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Research Prominence

Breaking the silence

  • [Mary Deacon, Mary Walsh and Heather Stuart]
    Heather Stuart (right), the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, greets entertainer Mary Walsh (middle), the master of ceremonies, and Mary Deacon, Chair, Bell Mental Health Initiative. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)
  • [Marthe Bernard]
    Marthe Bernard, known for playing the role of Tinny on CBC’s Republic of Doyle, is an advocate for mental health and anti-stigma and believes strongly that we should share our experiences with one another for better understanding. In February 2014, she lost her older brother, Louis, to suicide after his long battle with mental illness. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)
  • [Bell Let's Talk and Queen's University hosted third annual mental health and anti-stigma lecture]
    The Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair was established at Queen’s in 2012 with a donation of $1 million from Bell Let’s Talk to the Queen’s Initiative Campaign. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)
  • [Mary Walsh, Heather Stuart, Marthe Bernard]
    Mary Walsh introduces Heather Stuart and Marthe Bernard. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)
  • [Audience]
    The Neptune Theatre in Halifax was packed on June 25 for the third annual Breaking the Silence lecture. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)
  • [Queen's Alumni Review on table at Bell Let's Talk lecture]
    On display at the lecture were copies of the Queen's Alumni Review. The latest edition focuses on mental health. (Photo by Michelle Doucette)

Bell Let’s Talk and Queen’s University hosted the third annual Breaking the Silence lecture on June 25 at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax. The event aimed to raise awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

This year’s lecture featured Heather Stuart, the Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair in the Faculty of Health Sciences, and Marthe Bernard, best known for her role on CBC’s Republic of Doyle. Entertainer Mary Walsh served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

The Bell Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair was established at Queen’s in 2012 with a donation of $1 million from Bell Let’s Talk to the Queen’s Initiative Campaign – a university-wide campaign that began on May 1, 2006 and will culminate in 2016 with the 175th anniversary of the university.

Queen's plans PEC revitalization

The university has begun the planning for the renovation of the former physical education centre, with the intention of repurposing it as a hub for student health and wellness, student innovation and student learning in the heart of campus. 

[Physical Education Centre at night]
The university plans to renovate the former physical education centre to provide a hub for student health and wellness, student innovation and student learning in the heart of campus. (Photo courtesy of Augusto Morales) 

If the planning comes to fruition, the building will also become the home of a new, state-of-the-art facility for the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, which will further enhance the faculty as one of the best in the country.

“The redeveloped building will be an enhancement to both the quality of our student experience and the quality of our research and educational facilities,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf. “When completed, it will be a prominent symbol of Queen’s commitments both to student life and learning and to advanced research.”

The building, located at 67 Union St., was decommissioned in 2009. In 2012, the three gyms in the building were renovated and reopened to provide increased recreational opportunities for students, and centralized exam space. A recent structural assessment of the building by an external consultant found that it is in excellent shape and, if renovated, could provide a considerable amount of additional space – up to 160,000 square feet – at a relatively low cost per square foot, compared to a newly constructed building.

“The building provides a wonderful opportunity to utilize and revitalize valuable space that is not currently being used,” says Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Given the university’s current financial situation, strong support will be needed to fund the project, and we are hopeful that this use of existing space will allow us to realize our goals sooner than if we were to construct a new building.”

More information about the project will be made available as plans progress.  

 

Master's student earns Women’s Health Scholars Award

A Queen’s University student has won an award for her research into women’s health. 

[Robyn Jackowich]
Robyn Jackowich, a master’s student in clinical psychology, has received an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. (Supplied Photo) 

Robyn Jackowich, a master’s student in clinical psychology, received an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award for her research into better understanding the menstrual cycle’s impact on chronic vulvar pain in order to help decrease pain levels.

“I feel very honoured to have been selected for an Ontario Women’s Health Scholar Award,” Ms. Jackowich says. “With this support I will have the ability of focus on research dedicated to the important issue of women’s sexual health concerns, which I hope will contribute to the well-being of many women as well as future research efforts in this area. Sexuality is an integral part of health and quality of life, and it is exciting to see this recognized by prominent funding agencies.”

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD), which affects 12 to 16 per cent of women, is characterized by severe burning pain at the vaginal entrance in response to any contact. It has a significant negative impact on psychological and sexual well-being. The findings from Ms. Jackowich’s research will have implications for the standardization of future PVD research as well as the clinical care of women with PVD.

PVD has also proven costly to the health-care system as women often are required to consult numerous medical providers before receiving a diagnosis, and a single curative treatment has yet to be identified. As there are no physical indicators of the presence of PVD, its causes remain unknown.

Overall, nine awards were handed out, totaling $230,000, with the aim of improving the health of women through research into such issues as stroke, eating disorders, autism, postpartum depression and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

“The Women’s Health Scholars Awards are a gateway to important breakthroughs in the understanding of women’s health that will benefit not just women here in Ontario, but all around the world,” says Max Blouw, President of Wilfrid Laurier University and Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU), which administers the awards.

The 2015 recipients include post-doctoral, doctoral and master’s students from eight Ontario universities who will receive scholarships of $18,000 to $40,000 each plus grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to support the research.

The awards were established in 2001 through funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Tiny RNAs, big data

Molecules hold promise for detecting, treating cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Neil Renwick spent his early years working as a medical officer in the Australian outback, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. Today, those formative clinical experiences with rare and unusual diseases are guiding his explorations into the genetic mechanisms of disease, and putting him at the forefront of a rapidly emerging molecular frontier.

A certified pathologist and clinician scientist in the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Renwick studies select cancer and neurodegenerative diseases in which ribonucleic acid (RNA) control is disturbed.

Neil Renwick is working on new ways to treat cancer. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Among many functions, RNA is the intermediate molecule between DNA and protein. “It has a lot of information that makes a gene into a protein, so it is a good diagnostic and therapeutic target,” he explains. 

Long viewed by researchers as “information carriers,” RNA regained the spotlight in the early 2000s, following a series of discoveries showing that another class of RNA, named microRNA, plays a key role in controlling messenger RNAs and their protein products.

Dr. Renwick’s own interest in RNA was sparked at The Rockefeller University when he worked with Prof. Tom Tuschl, who discovered many microRNAs and developed silencing RNA technology. “He figured out how to switch off any gene,” he says. “It works brilliantly in cell lines, now we’re trying to figure out ways to use it to cure disease.”

Dr. Renwick’s research involves examining at microRNAs in tissue samples from neuroendocrine tumors. A second project is looking at mutations in genes that encode RNA-binding proteins and result in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Two different diseases, but they are linked through defective RNA control.

Identifying and studying how RNAs cause or mediate disease is not as straightforward as it sounds. “The work is technically challenging,” Dr. Renwick says. “It’s hard to work with RNA molecules because they break down easily. You have to know how to handle them.”

His Laboratory of Translational RNA Biology is one of a small cohort of labs in Canada that specialize in this field – but his lab is the only one using state-of-the-art tests, or assays, for detecting RNAs that he developed while training with Prof. Tuschl. “We have the most accurate techniques for doing this,” he says.

A key to his work is the capability to capture and analyse the huge volumes of data produced by RNA profiling. “There will be a big computational component to this work,” he says. “We are lucky; we have pipelines to analyse the data.”

A recruit to Queen’s and KGH through the Southeastern Academic Medical Organization (SEAMO), Dr. Renwick says his new job fulfils a long-time ambition to have his own lab. “I was looking all over the planet for an opportunity. The SEAMO Clinician Scientist program is the way everyone should be going. It’s an innovative program.”

The Queen’s-KGH environment is another positive. “It’s a good opportunity for me to be around other pathologists with extensive experience. And the hospital environment is important because it enables you to see how your work impacts real life. I think Queen’s and KGH are going to be very competitive going forward because they have the experience, and the patient base, and the basic science. All the components are here.”

This story is the ninth in a series on the KGH Research Institute, a collaboration between Queen’s and Kingston General Hospital, and the clinician-scientists recruited to work in the centre.

New local momentum for data analytics

Data analytics is not a new concept, and is certainly not new to Queen’s researchers – in fact, research and data analysis go hand-in-hand.

[Data Analytics]
Scott Lougheed, a graduate student in the School of Environmental Studies, presents his perspectives on effective data management to a full crowd in Douglas Library at Data Day.

What is new with data, however, is its volume, velocity and variety (a notion often referred to as the three Vs). Some even add a couple more Vs – veracity and vulnerability.  

With information hurtling towards us like never before, and not wanting to waste a bit, the risk is that we are buried in a pile of numbers without the capacity to derive meaning from them. What do we do with all this “big data?”  

Equally importantly, in a world of increasing accountability, there must be an open conversation regarding how data are collected, stored, analyzed, and shared.

“The talent at Queen’s is tremendous. Researchers from all disciplines are asking some very interesting research questions – data heavy research questions – and collectively, we have the expertise to answer them, and to manage our data responsibly,” says Don Aldridge, Senior Advisor to the Vice-Principal (Research). “For the sake of efficiency, it really makes sense to collect these experts together to talk about what we do best, or what is or isn’t working in terms of digital infrastructure, process, and policy.” 

This strategy is reflected in the recently approved Data, Analytics and Computing research group. The group provides a forum for those interested in advanced computing and analytics, digital infrastructure and data and held its kick-off event in May. The interdisciplinary executive team includes Jim McLellan (Engineering), Pat Martin (School of Computing), Chris Ferrall (Economics) and John Fisher (Health Sciences).

The new local momentum in the world of data analytics can be seen in the coordination of a variety of events and initiatives that are intended to encourage the exchange of ideas and sharing of best practices and knowledge on how scholars manage data.  

The second annual Data Day, hosted jointly by the Library, IT Services and the Vice-Principal (Research) portfolio, raised awareness of the services available at Queen’s to help researchers manage their data and make it accessible to, and reusable by, the wider community. New Library and IT services will serve expanding initiatives at the local, provincial and national levels, including data management plans being required by Tri-Council agencies.

The High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL) recently hosted a symposium, held in Ottawa, on Advanced Computing and Analytics in Medical Research to discuss opportunities for how data can be processed, integrated, federated, stored and analyzed for the understanding of diseases and their potential treatments.  This event was attended by professionals from across Ontario, and presentations ranged from the security of electronic medical records to clinical interventions based on real time analytics, to novel bioinformatic approaches on the clinical utility of tissue biomarkers.

Queen’s awarded $14 million in research funding

A majority of the 79 NSERC grants span five years, facilitating more in-depth inquiries by Queen’s researchers.

Queen’s University researchers recently received more than $14 million in funding through a number of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) programs.

The funding for various individual and group projects and infrastructure will serve to advance research in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A majority of the grants span five years, giving researchers flexibility to explore different avenues of research.

“Funding from NSERC and other partners is extremely important to our researchers and to Queen’s, which prides itself on being a first-class research institution,” says Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “The fact that so many of our faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows from a wide range of faculties received these awards is a testament to the high quality of researchers we have on our campus.”

Fifty-nine researchers received a total of $11.6 million in NSERC Discovery Grants. More notably, Mark Chen (Physics) was awarded $1. 25 million to help complete and commission the SNO+ laboratory in Sudbury, Ontario.

Five Queen’s researchers earned Discovery Accelerator Supplements totaling $120,000 over three years. The list of recipients includes Juergen Dingel (School of Computing), Stephen Hughes (Physics), Scott Lamoureux (Geography), Steven Smith (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and William Andrew Take (Civil Engineering). They research an interesting range of topics including embedded software, permafrost, nanomachines and the impact of climate change on soil slopes.

The NSERC announcement also includes funding for doctoral and post-doctoral students varying between two and three years. Fifteen students were awarded funding totalling $1.86 million in a wide range of disciplines including geography, biology, chemistry, computing, engineering and neuroscience.

For more information visit the website.

Collaborating on clean technology

A unique partnership between Queen’s University and Enviro Innovate Corporation has committed to creating a cleantech accelerator at Innovation Park. The initiative is seeking to attract startups and established enterprises looking to commercialize or acquire innovative technologies.

Cleantech focuses on the commercialization of promising, innovative clean technologies developed at or with support from Queen’s University and other partners in Ontario’s innovation ecosystems such as GreenCentre Canada, or introduced from Enviro Innovate’s global network.

The cleantech initiative will focus on a range of cleantech including industrial energy efficiency and sustainability, fossil fuel focused environmental solutions, metals/electrolysis cell technology, alternative fuels, hydro-electric/alternative energy transmission challenges, geo-thermal, mining and fracking solutions, land remediation and water supply/water security/water quality focused technologies.

“This collaboration is an excellent example of the opportunities that are important to contributing to our research, the regional economy, and training and career opportunities for our students,” says Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “We are delighted to be working with Enviro Innovate whose expertise and networks both complement and strengthen Queen’s partnerships, knowledge mobilization, and commercialization activities. I look forward to this new collaboration and the initiation of the first of the projects to be launched.”

All parties will work with researchers, entrepreneurs and startups, some of which may establish or expand their research and development operations in the Kingston and Southeastern Ontario region, to position technologies and businesses for growth, and will attract partners and investors to reach global markets.

“This collaboration is an excellent example of the opportunities that are important to contributing to our research, the regional economy, and training and career opportunities for our students.”

- Dr. Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research)

“The vision driving this initiative is to resolve meaningful cleantech problems through commercialization of promising research,” says Tom Thompson, Chairman and CEO; Enviro Innovate Corporation. “Enviro Innovate will access the deep strength of our partners as necessary to accomplish this. This opportunity exists because of the highly promising commercial applicability of cleantech research being advanced at Queen’s, as well as at the government and industry sponsored GreenCentre Canada.”

Enviro Innovate’s development and commercialization initiative is supported by outside industry partners and stakeholders sourced by Enviro Innovate management and its partners, as well as grants and incentives that will be pursued and enabled through its collaborations with Queen’s and engagement with GreenCentre Canada.

“Green Centre is pleased to join Enviro Innovate in this initiative.  They are greatly expanding Canada’s capacity to commercialize breakthroughs in cleantech, and their collaborative approach will add much value to Kingston’s and Ontario's innovation ecosystem”, said Lyle Clarke, Interim Executive Director, GreenCentre Canada.

For more information on Enviro Innovate visit the website.

IMPACT Award funds First Nations diabetes research partnership

A new research project that will take a closer look at diabetes within Ontario’s First Nations peoples and help develop new programs and policies has received funding that will allow it to move ahead.

[Mike Green]
Mike Green, an associate professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at Queen’s University, has received a $770,000 IMPACT Award from the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT Unit. (University Communications)

The project, led by Mike Green, an associate professor in the departments of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences at Queen’s University, is the recipient of a $770,000 IMPACT Award from the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT Unit (OSSU).

With the support, the three-year project, in partnership with the Chiefs of Ontario as well as the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Nipissing University and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies (ICES), will gather data on diabetes, assess it and then use that information for the betterment of the communities.

“We will be producing a comprehensive assessment of diabetes, its complications and the health services use associated with that across the province for First Nations people,” Dr. Green says. “We are going to be looking at their access to care and we’ll be studying specific policies that the stakeholder groups bring up. We’re going to be working very closely with them in a very integrated way in order to turn that data into information and knowledge that is useful to them in their decision-making about program delivery and policy making and to improve outcomes.”

As Dr. Green points out, diabetes rates have been increasing substantially across the province, including within the First Nations population. Some of the complications associated with diabetes include renal failure, cardiovascular disease and amputations.

The funding through the award, one of only seven being handed out, will help address the issue directly.

“The award will allow us to do a lot of the data work but also a substantial amount of the funding is actually going to that engagement with patients and stakeholders,” Dr. Green says. “One of the really innovative things about this project is that these really are not our research questions. As a researcher, this isn’t me saying I’ve got an idea, let’s go out and test it. This is our academic team going to our partners and asking what’s important to you, what should we be studying, and working with them to identify those things and move them forward.”  

“Reducing diabetes in our communities is a priority and I am hopeful that this research with the involvement of our First Nation diabetes patients will make this research meaningful and real.  Hearing the voice of First Nations individuals who are living with diabetes tell their stories will be important in evaluating those policies that affect the lives of First Nations citizens in Ontario”, states Grand Chief Patrick Madahbee, Chair of the Ontario Chiefs Committee on Health.  

The IMPACT Awards are designed to bring together diverse stakeholders – patients, clinicians, researchers, policy makers, knowledge users, industry and other health sector participants – to develop and implement promising research opportunities that improve patient health outcomes and advance our health system. The OSSU is a collaboration across 12 leading Ontario health research centres and is jointly funded by the Government of Ontario and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

International collaboration heats up antifreeze research

High up on the sixth floor of Botterell Hall, a glass flask is spinning in a bath of thick green liquid. Inside the flask is Professor Peter Davies’ (Biochemistry & Biology) attempt to solve one of nature’s riddles: how can plants, fish and insects live in sub-zero temperatures without freezing?

Peter Davies (left) is working with Craig Marshall from the University of Otago, New Zealand to improve the production of natural antifreeze proteins. 

He’s made some promising strides recently, and he chalks it up to the help he’s had from overseas. Dr. Davies has been working with a colleague at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and recently travelled there to collaborate on research. Together, he and Dr. Craig Marshall have been studying antifreeze proteins, which occur naturally in certain organisms that live in freezing climates. It’s thought that by binding to the surface of ice crystals, these proteins lower their freezing point, effectively staving off the formation of ice.

After working for months at Otago, Dr. Davies returned to Queen’s to continue the project. Dr. Marshall joined him shortly thereafter and they’re continuing their work together.

“The exchange has been enormously beneficial and has given me access to equipment and experts I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Dr. Davies. “It’s allowed Dr. Marshall and me to start work, and then continue it back here at Queen’s.”

Though both professors knew one another’s work and had met at conferences, it was their universities’ membership with the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) that brought them together. Queen’s and the University of Otago are two founding members of the MNU, an international group of leading research-intensive universities that promotes exchanges and collaborations between member institutions. That shared membership has now helped them collaborate on their research on antifreeze proteins.

Drs. Davies and Marshall are hoping to find a way to collect and purify antifreeze proteins in greater amounts, which stands as one of the material’s biggest challenges.

“Before we’re able to effectively use these proteins, we need to develop a better supply,” says Dr. Davies.

If the production process is improved upon, the proteins could be used from agriculture to ice cream making, though one of the more promising uses is improving organ transplantation. Keeping a transplanted kidney cool enough to prevent damage, but not so cold as to form ice, could increase the supply of much-needed donations. Coating a kidney with an antifreeze protein solution could make the process safer and more reliable. 

To tackle this problem, Dr. Davies has a glass flask spinning in a bath of thick green liquid, purifying the proteins inside. It’s a difficult problem, but he has help from around the world.  

The Matariki Network of Universities seeks to build upon the collective strengths of its member institutions to develop and promote international excellence in research and education. Matariki member institutions conduct transformative research across a broad subject base in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. They promote a combination of academic learning and personal growth through extracurricular activities in diverse scholarly communities so as to develop rounded citizens of the world and leaders of the future.

Professor fêted for career exploring Canadian identity

Historical geographer and Professor Emeritus Brian Osborne has spent his life studying “place” and the “layers” of human presence that tell the story of people. He is fascinated by what connects people to the land, particularly at the local level, and he has published extensively on Kingston’s history and explored in depth the question of Canadian national identity.

[Brian Osborne]
Brian Osborne, seen here with former RCGS president Gisèle Jacob after receiving the Camsell Medal for his volunteer work with the organization in 2007, was recently awarded the RCGS’ Massey Medal, which recognizes outstanding career accomplishments in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada. (Supplied Photo)

Dr. Osborne recently added a “layer” to his own history with a Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). The award recognizes outstanding career accomplishments in the exploration, development or description of the geography of Canada.

“The society is very much concerned with the question of ‘what is Canada’ and its national identity, and it operates at the cutting edge of my work,” says Dr. Osborne, who was has been a Fellow of the RCGS since 1988 and was vice-president between 1998 and 2004. “I’m really proud to be a member of the Society, and the award of the Massey Medal is quite an honour.”

Dr. Osborne, who grew up in Wales, began teaching at Queen’s in 1967, and has since inspired generations of students in the field of geography. He’s been awarded numerous scholarly and professional honours, including the 2007 RCGS Camsell Medal for volunteer work and Queen Elizabeth II Gold and Diamond Jubilee Medals in 2002 and 2012. He has been very active in provincial and community organizations, serving as president of both the Ontario Historical Society and the Kingston Historical Society. Dr. Osborne has also been a consultant for the National Capital Commission, Heritage Canada, Parks Canada, Canada Post and the National Film Board.

RCGS Awards Committee chair Helen Kerfoot highlighted Dr. Osborne’s scholarship in Aboriginal history, settlement history, cultural landscapes, and the development of a Canadian sense of place. She also noted that the Queen’s professor was involved with the inclusion of Fort Henry and the Martello tower fortifications in Kingston as part of the Rideau Canal’s 2007 designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Dr. Osborne says the ongoing question of what it means to be Canadian has always captivated him, and he continues to explore the concept of how people identify with where they live at the local and national levels.

“I think of myself as a local scholar, and Kingston’s history has engaged me for some time. I’m currently working on the preface to a commemorative volume on Barriefield – the stories, memories and people and leading figures who have contributed to its becoming a distinctive “place” in history. I like to think of documenting and interpreting its historical geography as layers of the human record on the land. Through those layers run rich vertical themes – generational knowledge, traditions, experiences, storytelling, folklore – all communicated through time into the present. That is how I reconstruct the essence of places. ”

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