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What the invasion of Ukraine means for the IPCC’s latest climate change report

Tankers ships wait at a refueling station where a smokestack releases smoke.
Should those who produce and sell fossil fuels be responsible for the carbon it emits? (Unsplash/Chris LeBoutillier)

The UN’s new IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change says that immediate and deep emissions reductions are needed to limit global warming, along with removing carbon dioxide back out of the air in future. Meanwhile, the world’s governments are urging fossil fuel companies to drill for more oil and gas as fast as possible to make up for sanctions on Russia. What on earth is going on?

The job of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is not to conduct research or to express opinions, but to assess the scientific literature. This primarily means papers accepted in academic journals prior to a cut-off date. In the case of this latest report, that was back in October 2021.

Since then, wholesale prices of most fossil fuels have more than doubled. So, what to make of the IPCC’s conclusions? Does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine make it easier or harder to stop climate change? The answer depends heavily on how you frame the problem.

Using the “emitter responsibility” framing adopted by the IPCC – and hence by almost everyone else, including the world’s governments and corporations – climate change means emitters need to reduce “their” emissions. Vendors of the products that cause those emissions are mere bystanders.

Under this framing, a period of high fossil fuel prices that may be ushered in by the Russian invasion has mixed implications. On the one hand, higher prices and a new awareness of the geopolitical risks of relying on imported fossil fuels will increase incentives to invest in alternatives like renewable or nuclear power.

On the other, higher costs and inflation are placing pressure on public and private finance available for the transition, and triggering a rush to increase consumer fossil fuel subsidies (supposedly on the way out after the Glasgow climate pact) and invest in non-Russian fossil fuel production and infrastructure.

Most worrying, higher fuel prices threaten to drive a tank through the delicate balance of incentives carefully designed (like some Heath Robinson cartoon) to keep the impact of climate policy on consumers just below the political radar. Populists the world over are honing their soundbites.

There is another framing: “producer responsibility”. Of the fossil carbon we dig up or pump out, 99.9% of it enters the active carbon cycle, continuing to prop up global temperatures for millennia. In the end, to stop climate change we need to safely and permanently “refossilise” all the carbon dioxide we generate from fossil sources, either by reinjecting it back underground or otherwise turning it back into rock.

Right now, we permanently dispose of less than 0.1% of the carbon we dig up. To meet the goals of the Paris agreement, we simply have to increase that fraction to 100%, one thousandfold, over the next 30 years.

Capture carbon – and still make profits

Which brings us back to Ukraine. The invasion has highlighted both the dangers of ignoring producer responsibility for fossil fuels, and an opportunity to embrace it. Who are the producers? The vast bulk of fossil carbon dioxide comes from products produced and sold by fewer than than 80 companies – all of whom are doing rather well at the moment.

European wholesale prices of oil and coal have increased over the past year by about US$140 (£110) per tonne of carbon dioxide they generate, natural gas by more than US$350 (£270). That is more than the cost of capturing all that carbon dioxide and reinjecting it back underground.

Graph of fossil fuel prices vs carbon capture costs
Fossil fuel prices since 2018 (Rotterdam coal, Brent crude and TTF natural gas) assuming €1=$0.90 and 1 tonne, barrel or MWh of coal, oil, or natural gas generates 2.42, 0.43, and 0.18 tCO2, respectively. Vertical bars show ranges for CO2 capture and storage costs. Myles Allen (data: investing.com; Goldman Sachs, Carbonomics report), Author provided

Companies have been capturing carbon dioxide for decades at source for incentives of around US$60 (£50) per tonne and are already gearing up to build plants to capture it out of thin air for incentives of around US$300 (£230) per tonne. So it can be done. The question is whether these plants can do it on a large-enough scale to make a difference, and there is only one way to find out: make them.

Of course, consumers still have a role to play: disposing of all that carbon dioxide will inevitably make fossil fuels more expensive, so it makes sense to cut down. And government regulation, like the “carbon takeback” idea, is essential to make this happen. We certainly can’t expect the industry to do it purely out of the goodness of its heart.

But at today’s prices, fossil fuel producers could prevent the products they sell from causing global warming and still make the same profits they were making a year ago. Instead, this giant cash machine is reinforcing investors’ and governments’ addiction to fossil fuel rents and funding exploration for new resources that, if we don’t work out how to stop fossil fuels from causing global warming, we won’t be able to use.

The IPCC cannot adopt this “producer responsibility” framing because it would imply a change of emphasis in climate mitigation policy. Fossil fuel exporting countries would certainly veto any such clarity because, they would argue, they are working hard to reduce their own emissions, and what happens to the fuels they export is someone else’s problem.

This is like a chemicals company volunteering to take care of ozone layer-destroying CFC emissions from its own factories, while arguing that CFCs aren’t doing any harm as long as they are locked up in an aerosol can, so it couldn’t possibly be held responsible for ozone depletion caused by the products it sells.

The IPCC, 30 years ago, was deeply involved in establishing the framing of “emitter responsibility”. That was only half the story then, and it is only half the story now. Until we adopt the principle that anyone producing or selling fossil fuels is responsible for disposal of all the carbon dioxide generated by their activities and products, we aren’t going to stop climate change. And when we do, we will. It really is that simple.The Conversation

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Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford and Hugh Helferty, Adjunct Faculty, Department of Chemistry, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Understanding the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Virtual event features Queen’s experts discussing the genesis and the impacts of the current global crisis.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine: a panel discussion

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the world has watched anxiously the escalating conflict and its consequences – from the tragic loss of human life to the destruction of heritage sites and artifacts to rising energy and food costs. How did the conflict get to this point? Are the sanctions against Russia working? What is the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the rest of the world?

To help us understand the origins and the impact of the crisis in Ukraine and around the world, Queen’s will host a virtual discussion with research experts in foreign policy and international law who will review the latest developments and answer some of the questions we’ve all been asking.

“Russia's invasion of Ukraine: a panel discussion” is hosted by the Office of Advancement and University Relations and will take place on Wednesday, April 20 at noon (EST). Participating in the discussion will be Post-Doctoral Fellow Thomas Hughes (Centre for International and Defence Policy) and Professors Zsuzsa Csergő (Political Studies) and Nicolas Lamp (Law). The event will be facilitated by Buzzfeed writer and CBC podcaster Elamin Abdelmahmoud, Artsci'11, and Steffonn Chan, Sc’07, Queen's Alumni Germany Branch representative.

The group will walk us through the complicated history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the potential motivations for Russian President Vladimir Putin and what makes this war different than what we have seen in the past. The audience is welcome to submit questions live or in advance via email.

The event will be hosted via Zoom Webinar and is open to the Queen’s community and the public. Registration is free – access the link to register.

 

Meet the panelists:

Thomas HughesThomas Hughes is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy. His primary areas of research are on confidence-building, arms control, deterrence, and strategic culture. Dr. Hughes’ dissertation, The Art of War Games: The Political Effects of Military Exercises in Europe, 1975-2018 is the Queen’s University nomination for the 2022 Canadian Association for Graduate Studies ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards. He also co-edited the 2018 volume North American Strategic Defense in the 21st Century and has published further research on military exercises and NATO. Dr. Hughes earned his MA from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Denver, and has also worked for the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute.

Zsuzsa CsergőZsuzsa Csergő is a Professor in the Department of Political Studies and specializes in the study of nationalism in contemporary European politics, with expertise on post-communist Central and Eastern Europe. Before joining Queen’s faculty, Dr. Csergő was Assistant Professor of Political Science and Coordinator of the Women’s Leadership Program in U.S. and International Politics at George Washington University, where she also received her PhD. From 2013-2019, she was President of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), the leading international scholarly association in the field of nationalism and ethnicity studies. Currently, she is Director of the association’s online initiative “Virtual ASN.”

Nicolas LampNicolas Lamp is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law and is cross appointed to the School of Policy Studies. Dr. Lamp received his PhD in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science and, prior to joining Queen’s, he worked as a Dispute Settlement Lawyer at the Appellate Body Secretariat of the World Trade Organization. His current research focuses on competing narratives about the winners and losers in economic globalization. His co-authored book (with Anthea Roberts), Six Faces of Globalization: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why It Matters, was published by Harvard University Press in September 2021.

 

Meet the moderator:

Elamin AbdelmahmoudElamin Abdelmahmoud, Artsci'11, is the co-host of CBC Politics' weekly podcast Party Lines and host of CBC Podcast Pop Chat. He is a culture writer for BuzzFeed News, and edits Incoming, the daily morning newsletter. Elamin’s work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Maclean's, and Rolling Stone. His memoir, Son of Elsewhere, was published in spring 2022 from McClelland & Stewart.

 

 

 

For more information on the discussion, please visit the website.

It’s time for the Canada Infrastructure Bank to reclaim its public purpose

Rather than underwriting private interests and the privatization of public services, the Canada Infrastructure Bank can build a better democratic institutional legacy.

Canadian flag flies in front of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
The Canada Infrastructure Bank was founded in 2017 by the Liberal Party to support revenue-generating infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships. (Unsplash/Jason Hafso)

The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), a federal government financial institution, opened its doors five years ago with great promise, vowing to deploy $35 billion of investments towards “the next generation of infrastructure Canadians need.”

But rather than investing public money in public services, the CIB has instead privatized our water, transportation and electricity. For every dollar invested by the CIB, the hope was that $4 to $5 would be invested by the private sector.

This extraordinary leap of faith in private capital and market forces was baked into the CIB Act:

“The purpose of the Bank is to invest and seek to attract investment from private sector investors and institutional investors, in infrastructure projects in Canada or partly in Canada that will generate revenue.”

Five years later, the CIB has not been able to deliver on its promise. Of the $19.4 billion invested to date, only about one-third has come from private and institutional investors ($7.2 billion).

The public-private partnership model (PPP) promoted by the CIB has failed. Typically, PPPs involve long term contracts where public money supports private, for-profit delivery of public services and infrastructure.

In Mapleton, Ont., for example, the CIB aimed to funnel private investment into public water provisioning in a form of PPP. Local authorities pulled out when the contractual terms worked against the public good, underscoring the problems of PPPs that have been well documented around the world.

Safeguarding a public purpose legacy

Not all public banks operate in this way. The Council of Europe Development Bank, for example, recognizes PPPs as inherently problematic, noting that they can “require extensive use of consultancy and legal services at considerable additional costs”. Kommunalbanken, a Swedish public bank, focuses entirely on publicly owned and publicly operated infrastructure.

It’s not too late for the CIB to renew its vows and become a more pro-public institution. In fact, there are signs this is already happening. Some of the CIB’s investment partnerships include projects that promote public-public partnerships by funding public sector zero-emission buses and municipal building retrofits. The CIB also funds public interest projects, like decarbonizing production.

But more needs to be done to remake and safeguard the CIB as a public bank with a public purpose.

First, it needs a far more robust sustainability mandate. If a project cannot demonstrate how it will reduce carbon emissions or protect the environment, it should not get funded. The publicly owned Finnish Climate Fund and the Dutch Invest-NL incorporate such binding conditions.

Second, the CIB needs to improve its governance. Current provisions for the board of directors are vague and subject to political cycles. The CIB Act fails to specify who is appointed on the board and on what representational basis.

A more robust governance framework would see broad stakeholder representation written in to the bank’s legal framework, much like the German public development bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau. Its highest governing forum, the Board of Supervisory Directors, includes designated representatives from government, trade unions, municipalities and other key areas.

Time for change

The recent Private Member’s Bill C-245, intended to amend the CIB Act, is a step in the right direction. Put forward by Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, it is pitched as “an alternative to the Liberals’ privatization agenda that uses public ownership to support communities in the fight against climate change.”

It starts with jettisoning the CIB’s current emphasis on PPPs by having the CIB prioritize lending to all levels of public institutions, including northern and Indigenous communities. It is also a first step in improving governance by proposing the inclusion of First Nations, Inuit and Métis members on the board.

Moreover, binding free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples needs to be one part of a broader strategy of public financial institutions in Canada contributing to reconciliation.

The CIB must also take leadership from the Costa Rican Banco Popular and commit to gender equity in all of its decision-making bodies.

The goal should be to foster inclusive, green and democratic networks that mutually reinforce the public purpose of the CIB. Recent scholarship suggests democratization and inclusion lead to public banks funding better and greener infrastructure with fewer social conflicts.

The five-year itch

The notion of changing the CIB is within reach. This year, the CIB must conduct its first five-year review and deliver it to Parliament.

Canadians should be aware of this opportunity and communities across Canada should be engaged in it. Ask the CIB about its public consultation plans, reach out to MPs, see how unions are responding and encourage cities to demand more of the CIB.

The CIB has failed on its own terms, presenting an opportunity to reclaim its public purpose. Rather than underwriting private interests and the privatization of public services, the CIB can build a democratic institutional legacy of providing patient, low-cost and appropriate financing for green and just community transitions in the public interest.The Conversation

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Thomas Marois, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London; David McDonald, Professor, Global Development Studies, Queen's University, and Susan Spronk, Associate Professor of International Development and Global Studies, L’Université d’Ottawa/University of Ottawa

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

What a tiny, wiggling worm can teach us about cancer

Queen’s biologists investigate the genetics of cell proliferation and what this can tell us about tumour formation and metastasis.

Caenorhabditis elegans
Caenorhabditis elegans is a roundworm used to study development biology and neurobiology.

One would think a transparent, tiny – about one millimeter in length – organism could have difficulty catching anyone’s attention. The roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), however, has been in the biological research spotlight for decades. Scientists first proposed the worm as a model for studying development biology and neurobiology in the 1960s. In 1998, C. elegans became the first animal to have its genome fully sequenced and even today hundreds of labs dedicate time and resources to find out more about the worm and how it can help us answer some of biology’s fundamental questions.

How does a single cell become a multicellular organism? What are the genes that control cell division and cell movement? Ian Chin-Sang, a developmental biologist, has dedicated his career to asking these and similar questions. In his lab in the Department of Biology at Queen's, he combines genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and video microscopy techniques to study C. elegans and understand how animals – including humans – develop.

C. elegans and humans share about 40 per cent of the same genetic makeup – meaning that 40 per cent of human genes are homologous, or similar in structure, with the worm’s DNA. On the other hand, roundworms are much simpler organisms, with only about 1,000 cells, and their transparent bodies make it easy to observe them in detail, even at the single cell level.

Over the past few years Dr. Chin-Sang and his team have been studying C. elegans to investigate cancer genes – the ones that can promote cell division in tumours and metastasis. They have also been investigating the tumour suppressor genes that prevent cells from multiplying. Mutations and genetic predispositions that block tumour suppressor genes can lead to cancer.

“We study how the worm develops and apply this knowledge to understanding what goes wrong during cell division that causes cancer,” Dr. Chin-Sang explains. “We are also interested in the mechanisms behind how tumour cells invade surrounding tissues and move to other locations, creating new tumours. If we can block this mechanism, we can prevent metastasis.”

Roundworms do not develop cancer like humans. But they do have tumour suppressor genes and are a good model for understanding what happens exactly when these genes are knocked out. In the worms, like in humans, mutations in a tumour suppressor gene can lead to inappropriate cell division and movement, leading to premature death.

Dr. Chin-Sang’s team is particularly interested in the worm's genetic correspondent of PTEN, a gene whose loss is involved in around 70 per cent of prostate cancers, and other types of tumours. Although humans and roundworms have obvious differences, what happens inside the cells of each organism is comparable.

“We think of the cell as a molecular machine that needs to function properly. What happens if you alter the components of the machine? That’s what we mockup in the lab. How that machine works in the worm is likely the same as it does in human cells,” Dr. Chin-Sang says.

Scientists can manipulate C. elegans’ genes in all sorts of ways. Also, researchers can use the worm to test drug candidates and see if they are effective in slowing cell division or cell movement. These experiments can eventually guide scientists on which substances to test in more complex biological models, and eventually in humans.

Caenorhabditis elegans
The transparent body of a C. elegans is made of around 1,000 cells.

Current programs

In addition to studying cell division and its connections to cancer, Dr. Chin-Sang’s team is investigating the cellular insulin signaling pathway. While insulin is mostly known for regulating blood glucose levels, exacerbated insulin signaling can lead to tumour development. Although C. elegans do not produce insulin, they do have insulin-like molecules, and the molecular machinery that regulates these is very similar to the insulin signaling pathway found in human cells. Also, the worm has genes that can block such signaling, providing insights on what happens to humans.

“This could be very important for designing new drugs,” Dr. Chin-Sang says. This research program is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). 

Another ongoing program is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and aims to clarify how embryonic cells change their shape and move to fold up into three dimensional forms. This process is called “morphogenesis” and it is an important aspect of development as it is necessary for giving organs and tissues their three-dimensional shapes. The team is working to identify and characterize genes and proteins that regulate this process.

As a developmental biologist, Dr. Chin-Sang strives to answer fundamental science questions, and is not always certain, especially in the first stages of a research project, of the possible applications of the knowledge that is being built. But being open to the unexpected pays off – who would think a tiny roundworm could teach us so much about our own health?

Queen’s impact on world health

On World Health Day learn more about how Queen's researchers and educators are working to advance better global health for all.

This article was originally promoted by the Queen's Health Sciences communications team.

[Art of Research photo: This is EPIC by Monakshi Sawhney, Nursing]
Queen's Art of Research PhotoThis is EPIC: Simulation Education with Patient Actors to Improve Care by Monakshi Sawhney (Nursing).

Queen’s Health Sciences is helping to fulfil the university’s vision to "solve the world’s most significant and urgent challenges with their intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaborate."

QHS researchers and educators – and their international partners – are changing the lives of people around the globe in areas such as community-based rehabilitation, cancer care, training, health equity, and humanitarian aid. As the planet celebrates another World Health Day, Queen’s ongoing impact can be felt in places as wide-ranging as Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Case in point, a new $89,925 grant recently awarded to researchers in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine – alongside the Department of Public Health Sciences and partners at the University of Rwanda. The International Development, Aid and Collaboration (IDAC) grant from Royal College International will build upon ongoing educational work, and help foster anesthesiology training, mentorship, and sustainable health workforce development.

Meanwhile, Queen’s International Centre for the Advancement for Community Based Rehabilitation (ICACBR) continues to partner on research, educational initiatives, and policy and infrastructure development that improve health and social services for people with disabilities, their families, and their communities.

[Photo of Christiana Asantewaa Okyere with a student]
Queen's PhD candidate Christiana Asantewaa Okyere (Rehabilitation Therapy) with ICACBR working with a student in Ghana.

For example, the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program is a collaboration between Queen’s and the University of Gondar (UoG) in Ethiopia. Halfway through a 10-year partnership, the initiative is advancing inclusive higher education for young people with disabilities, developing a new occupational therapy undergraduate degree at UofG, and fostering research for inclusive education and community-based rehabilitation. Early success stories include eight collaborative research projects, and the development of a Community Based Rehabilitation certificate program will be offered to 175 Mastercard Foundation Scholars at UoG. Four of the program’s Queen’s graduates have now returned to UoG to establish the institution’s first Occupational Therapy department and first Occupational Therapy clinic.

Elsewhere in Ethiopia, Queen’s University continues to partner with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) and Haramaya University to develop new residency programs and a sustainable program of training specialist physicians in Ethiopia (learn more in this video). The Haramaya Project is working to improve access to health services, quality of care, and patient outcomes for the underserved population. Early successes include the recruitment of trained physicians that enabled the establishment of three specialty departments; and launch of two of three planned residency training programs at Haramaya University in 2021: Anesthesiology and Emergency Medicine.

[Art of Research photo: Immnuofluorescence Stain]
Queen's Art of Research Photo: Immunofluorescence Stain by Shakeel Virk and Lee Boudreau, CCTG Tissue Bank.

Queen’s University is an international leader in cancer research thanks to collaborative partnerships, dynamic faculty – including the Global Oncology team – and the campus serving as the proud home of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG). Supporting these groundbreaking efforts, the Canadian Cancer Society recently renewed a $30 million grant for the CCTG. Recent global cancer research highlights include:

  • A 2022 study led by Queen’s and University of São Paulo (Brazil) that saw researchers develop a new tool to help set priorities for building radiotherapy infrastructure – helping to improve access to cancer care.
  • Research published in the fall 2021 by Dr. Chris Booth – in collaboration with the World Health Organization – that showed patients in most countries of the world do not have access to basic cancer medicines.
  • An international group of researchers and physicians based at Queen’s and institutions in Sri Lanka teamed up to develop the first database of cancer patients in Sri Lanka – a project that will make important contributions to cancer care in the South Asian country.
  • Dr. Bishal Gyawali’s ongoing work in Nepal to help establish a training program for primary care doctors – an effort order to build capacity to deliver basic cancer treatment in rural settings.    

Also established at Queen’s, A Research Collaborative for Global Health Equity (ARCH) serves as an interdisciplinary, collaborative platform for conducting and sharing global health research that leads to positive change. One member of the collaborative, Canada Research Chair Dr. Susan Bartels, is primarily focused on areas of the world affected by conflict and disaster. Her research aims to improve the science and practice of delivering emergency medicine and humanitarian aid, and understand health impacts on women and children. Dr. Bartels has studied the effects of civil war on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as sexual and reproductive health and parenting in adversity across a variety of conflict zones.

Of course, issues such as access to care and reducing disparities in health outcomes locally are also part of the global health picture. Queen’s researchers are addressing domestic patient needs and healthcare inequities through efforts to enable better access to healthcare by bringing a portable MRI scanner to Canada’s north for the first time and bringing interactive ultrasound training to remote communities.

QHS’s ongoing impact on world health also aligns with its own new strategic plan – Radical Collaboration for a Healthier World – which calls for leveraging "unique interdisciplinary strengths to discover and share solutions to the world’s most pressing questions in the health sciences."

Learn more about Queen’s global health initiatives.

Continuing collaboration for cancer research

$30 million in funding from the Canadian Cancer Society ensures that the research conducted by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group continues to have meaningful impact on the lives of people with cancer.

[Art of Research Photo: Leaving Home by Eric Lian]
Queen's Art of Research Photo: Leaving Home by Eric Lian

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has renewed its support of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) based at Queen’s with a five-year $30 million commitment. The funding represents a continuation of CCS’s largest research investment, which began in 1980 when it helped to create the research group that became CCTG’s national research network.

CCTG has supported more than 600 cancer clinical trials to test anti-cancer and supportive therapies worldwide, enrolling 100,000 patients from 40 countries. It has grown to become the largest research group at Queen’s, leading and supporting a global network of 20,000 investigators and clinical trial staff and collaborating with more than 85 hospitals and cancer centres across Canada. Research at CCTG continues to set new standards for cancer care that lead to significant innovations in treatments both in Canada and around the world.

“The successful CCS grant renewal is a recognition of the exceptional caliber of our national scientific leaders, international research activities and the impact our trials have on new treatments for people with cancer,” says Janet Dancey (Oncology), CCTG Director. “The funding will ensure that Canadian-led trials find answers to what is most important to Canadian patients and clinicians.”

The Canadian Cancer Society is focused on supporting research in Canada that leads to tremendous progress against cancer – from research expanding the fundamental knowledge of the biology of cancer, improving detection, diagnosis, and treatment, to helping Canadians cope with challenges during and post cancer treatment. To secure the continued funding, CCTG participated in a rigorous external review process that considered all aspects of the group’s work and its impact on clinical trials research. With CCS’s support, CCTG will advance its strategic objectives and ensure the continued development and execution of trials that improve lives globally.

“CCS is proud to continue to provide core funding for CCTG, and we’re incredibly grateful to our donors who make this support possible,” says Stuart Edmonds, Executive Vice President of Mission, Research & Advocacy at CCS. “With an international reputation for running Canada’s most impactful cancer clinical trials, CCTG’s work benefits not just people with cancer in Canada but around the world.”

From its home on Queen’s campus, CCTG administers and supports between 60 and 70 clinical trials at any given time and will be expanding its leadership role in the area of immunotherapy. Active projects include ExCELLirate Canada with Annette Hay (Medicine) and Jonathan Bramson (McMaster University) focused on united Canadian researchers to leverage development of cell therapies and viable treatment options through planning cost-effective methods for the harvest, expansion, manipulation, purification, and delivery of the cells.

Through its Patient Representative Committee, CCTG commits to working in partnership with patients to improve cancer outcomes, ensuring patients’ needs and priorities are considered in all trial designs and activities. For example, a recent CCTG trial published in 2021 was the first to show that stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is more effective in alleviating pain from spinal metastases than conventional radiation treatments with 35 per cent of patients reporting an enduring, complete control of pain at three months post-radiation. 

“Access to clinical trials mean life. My family, friends and I are so thankful for the clinical trial I participated in, which kept me alive long enough for more life-extending treatments to be developed and become accessible. As a stage four lung cancer patient that trial has given me seven more years (and counting) to be mom to my three children,” says Jill Hamer-Wilson, lung cancer patient advocate and CCTG Patient Representative.

Learn more about the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s and its partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society by visiting its website.

Cancer treatment and diagnosis backlogs during COVID-19 may affect cancer survival

A person lying down wearing a hospital gown with a mesh mask over their head, with red lines of light
Delaying cancer treatment by even four weeks could be associated with reduced survival. (Unsplash/National Cancer Institute)

Unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, the cancer pandemic has raged on for centuries, though it similarly afflicts people in all corners of the world. In 2020 alone, over 19 million people were diagnosed with cancer globally, and almost 10 million people die from cancer every year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to those infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with over 481 million confirmed cases and 6.1 million deaths.

The number of people who have fallen ill or died due to unintended consequences of pandemic control measures has yet to be determined, though these invisible costs of COVID-19 control measures are likely to be substantial.

I am a cancer doctor and health services researcher, and my team has found new evidence that will help count the invisible cost of the COVID-19 pandemic to the cancer pandemic.

Consequences for cancer

For people with cancer, the direct consequences of the pandemic include a potentially greater risk of severe COVID-19 infection. The indirect consequences include delayed diagnosis of cancer, deferred tests and treatment delay. For example, we observed a seven-fold drop in biopsies required for skin cancer diagnosis in Ontario early in the pandemic, with a backlog of over 45,000 cases remaining six months later.

Large drops in cancer diagnoses and cancer surgeries have been observed across Canada and internationally. For example, in Ontario, we saw a 34 per cent drop in cancer diagnoses and a 60 per cent drop in cancer surgeries at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Most concerning is the slow recovery of cancer services following lockdown, leading to diagnostic and treatment delays for those with cancer.

These delays in diagnosis and treatment have many consequences. There are effects on quality of life and mental health while awaiting care. Waiting for cancer care can lead to worsening symptoms and progression to a more advanced stage in some cases. Treatments for more advanced cancer can have more side-effects and may not be as successful.

Treatment delays and survival

To provide evidence to guide the health system response to cancer delays in the midst of the pandemic, our unit performed a study of high-quality evidence on the impact of cancer treatment delays on survival.

We used information from over 1.2 million cancer patients from 34 high-quality studies on 17 conditions where surgery, radiation or systemic therapy are routinely used. We studied seven types of cancer — bladder, breast, cervix, colon, rectum, lung and head and neck — that together represent 44 per cent of all cancers diagnosed worldwide, every year. We measured the survival impact per four-week delay.

Our report published in BMJ found that across seven cancer types, a delay of even four weeks could be associated with reduced survival. For example, cancer surgeries for breast, colon, bladder and head and neck sites were associated with a mortality increase between six and eight per cent for each four-week delay. Sex, advanced age and socio-economic factors were often associated with disparities in waiting times. As the delay increased, the impact on survival became even greater.

What does this mean in practical terms? A team from McGill University and the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC) developed a model using information from our study on treatment delay and survival. They found that between 2020 and 2030, disruptions to cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to about 20,000 additional deaths from cancer in Canada.

Given that the pandemic has affected global cancer care and that outside of Canada over 19 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year, the global additional deaths from cancer care delays could be substantial.

Implications for care

We now have standardized information covering seven cancers and all three major cancer treatment types demonstrating a link between waiting longer for cancer treatment and worse survival outcomes. If we had a new cancer drug that improved outcomes as much as timely treatment did in our study, societal precedent suggests we’d pay in the five figures per patient for it.

So now what? More research needs to occur in this space. The impact of cancer care delay on more conditions needs to be studied and methods need to be standardized. However, there are important implications for care now.

Given the massive backlog in health services due to the pandemic, investment is needed and is happening at the federal level. This is welcome and important. For example, a 10 per cent increase in treatment capacity could reduce the predicted mortality impact of the pandemic delay in Canada from about 20,000 to 4,000.

As we face other health emergencies and possibly further waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, caution needs to be taken when extending cancer waiting times for reasons unrelated to a patient’s health-care needs. The impact of these delays on cancer patients may take years to emerge, but they can be expected and must be factored into decisions on prioritizing and protecting limited health resources.

During the pandemic, keeping hospitals, clinics and staff safe from COVID-19 infection can ensure optimal resources for timely diagnosis and cancer care. Centralized waiting lists and team-based care for surgery and other services can ensure equitable waiting times for treatment.

Finally, innovation in how care is delivered (for example, learning health systems) and in the care provided (for example, treatments requiring fewer visits to hospital or less human resources) are very important.

It is crucial to treat the patients of the cancer pandemic on time, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.The Conversation

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Timothy P Hanna, Associate Professor of Oncology and Public Health Sciences, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

App levels playing field for cervical cancer screening

On World Health Day, we profile a virtual platform created by Queen’s researcher Karen Yeates that allows for remote, in-home diagnosis for women around the world.

Female doctor works on a smartphone
Mobile health can facilitate access to prevention, detection and treatment for diseases like cervical cancer. (Unsplash/ National Cancer Institute)

Cervical cancer is the cause of 1.3 per cent of all new cancers affecting women and 1.1 per cent of female cancer deaths, according to Public Health Agency of Canada statistics.

First Nations, Inuit, and Metis women die from cervical cancer at four times the rate of the general population, driven by lack of access to screening in their communities. The pandemic has only worsened this inequity, and it is urgent to develop strategies to reduce the gaps in access to early diagnosis and treatment strategies.

This is one of the goals Karen Yeates, a clinician scientist in the Faculty of Health Sciences and co-founder of Women’s Health Equity through Mobile Approaches (WEMA Inc.), a not-for-profit corporation based in Kingston.

Dr. Yeates is an expert in global health research with a focus in mobile health implementation and how it can improve access to prevention, detection, and treatment for non-communicable diseases, and access to reproductive health services.

“After working with cervical cancer prevention experts in Tanzania, East Africa, I wanted to develop and evaluate a method using a smartphone that could improve the training and increase scale-up of the cervical cancer screening method currently used in most low-income countries,” she says. “For the last decade, frontline nurses have been trained to visually inspect a cervix after applying vinegar. This method, known as visual inspection under acetic acid (VIA), allows them to visualize a pre-cancerous lesion that, if found early, could be easily treated by applying C02 gas or a thermal ablation probe to it for five minutes.”

One of the first offerings from WEMA was the Smartphone Enhanced Visual Assessment (SEVIA), a platform for a remote physician or expert cervical cancer screening nurse, located in Tanzania or even in another country, to provide guidance and training (peer-decision support) for accurate diagnosis.

Karen Yeates
Dr. Karen Yeates

“I thought that if we could train the nurses remotely using a smartphone-based program, then we could scale up the program in even the most remote village and this is what we did,” describes Dr. Yeates. SEVIA enables accurate diagnosis and treatment in a woman’s home, thereby eliminating the need for most women to receive more expensive screening services and reducing the need for women travel to clinics that may be a long distance from their home.

After implementing the tool in Tanzania, Yeates has turned her attention to how innovative tools can provide health services for over 2-million Canadian women in rural and remote communities. “As new guidelines for cervical cancer prevention come into play, including primary care-based testing for HPV DNA among women at risk, SEVIA could become a solution for virtual cervical cancer screening for any woman at risk in Ontario, Canada, and most of the world,” says Dr. Yeates.

 

Audience choice award

Recently, with support from Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation, Dr. Yeates and team participated in the Falcons’ Fortunes pitch competition hosted by FACIT, a commercialization venture firm that builds companies with entrepreneurs to accelerate oncology innovations.

Now in its 9th year, FACIT hosts the annual pitch competition to celebrate Ontario’s life sciences and entrepreneurial culture, as well as highlight emerging innovations. The competition is supported through FACIT’s strategic partner, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, which receives funding support from the Government of Ontario. This year’s final pitch competition featured six of the most promising oncology-related innovations from across Ontario, and WEMA was awarded the Audience Choice Award.

“As a result of our participation in the FACIT Falcons’ Fortunes pitch competition, we were able to bring awareness to our platform and how we are working toward more accessible cervical cancer screening in Ontario and/or to women who live in rural and remote regions across Canada. The visibility to important parties in the life sciences community can really help us to make connections and find the right avenues to bring this project forward,” celebrates Dr. Yeates.

WEMA has been perfecting SEVIA for a decade in Africa through funding from many research partners, and continues to improve screening services for women in Tanzania. The SEVIA program is integrated with the national cervical cancer prevention program and aligns with the mobile approaches endorsed by the WHO. WEMA’s team includes scientists, software developers, African and Canadian cervical cancer prevention experts, as well as software development and AI experts at Queen’s Center for Advanced Computing. Dr Yeates and her Tanzanian colleagues are also collaborating on cervical image analysis with experts at the National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health in the U.S.

Looking forward, Yeates expects the innovative tool to have a huge impact in cervical cancer diagnosis. “Given the affordability of our solution and very few competitors, we think SEVIA can help to eliminate cervical cancer globally by 2030!” she bets.

Funding to advance bold, innovative research programs

Queen’s receives $3 million from the New Frontiers in Research Fund programs for projects pushing the frontiers of knowledge and pioneering solutions to overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Queen's campus in Kingston, Ontario
Queen’s researchers are developing out-of-the-box solutions to wicked problems. 

The Government of Canada has announced a $45 million investment to support high-risk, high-reward research through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams. The announcement was made Monday by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health. Queen’s researchers have received a total of $3 million in support.

"The NFRF programs challenge researchers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex global problems – from climate change to how we can leverage learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to our funded research teams for their novel ideas and creativity. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and evolve."

Pushing the boundaries of research

The 2021 Exploration stream grants funding for programs that propose exciting new areas of research with an interdisciplinary approach. Five Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000 each:

  • Cao Thang Dinh and Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) will work with a team of experts in electrochemical engineering, computational system biology, and microbiology to find solutions to improve the efficiency of bioprocesses – that is, processes that use living cells to convert carbon dioxide, renewable, non-food biomass and waste into chemicals with industrial applications – by powering them with renewable electricity such as wind and solar using an electrochemical process. Their research has potential impact in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enabling cost-effective, large-scale production of biodegradable bioplastics to reduce plastic waste.
  • The genetic and epigenetic origins of cancer are the root of a program led by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal (Biology). The team will investigate the role of mutations in histone genes in the genesis of cancer using an integrative in silico/ in vivo platform. Histones are proteins that help form the structure of chromosomes and might have the potential to be used as diagnostic biomarkers or targets for therapeutic intervention.
  • Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are partnering to develop a microsensor to help test novel drugs with potential to treat bacterial infections without causing antibiotic resistance. They will work with a family of compounds that, instead of killing the bacteria, reduce their virulence. The immediate application of the research would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacterium known for causing severe disease, particularly in immunocompromised patients and those with cystic fibrosis.
  • A team led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing), experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will work together to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities. Their idea is to use robots to improve quantity and quality of social interactions, helping children overcome the challenges posed by impaired speech and mobility.
  • Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) and Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) are looking into the potential of digital technology to  protect people from the bodily effects of social isolation – experienced, for example, during the pandemic lockdowns. They aim to understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and test how virtual interactions – like video chats – can reduce them. The team expects results could be used to rethink digital technology applications (e.g. remote education, telemedicine) and social policy (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).

Seeing the pandemic impacts and opportunities through multiple lenses

Seven research projects at Queen’s received funding from the 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context competition, a program that encourages scholars to pioneer innovative solutions to research challenges brought on by the pandemic. Each project was granted $250,000:

  • Understanding how urbanisation affects biodiversity is essential for the sustainability of healthy human and wildlife communities. Scholarly attention is lacking, however, on urbanisation in economically disadvantaged areas. After shifting to community-based research in response to Covid restrictions, researchers Frances Bonier (Biology) and Paul Martin (Biology) began developing a novel, community science method to survey bird populations in cities in developing nations, while working in partnership with local experts and trained participants. Bonier and Martin’s new community science method will allow for important advances in urban ecology, while also addressing the neglect of economically disadvantaged regions in ecological research.
  • Due to COVID-19, activities that involved singing were restricted, forcing Julia Brook (Drama and Music) and Colleen Renihan’s (Drama and Music) study examining accessible and inclusive music theatre to pivot online. After the online medium proved surprisingly beneficial, particularly for older adults who can experience difficulty travelling to a particular location, Brook and Renihan aim to accelerate the exploration of virtual music theatre to address the pressing need for virtual leisure opportunities for older adults that foster overall well-being. This study is both unprecedented and incredibly relevant given the growing population of older adults in Canada and around the world.
  • Although we understand what influences mental health, we do not understand the way influences change across situations, nor how they vary between demographics. In response to this gap in understanding and pandemic restrictions highlighting how changes in situation sometimes prevent social interaction, researchers Jonathan Smallwood (Psychology) and Jeffrey Wammes (Psychology) propose developing new methods for quantifying influences on mental health without in-person data collection. Their study will use smartphones to measure a person’s “in the moment” thinking and machine learning will identify how these data are linked to their happiness and productivity. This project could facilitate the creation of a comprehensive mental health database to help researchers and community members better understand how context shapes individual mental health.
  • The onset of the pandemic came with a huge increase in pandemic-related research, as scientists worked to understand how to reduce transmission and aid in recovery. Journals often struggled to review and disseminate results quickly, leading many researchers to share results publicly without peer review. This increased concerns about the quality and reliability of research findings that policymakers and the public were exposed to, potentially generating confusion, distorting policy, and decreasing some people’s trust in the scientific process. Researchers Christopher Cotton (Economics) and David Maslove (Medicine) are assessing the pandemic experiences of researchers and policymakers who rely on research, as well as exploring novel methods of rapid review and better quality control, including an experiment with a peer-reviewed journal that has been inundated with COVID-related submissions. Their results could revolutionize the ways in which research is reviewed and disseminated, especially during crises.
  • The waiting time for triage in hospital emergency departments (ED) is an ongoing challenge across Canada. Farhana Zulkernine (School of Computing) and Furkan Alaca (School of Computing) have developed a novel solution to the problem with Triage-Bot: an AI robot used to leverage existing hospital-triage systems by assessing patient’s symptoms and securely linking them to hospital data to assess the criticality of a patient’s health condition. Also deployable to personal residences, this technology could allow remote assessments of patients with COVID or chronic health problems in addition to reducing triage wait time and improving health care services in Canada, overall.
  • Infants born with complex health conditions require ongoing neonatal follow-up visits to track their health and development to ensure their future wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have compounded the myriad of geographic and socioeconomic factors posing significant barriers for families to access the care they need. Sandra Fucile (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and her team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are proposing the creation of a parent-administered, virtually guided standardised tool for evaluating developmental milestones of at-risk infants. This study has potential to allow for equitable health service delivery to all children across Canada.
  • The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the world’s second largest after Syria. Researchers Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) and Amanda Collier (Emergency Medicine) are proposing the use of an app (Balcony.io) to help migrants and humanitarian responders communicate even when travel is restricted, while simultaneously collecting important research data to inform responsive decision making and resource allocation during crises. If successful, this study on the use of Balcony.io in Latin America’s migration crisis will bring the voices and needs of migrants to the forefront, while allowing response teams to pivot in real time to rapidly changing circumstances.

The NFRF is an initiative created by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed by a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. To find out more about the funding announcement, visit the website.

The cultural sector needs support in order to benefit from a digital remake

A man records a Concert with his phone
The pandemic shifted many concerts, events and performances online. (Unsplash/John Mark Arnold)

The COVID-19 crisis has dealt a massive blow to the cultural and creative sectors in Canada and around the world. The impact was broad and deep.

In 2020, museums were closed for an average of more than 155 days, and in 2021, many of them had to shut their doors again, resulting in a 70 per cent drop in attendance.

The film industry, which relies heavily on box office revenue, has seen most theatrical releases cancelled or delayed. The crisis shook the book publishing industry, putting smaller publishers at risk and delaying the launch of several new books and literary works. Music festivals, concerts and plays were forced online, delayed or cancelled and many artists had to find other work.

When these sectors hurt, Canada hurts.

Creative industries have long been one of the leading drivers of innovation and economic growth in this country, making up almost three per cent of the GDP. By promoting social inclusion and social capital, the cultural sector is a key contributor to well-being as well. Our culture drives our identity as community and as country.

Just above survival level

The pandemic has exposed the structural fragility of the businesses and people foundational to supporting the cultural and creative sectors.

For the most part, these are small businesses, non-profit organizations like art centres, fairs, festivals, museums or theaters and independent artists and creative professionals like writers, painters or musicians — many who are operating just above survival level.

The pandemic has removed their main sources of revenue but has not diminished their costs of creation. If they go under, they may never recover. This would create a long-lasting dent in the production of cultural content in Canada.

Even though the federal and provincial governments have implemented support policies for organizations and professionals affected by the pandemic, the measures have not adapted to the new reality.

Supports also appear to be poorly targeted and fail to account for the medium- and long-term impact of digital transformation on how we produce and consume cultural products and experiences.

For many arts institutions and creative professionals, continued survival and relevance will hinge on how well they can transition from in-person to digital. Doing so will build their resilience to face future shocks and offer an economical pathway to reach larger audiences.

Supply and demand

In the near future, emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality have the potential to fuel new types of cultural experiences that can be marketed not only to large audiences but also to new audiences who were not consuming the cultural content before.

In economic terms, digitalization has affected both the demand and supply for cultural content. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated technology and the adoption of digital devices to experience things remote because of the pandemic, consumers have developed a taste for new ways to “tour” museums, “attend” theatre and participate in book readings.

For culture producers, this has forced them to re-imagine not only what and how they create but also their business methods, distribution channels, advertising and funding.

Digitalization of cultural experiences

The digitalization of cultural experiences takes many shapes and forms: musicians streaming concerts when live concerts aren’t possible, museums providing online tours or online book releases with authors reading from their homes.

The pandemic forced cultural producers to think about how they might transition the delivery of their cultural content from in-person to digital in ways that wouldn’t diminish the experience of cultural consumers.

Digitalization has affected competition as well, in cross-cutting ways. It has lowered the cost of starting a new culture-based enterprises, which should spur competition. But it has also led to greater concentration among those who are able to adapt to the digital world, adding to the decade-long trend of increased market concentration in cinemas, radio, television and the press.

Greater market concentration usually leads to higher prices and poorer quality, with serious long-term consequences for access and diversity of content — that is the most worrisome.

Access to culture and the guarantee of respect to one’s culture are not only rights explicitly recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and promoted by the United Nations and UNESCO, but they are quintessential to our identity as a community and country.

Policy interventions

Given the importance of access to culture, public policy interventions must aim to support the digitalization of cultural experiences as one way to help face the uncertainty of the future.

Even in stable times, governments have struggled to adapt their policies to the nontraditional business models that mark the cultural sector. That needs to change.

The form of measures and aid provided can vary but two objectives must be prioritized.

One, the aid must help to guarantee the survival of companies and organizations, employees and artists who make access to culture possible. Cultural producers — particularly those that are small and independent — will need help to build their digital skills.

And two, looking to the future, the aid must be competition-neutral — business and organizations must not be favoured over others — to ensure lively innovation by new entrants. If necessary, anti-competition law should be applied to avoid abusive practices that reduce access to culture.

With the fulfilment of both conditions, we can emerge from this crisis a culturally stronger and more forward-looking and resilient country than before.The Conversation

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Ricard Gil, Associate Professor, Smith School of Business, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

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