Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Research Prominence

Passionate about protecting our planet

Queen’s University Communications Officer Anne Craig caught up with Warren Mabee as he prepared his presentation for the What Matters Now Kingston event on Wednesday, May 21. The event features five of Ontario’s leading researchers pitching why their research is important to a Dragon’s Den-type panel. Dr. Mabee’s research focus is renewable energy.

AC: Why are you so passionate about renewable energy?

WM: I believe that the most important thing in reducing our footprint on the planet is to shift to sustainable energy systems. This will require us to find lots of ways to conserve energy ­– we can’t possibly replace all of the fossil power out there with renewables – and will drive innovation and create new opportunities for Canadians. As a country, we have the resources to be an early adopter of these systems, and I want to see us setting the course for other countries to follow.

AC: What is the first step we need to take towards using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels?

WM: Continuing to expand the use of renewable energy without driving costs up too high will require relatively cheap biomass feedstocks. The best feedstocks we can get are those materials which are found in our waste streams. These range from the cheapest option, industrial wastes left over from processing - concentrated at factories and easy to collect - through residential, agricultural, and finally residues from forest operations, which are the most dispersed and probably most expensive. 

AC: One of your focuses is agricultural biomass. What is it and how can it be used effectively as a renewable energy source?

WM: Agricultural biomass is the stuff we don’t eat - straw from wheat or stover from corn. Right now, it is left on the field or collected for use as livestock bedding. A good amount of agricultural residue is essentially wasted; studies have shown that recovering a portion of the residue from the field can be done sustainably, providing feedstock for materials, chemicals, fuels and energy.

AC: What is the most effective way to move towards sustainable energy production and storage?

WM: We’ve already begun the shift towards more sustainable energy production.  To continue this move, we need to focus on getting the economics right. Too much renewable power requires heavy subsidy today, but we are seeing vast improvements in technology costs and process efficiencies which mean that subsidies are becoming less necessary. Existing ethanol from corn and wheat, for instance, is far more competitive today than it once was. 

AC: What are some recent renewable energy success stories?
WM: The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past few years, and continues to fall. This will make solar power more easily accessible and indeed should pave the way to rooftop solar becoming ubiquitous. In the biomass-to-energy sector, we’ve seen breakthroughs with Canadian technologies; Enerkem is completing a full-scale plant near Edmonton and will be building a second plant near Montreal. These are examples of the rapidly changing world of renewable power; what was once priced beyond the reach of society is now becoming competitive.

New award aims to deepen international relations

By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer

A new national research award is available to help upper-year undergraduate and graduate students conduct research outside of Canada.

“The Mitacs Globalink Research Award offers Queen’s students an excellent opportunity to make international connections early in their research careers and ultimately help the university increase its global engagement,” says Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research).

Globalink students tour Queen'sMitacs Globalink students visit the Queen's Innovation Park. (Innovation Park Communications)

Queen’s students can apply for the award to support their 12-24 week research project at an accredited university in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Turkey or Vietnam. The program is open to students from all disciplines and provides awards of up to $5,000 to cover student travel expenses. Mitacs recommends students submit their applications by June 13 for projects starting in September 2014.

The research award is one of several Mitacs Globalink initiatives designed to increase two-way mobility between Canada and Mitacs’ partner universities. Queen’s has participated in the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program for several years, inviting upper-year undergraduate students from countries like Mexico, Brazil and India to join researchers in a variety of departments. The application deadline for the summer 2015 intake of international interns is June 18, 2014.

Alumni of the research internship program can apply for a Globalink Graduate Fellowship. The program helps past participants return to Canada for graduate studies.

Mitacs is a national, non-profit research organization funded by federal and provincial governments. More information is available on the Mitacs Globalink website.

New hope for breast cancer patients

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer
Queen’s University researcher Xiaolong Yang has discovered the key to understanding how breast cancer patients become resistant to chemotherapy. This discovery could lead to more successful breast cancer treatment.
“We have identified a protein that may be critical in causing the resistance of breast cancer cells to antitubulin drugs, a group of chemotherapeutic drugs commonly used for the treatment of breast and lung cancer,” explains Dr. Yang, an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine.
 Xiaolong Yang
The research group led by Dr. Yang has discovered that antitubulin drugs kill breast cancer cells by inactivating a protein called YAP, which is critical for protecting cancer cells from drug-induced cell death. However, when the YAP protein becomes immune to drug-triggered inactivation, it can protect cancer cells from dying.
This discovery suggests that the YAP protein status can be used as a marker in predicting antitubulin drug response in patients which could lead to more effective chemotherapy.
Dr. Yang’s research team including PhD candidate Yulei Zhao, Prem Khanal, a Terry Fox Transdisciplinary Postdoc Fellow, and Paul Savage (Artsci’11), currently an MD/PhD student at McGill University, collaborated on the research with Drs. Yi-Min She and Terry Cyr at Health Canada.
This research, which was funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, was published online in the journal Cancer Research.

Israeli ambassador visits campus

 In July 2013 Principal Woolf, along with a delegation from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with the Association of University Heads, Israel (AUH) in Tel Aviv in order to strengthen ties between academic institutions in the two countries.

On May 9, Israel’s ambassador to Canada Rafael Barack visited Queen’s in support of this agreement. He toured a number of research laboratories before sitting down with Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer, to discuss co-operation between Queen’s and Israeli researchers.

Andrew Stokes: Given the memorandum of understanding between the AUCC and the AUH, how are you as the ambassador to Canada supporting the agreement?

Rafael Barack: [One way is] a symposium happening in Ottawa later this year hosted by the AUCC that we’re excited about. We’ll be sending scientists, government officials and success stories from the high-tech industry to represent Israel and to introduce the Israeli way of innovation. We’ve also invited 15 Canadian university officials to Israel; we want to look for more ways to co-operate, particularly through research and development.

Ambassador Rafael Barack (left) visited Dr. Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) lab during his visit. (University Communications)

AS: What were the goals of your visit to Queen’s?

RB: Canada, and Queen’s in particular, has a long-standing and deep friendship with Israel that spans years. In fact May 11 is the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Israel. There’s a lot of interest and a lot of curiosity in Israel about Canada and we think there’s a lot to be done. I came to Queen’s to get familiar with the authorities in their subjects and meet the people who are already working with Israel. The government can only guide; it’s the researchers that need to act on these relationships. There’s a lot of potential for scientific development and research, particularly long-term agreements that can hopefully contribute to the good of humanity.

AS: What did you learn while at Queen’s?

RB: Dr. Steven Liss [Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research)] gave an excellent talk on all the activities happening here at Queen’s and I was really impressed by the work in chemistry, neuroscience and biomedicine I saw happening. Dr. Oded Haklai’s work in the social sciences was great to hear about and Dr. Alice Aiken’s work on post-traumatic stress disorder and veteran’s care is superb.

AS: Given your work in countries all over the world, in what ways do you think Canada is exceptional?

RB: Well, a new Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report says that Canada is the best-educated country in the world, and you have more than 100 universities and colleges. A country the size of Israel can’t support the sheer number of institutes you have. Canada has many high achievements in science, and has a number of Nobel Prizes to its name. Your laboratories and research facilities are excellent. We in Israel excel in the realm of the theoretical, and Canada has people doing superb clinical and practical work. This makes for great complementarity between our countries.

A boost of confidence for people living with mental illness

[Chris Bowie]
Christopher Bowie recently received a national award for his program that helps people with a mental illness function at a high level when they return to work.

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Christopher Bowie (Psychology) has received a national award for his program that helps people with a mental illness function at a high level when they return to work.

“Many people with mental illness experience improvements in their primary symptoms after treatment , such as low mood in the case of depression,” says Dr. Bowie. “Still, many continue to have challenges with cognitive abilities like memory and attention. Work is one area that tends to be a residual challenge and, not surprisingly, the persistence of cognitive difficulties is a strong predictor of how well people do when they return to work – and how they feel about their work.”

In response to this challenge, Dr. Bowie developed the Action-Based Cognitive Remediation program, which earned him the Psychiatry Research Award from Pfizer Canada, Healthy Minds Canada and Sun Life Mutual. He is one of only three doctors across Canada to earn the award this year.

“Dr. Bowie’s research demonstrating the effectiveness of psychological treatments for the improvement of cognitive function in patients with mental illness continues to be at the forefront of mental health treatment strategies and is one of the leading clinical research programs in the Department of Psychology,” says Richard Beninger, Head of the Department of Psychology.  “Dr. Bowie is among the world’s leading researchers on the use of psychological treatments in psychiatric illness.”

Cognitive remediation involves retraining the brain using specialized treatment methods in order to improve memory and attention skills.  Cognitive remediation alone is often insufficient for many people who have an episode of mental illness because they experience a disruption to their skills and a loss of confidence in their abilities. Dr. Bowie’s Action-Based Cognitive Remediation builds on the stimulation of brain activity brought on by cognitive remediation by pairing it with actual work behaviours.

In one example, participants engage in a computer activity that trains their ability to visually search for a complex looking object amongst a number of similar distracting items. Then, to make the training applicable in the real world, they turn their chair around and use the skills they just worked on to engage in work-associated behaviours, such as searching for a specific file, or scanning a shelf for the precise type of material needed for a task.

“Workplace depression is associated with reduced quality of life and lost productivity in society,” says Dr. Bowie. “We hope to challenge that by putting the treatment of cognitive remediation in an everyday context that we hope will reduce anxiety, improve confidence and result in a more satisfying work life for the millions of people suffering from depression.”

For more information on the award visit the website.

The legalities of learning

Dr. Ben Kutsyuruba.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Benjamin Kutsyuruba (Education) has contributed to guides for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario that outline the legal rights and responsibilities of students, parents, teachers and administrators in those provinces.

“The guides were developed as reference material for a layperson,” says Dr. Kutsyuruba. “It’s important that current and aspiring educators have access to a user-friendly guide to keep up to date with the laws and regulations that pertain to teaching in each province.”

The Ontario guide to school law is the first of its kind for the province, providing a comprehensive overview of relevant provincial statutes, regulations and policies.

Students in Queen’s Faculty of Education have used the Ontario guide as a textbook in Dr. Kutsyuruba’s School Law and Policy, a required course for all teacher candidates seeking an Ontario teacher’s certificate. His goal is to help students develop legal, professional and ethical literacy in education.

“Whenever I teach a group of teacher candidates, I remind them that ‘ignorance is not an excuse,’” says Dr. Kutsyuruba. “These are the statutes and regulations that will guide their careers. It’s really exciting to be able to teach and develop teacher candidates’ long-term interest in these important topics.”

Dr. Kutsyuruba’s interest in education law, policy and ethics dates back to his undergraduate studies at Chernivtsi National University in Ukraine.

An exchange at the University of Saskatchewan sparked his desire to explore how educational administration varies from place to place. He decided to move to Canada and research the topic during his graduate studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

School law, policy and ethics are just a part of Dr. Kutsyuruba’s research, though. He also focuses on teacher induction, mentoring and school leadership.

“Finding out what makes a good leader and mentoring aspiring teachers to help prepare them for future careers has got to be one of my favourite parts of the job.”

PhD student embraces 'activist scholar' role

By Dominique Delmas, Communications Intern

Krystle Maki believes her research into welfare surveillance in Ontario can make a difference in the world beyond the walls of academia.

“I have this vision of positive social change,” says Ms. Maki, a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology. “There’s stigmatization on so many different fronts, and my research is intended to dismantle stereotypes. I also want to shed light on the labour conditions social assistance case workers often face and the single mothers within the system who are so often silenced.”

Krystle Maki, a Vanier Scholar, is nearing the end of her doctorate work investigating the ways welfare surveillance in the Ontario Works program impacts social assistance recipients, service providers and community advocacy groups.

Ms. Maki, who is nearing the end of doctorate work, is investigating the ways in which welfare surveillance in the Ontario Works program impacts social assistance recipients, service providers and community advocacy groups. She has used the support from the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship she received in 2011 to conduct 35 in-depth interviews across Ontario with single mothers on social assistance, case workers, frontline workers and antipoverty advocates.

“After sitting with single mothers who shared with me their trauma, violence, abuse and poverty, I would just leave the interviews shell-shocked. Their powerful stories speak to why I do the work I do,” she says.

Her experience with poverty has driven her to get involved in the Kingston community. Currently, Ms. Maki sits on the board for the Kingston Interval House, a service for women and their children who have been victimized by violence. In the past, she has volunteered for the Elizabeth Fry Society, investigated human rights violations in penitentiaries for women, helped organize Kingston international women’s week activities and was a co-organizer of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded Instigate 2010 anti-poverty conference.

Ms. Maki came to Queen’s for her Master’s degree in 2007 after completing her undergraduate studies at Trent University in Women’s Studies and Sociology. She was drawn to the Sociology graduate program at Queen’s because of feminist legal scholar Laureen Snider (Professor Emerita, Sociology), who first introduced Ms. Maki to the field of surveillance studies.

After sitting with single mothers who shared with me their trauma, violence, abuse and poverty, I would just leave the interviews shell-shocked. Their powerful stories speak to why I do the work I do.

PhD candidate Krystle Maki

She chose to stay at Queen’s following her Master’s degree to pursue her doctorate studies under the supervision of Margaret Little (Gender Studies/Political Studies) and Catherine Krull (Sociology/Cultural Studies).

“Dr. Little’s work as an anti-poverty activist and academic was essential in transforming me into the activist scholar I am today. I was being offered the chance to work with my idol,” she says. “Dr. Krull has also been a huge inspiration. I’m lucky to have the chance to work with people whose work I really admire and respect.”

Ms. Maki looks forward to teaching ‘Advanced Studies in Gender’ in the Sociology Department in the 2015 winter term. Her future ambitions include raising awareness on social justice issues and developing community resources for low-income populations.

“We often forget that poverty is an incredibly isolating experience. I plan on continuing to participate in academic and non-academic workshops and seminars. Knowledge is power and that’s what my research is about: giving knowledge back to the people who have to use these services.”

Pedalling toward a cure for pancreatic cancer

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

The 7 Days in May fundraising event has returned to Queen’s University after raising $31,000 last year. All of the funds raised by the seven-day bike ride are donated to the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (NCIC CTG) at Queen’s University for its pancreatic cancer research.

Gord Townley (l) presents a 7 Days in May jersey to Chris O'Callaghan, NCIC Senior Investigator.

“The 7 Days in May fundraising ride is a wonderful tribute and we are very grateful to the 7 Days in May Foundation for raising awareness about pancreatic cancer and for the PA.6 trial in particular,” says incoming NCIC CTG Director Janet Dancey. “Their support of the NCIC CTG enables us to conduct research that we hope will ultimately help to improve the lives of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”

Gord Townley founded the 7 Days in May Foundation in memory of his mother Lorraine Townley. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2009, Ms. Townley became an advocate for others by participating in clinical trials before dying in November 2011.

“People don't know much about pancreatic cancer, but it has brutal survival statistics - below 5 per cent - and the statistics have not improved in 40 years,” says Mr. Townley. “7 Days in May is dedicated to finding a cure for this deadly disease and we partner with the NCIC CTG to help them find a way to improve the survival odds for those patients who are eligible for surgery.”

“I am so very grateful for the effort of 7 Days in May to support research into this deadly tumour,” says interim NCIC CTG Director Elizabeth Eisenhauer. “Much is yet to be done to improve the outcome of pancreatic cancer and it is heartening to have a dedicated volunteer organization such as 7 Days in May make this a priority.”

Jim Biagi, Chris O'Callaghan and NCIC incoming director Janet Dancey discuss the ride.

NCIC CTG is an academic clinical trials cooperative oncology group that conducts phase I-III trials testing anti-cancer and supportive therapies across Canada and internationally. It is one of the national programs and networks of the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute CCSRI, and is supported by the Canadian Cancer SocietyThe NCIC CTG’s Central Operations and Statistics Office is located at Queen’s University.

Combat soundtrack

Dr. Kip Pegley.

In early April the Canadian Opera Company (COC) opened its production of Hercules. The play — written in 500 BC and adapted by George Frideric Handel in 1745 — tells the story of a soldier’s struggles after returning home from war. Kip Pegley (School of Music) was invited to an advance performance of Hercules and gave a talk about war veterans, music and rehabilitation at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs as part of a symposium organized by the COC and the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

Dr. Pegley sat down with Rosie Hales, Communications Officer, to discuss her research into music as a rehabilitation technique for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how she hopes her research will help soldiers and veterans in the future.

Rosie Hales: Your research centres on music and veteran health. Why did you decide to choose this as a research focus?

Kip Pegley: I believe that the research we choose to undertake says a lot about us. For example, my father was a Korean War veteran and served in the Canadian Navy for 35 years. He was an emotionally reserved man; to learn more about him, I joined the Naval Reserves as a teenager. However, as I got older I realized that the best way to know him was through music – it was the one place he really opened up emotionally. Music was entwined with his sense of duty and his career in the Navy.

Since 2002, when Canada officially deployed our military to Afghanistan, I’ve been interested in learning more about what music means to this generation of soldiers. With so many soldiers returning with PTSD, I was also curious to seek out ways that music might help them while they are deployed as well as in post-deployment.

RH: How has the role of music for deployed soldiers changed since your father’s work in the Navy?

KP: When my father was deployed he was listening to big band and other music that was played over the radio with his fellow soldiers. Now, soldiers use different technologies, like iPods and CDs, to pump music through the tanks or listen in their bunks alone at night. For my father, music was more of a shared event but soldiers today have the option to make it a more personalized and individual experience.

RH: So, what kind of music do soldiers listen to when they’re going into war?

KP: The music soldiers blare in the tanks when they’re going into combat isn’t the music you might initially suspect: Popular culture today is saturated with “militainment,” a genre that conflates entertainment with war. Watching “militainment” movies or playing video games like Call of Duty or American Army might make us believe that soldiers listen to heavy metal and rap music to get them pumped up for combat. It might surprise some to know that a Canadian veteran I interviewed was going into combat in a tank with 10 other men singing along to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The female tank driver, meanwhile, listened to hymns her grandmother sang to her as a child through her iPod headphones. This same female tank driver used music as a way to bond with the women living in her barracks – she played the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and that got everyone up and moving. Music provided them a safe opportunity to sing, dance and lower their hyper vigilance for a little while.

RH: How can music help soldiers once they’re home from war, or if they’re suffering from PTSD?

KP: Music gets people, veterans or not, talking. Music therapy can be anything from a group singing country songs to a drumming circle. Music is an important portal for veterans to access a range of feelings-- ̶love and loss, fear and guilt. Sometimes they can sing what they cannot  ̶ and would not ever ̶̶ say.

My upcoming research will involve studying how neural feedback can help war veterans cope with their PTSD. In neurofeedback, the subject puts on a headset and listens to music with electrodes wired up to their brain. When they are listening to the music, they may start thinking and their brainwaves might become more stressed. When this happens, the music stops and they hear a “click” sound which refocuses them by resetting their brain. 

It's my hope that one day music will play an important role in traumatic rehabilitation and help get soldiers - and all traumatized individuals - back on their feet. 

Personalizing cancer treatment with 'big data'

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

David Skillicorn (School of Computing) has been awarded a Big Data, Big Impact Grant from the Cancer Institute of New South Wales and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Australia to help personalize cancer treatment for children.

The grant, in its second year, will support Dr. Skillicorn and 10 other researchers for work on their project entitled Generating Actionable Knowledge from Complex Genomic Data for Personalized Clinical Decisions. The project will involve a large scale analysis of detailed data about childhood cancer patients suffering mainly from leukemia.

The project will challenge the previously defined categories that are currently used to determine cancer treatment for the patient.

“After a cancer diagnosis and some tests, patients would typically be categorized based on the risk and variance of their disease,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The category would then determine the treatment program. There were always a few patients who didn’t seem to fit their category; they would do well against the odds, or poorly when they shouldn’t have.”

Current technology, called “high-throughput devices,” collects tens of thousands of marker values for each patient. Patients are then clustered and their eventual treatment is based on their cluster. Dr. Skillicorn’s research could result in a redefinition of these clusters.

“Patients don’t form clusters,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The disease almost always looks different from one patient to another. We believe there must be some bottleneck that causes the wide variety of patient configurations to appear as a much smaller set of disease categories.”


Subscribe to RSS - Research Prominence