mapping 980 universities’ citation scores and reputation votes across eight broad subject areas. The institutions were then grouped into 10 clusters based on their “proximity” and therefore similarity to other universities. Universities which tend to do better in either THE’s engineering and technology or physical sciences subject rankings compared with their overall rank tended to make the cut as “tech challengers.”

To learn more about THE DataPoints, their data analysis service, please click here.

Renewable energy and reconciliation

Queen’s researcher receives CIHR grant for interdisciplinary research program on Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development.

Queen’s University researcher Heather Castleden (Geography and Planning/ Public Health Sciences) has received a $2 million team grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to lead an interdisciplinary research program on Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development for healthy communities.

Dr. Castleden hopes that the project will bring to light new and restored understandings of integrative health by sharing our stories, resources, and tools with Indigenous and Settler governments, industries, ENGOs, universities, and beyond. (Photo Credit: Jon Aarssen)

The program of research, titled A SHARED Future: Achieving Strength, Health, and Autonomy through Renewable Energy Development for the Future, will bring together more than 75 Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics, as well as representatives from various Indigenous and settler governments and organizations across Canada, to examine how fostering Indigenous leadership in renewable energy development has the potential to deliver positive community benefits and spur efforts towards reconciliation.

“Much of my research has involved a Two-Eyed Seeing framework – something I learned from Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshal and his colleague, Cheryl Bartlett, who is a retired biologist and former Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science,” explains Dr. Castleden, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities. “The guiding principle of Two-Eyed Seeing is to bring the best of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems together to try to answer research questions more comprehensively and whole-istically.”

Through this program of research involving multiple projects, Dr. Castleden and her colleagues will examine stories of success in renewable energy development. Amongst other criteria, the research will determine whether Indigenous communities, governments, and organizations are using a business-as-usual model, a joint venture model, a co-operative, or an Indigenous leadership model in their collaborations. The team will also examine how these efforts have the potential to lead towards new and restored understandings for integrative health by reconciling and healing relations between the Indigenous and settler communities, as well as the relationship with the environment.

“For the past 15 years, Dr. Castleden has partnered with Indigenous communities across Canada in conducting community-based, participatory research on issues such as social and environmental justice and health equity,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “This project will not only bring about a better understanding of the impacts of renewable energy development on Indigenous communities, it will also foster a deeper understanding of the requirements necessary to overcome barriers that address relationships and support for Indigenous populations and their communities,  in order for Canadians to pursue meaning reconciliation.”

Indigenous Ways of Knowing will play a central role throughout the design of the program and its various projects, in conceptualizing the team’s research approach, organization and methodology. Dr. Castleden explains that doing so allows the research team to consider issues in a broader and more whole-istic nature. She adds that Indigenous leadership and efforts towards self-determination and autonomy have led to broader inclusion of Indigenous perspectives and knowledge in academic research.

“We have been trained in academia to specialize in our fields, which makes it very difficult to see a problem from multiple generations back or forward, to translate from the individual to the community and beyond – that’s where Indigenous knowledge systems bring the breadth of the issue to light,” she says. “This is especially true with health research. There is, with many Indigenous knowledge systems, the ability to see health issues as being not just about physical health or mental health but also emotional health, cultural and spiritual health and well-being of people. We don’t tend to do that in Western science, so again that’s what makes this make sense.”

Dr. Castleden and her team are one of nine team grants to receive funding under the CIHR Environments and Health Signature Initiatives program. The program aims to support researchers and teams investigating how various sectors can collaborate to promote healthy environments and reduce exposure to the causes of poor health.

For more information on the A SHARED Future project, please visit the HECLab website.

Improving the lives of critical care patients

Queen’s researcher takes on a leading role in innovative ICU recovery study.

For patients who survive an episode of critical illness, they can experience weakness and other limitations to their function long after they’ve left the hospital. But there’s hope in sight: A unique, multi-site clinical trial that aims to improve outcomes for intensive care unit patients using a combination of early nutritional supplementation and exercise. The trial is set to begin, with researchers from Queen’s University playing a leading role in the study’s operations.

Dr. Heyland and his team at the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit will design and manage the study protocol, taking place in ICU's across the United States.

The Nutrition and Exercise in Critical Illness (NEXIS) trial will take place in four ICUs across the United States and run through March 2022. Principal investigators are Daren Heyland of Queen’s University, Dale Needham of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Renee Stapleton of the University of Vermont. The study will examine whether intravenous amino acid supplementation and the in-bed cycling exercise improves recovery for patients requiring life support from a mechanical ventilator in the ICU.

“This collaboration represents one of the first trials of a combined nutrition and exercise strategy in critically ill patients to aid in their recovery,” says Dr. Heyland, who also serves as the director of the Clinical Evaluation Research Unit at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre. “The combination of our respective expertise in nutrition and rehabilitative medicine in critical care settings allows us to bring the best of the two worlds together.”

Patients taking part in the study will receive an intravenous infusion of amino acids in addition to their standard nutrient intake – targeting 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day – and will conduct 45 minutes of cycling exercise five days per week. The study will randomly assign patients into two groups – one will receive the novel combined study intervention, while the other receives standard ICU care. Recovery will be measured using the six-minute walk distance (6WMD) test at hospital discharge as well as many other measures of body composition, muscle strength and physical functioning during patients’ hospital stay. The researchers will conduct phone-based follow-up calls six months after discharge to evaluate lasting benefits of the study intervention.

“ICU patients experience accelerated muscle wasting, believed to be related to the role of the inflammatory response in critical illness,” says Dr. Stapleton, an associate professor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. “The consensus is that standard ICU nutrition practice is protein-deficient, typically providing only 0.8-1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, and that this may play a part in muscle wasting.”

As one of the world’s leading multicentre clinical research methods centres, the CERU at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre will be responsible for the development of study procedures and day-to-day coordination of the study. Dr. Heyland, who serves as clinical director of CERU says that the centre’s unique level of expertise in coordinating intensive care nutritional studies will strengthen the study’s ability to examine this new course of treatment.

“What has evolved in critical care medicine is a realization that more and more people are experiencing, and surviving, critical illness,” says Dr. Heyland. “We have a large number of survivors of critical illness who, in addition to muscle weakness and impaired physical functioning, can also suffer from such conditions as depression and anxiety, as well as cognitive impairments following release from the intensive care unit. These impairments can have long-lasting health impacts for both the surviving patient and their family members. This study will play an important role in improving the physical outcomes for ICU survivors.”

The research conducted during the NEXIS project is supported by a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on the NEXIS trial, please visit the website.

New research into pre-eclampsia

Queen’s doctor works on new process to prevent or treat pre-eclampsia.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has recognized a promising new treatment for pre-eclampsia being developed by Queen’s University researcher Graeme Smith. Dr. Smith recently received a $198,942 Catalyst Grant which will help advance his research.

“The only treatment we have for pre-eclampsia right now is delivery which often leads to premature births and that just isn’t a solution,” says Dr. Smith (Obstetrics and Gynecology). “Treatments using different types of medications have not been successful.”

Pre-eclampsia is a disorder in pregnancy characterized by the onset of high blood pressure. The disease affects two to eight per cent of pregnancies worldwide and is one of the most common causes of death due to pregnancy and it increases the risk of poor outcomes for both mother and baby.

Dr. Smith and his team are researching increasing the normal production of carbon monoxide in humans as well as external exposure to low doses of carbon monoxide in pregnancy. Studies have shown the gas is an important substance that, at low concentrations, plays an role in the health of pregnant and non-pregnant humans.

Carbon monoxide could provide the key to improving the blood flow between mother and baby to help prevent or treat pre-eclampsia.

“We have different approaches to try to determine if this will work including turning on or turning up the carbon dioxide production in our bodies or using a drug treatment to increase carbon monoxide in pregnant mothers,” says Dr. Smith. “There is still a long way to go as we have to prove this is safe but we are taking solid first steps.”

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.

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