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Research Prominence

A cancer research breakthrough

Queen’s University cancer researcher Madhuri Koti has discovered a biomarker that will help lead to better predictions of the success of chemotherapy in ovarian cancer patients. This discovery could lead to better treatment options in the fight against ovarian cancer.

Biomarkers are an indicator of a biological state or condition.

Queen's researcher Madhuri Koti recently made a breakthrough in cancer research.

“Recent successes in harnessing the immune system to combat cancer are evidence for the significant roles of a cancer patient’s immune responses in fighting cancer,” explains Dr. Koti (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences). “Many of these success are based on boosting anti-cancer immunity via different therapies. Such therapies would prove to be most effective when coupled with markers predicting a patient’s eventual response to a specific therapy.”

Dr. Koti conducted the study in retrospective cohorts of over 200 ovarian cancer patients.  

The study utilized a combination of recent cutting-edge and more established detection technologies for identifying such markers. Initial discovery of these markers was made in frozen tumor tissues accrued from tumor banks such as the Ontario Tumor Bank and the Ottawa Health Research Institute and Gynecology-Oncology and Pathology services of the CHUMHospital Notre-Dame, Montreal.

Phase II validations are currently under way in retrospective cohorts of over 500 ovarian cancer patient tumors accrued from the Terry Fox Research Institute-Ovarian Cancer Canada partnered, Canadian Ovarian Experimental Unified Resource.

A major impact of this discovery is that these novel markers, when used at the time of treatment initiation in the specific type of ovarian cancer patient, will help gynecologic oncologists make decisions on additional treatment needed in these patients, thus increasing the potential for patient survival.

Ovarian cancer leads to approximately 152,000 deaths among women worldwide each year, making it a leading cause of gynecological cancer related deaths in women.

The study was conducted in collaboration with Anne-Marie Mes-Masson, Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, Montreal, and Jeremy Squire, Faculdade de Medicina de Ribeirão University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The findings were published recently in the British Journal of Cancer.

A life saving app

  • [fire chief]
    Kingston Fire Chief Rheaume Chaput displays the PulsePoint app on his cellphone.
  • [cpr]
    Members of Kingston Fire and Rescue work on the rescue dummy.
  • [survivor]
    Heart attack survivor Chet Babcock spoke at the PulsePoint launch. He collapsed during a hockey game and was revived by a defibrillator.
  • [steven brooks]
    Queen's professor Steven Brooks emphasizes the importance of PulsePoint.
  • [reviving]
    St. John Ambulance training coordinator Tyler O'Prey demonstrates how a defibrillator works.
  • [mayor]
    Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson speaks at the PulsePoint event.

Queen’s University researcher Steven Brooks, working with the City of Kingston, Kingston Fire and Rescue and a number of other community partners, is launching PulsePoint, a mobile app that can save lives. This marks the first PulsePoint launch in Canada

Working with the Kingston Fire and Rescue dispatch system, the app will alert users trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when someone in a nearby public place needs CPR. The app also shows alerted CPR-trained individuals where to find a public automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is close.

“Calling 911, starting CPR and using an AED are the most significant interventions a bystander can make when someone suffers a cardiac arrest, doubling the chances of survival,” says Dr. Brooks, an emergency physician and clinician-scientist at Queen’s University and Kingston General Hospital. “Currently, the out-of-hospital survival rate for cardiac arrest is just five per cent in Canada. We can do better than this, and our hope is that PulsePoint will increase bystander intervention and help save more lives.”

Developed by Californian firefighters, making PulsePoint available in Kingston required a partnership that included Kingston Fire and Rescue, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Kingston General Hospital, Queen’s University and Bell Canada.

Chet Babcock, a cardiac arrest survivor, says an AED saved his life. Babcock’s CPR-trained hockey teammates, James McConnell and Casey Trudeau, administered CPR when he went into cardiac arrest at the INVISTA Centre. A third teammate, Mike Sears, went in search of a defibrillator. He found one with the help of Brad Amell, a volunteer firefighter who was in the foyer. They rushed back to administer the shock that likely restarted Babcock’s heart.

“The cardiac surgeon said that I would have had brain damage or died after five minutes if the AED [automated external defibrillator] hadn’t been used,” says Mr. Babcock, who is alive today thanks to the defibrillator.  “Needless to say, I am a big supporter of AEDs.”

 “Cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of preventable death and we know there are 40,000 sudden cardiac arrests in Canada each year. That’s one every 13 minutes. PulsePoint is all about connecting those who are CPR-trained to save lives with those who need their help,” says Richard Price, PulsePoint Foundation president.

Go to pulsepoint.org to download the app on your Apple or Android device if you are trained in CPR. The Queen’s community will also have an opportunity to sign up for PulsePoint April 7 at 1:30 pm during a demonstration at the ARC. 

Harnessing the power of the tides

[Ryan Mulligan]
Ryan Mulligan, an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, will be presenting his work at the 4th Oxford Tidal Energy Workshop, being held at the University of Oxford on March 23-24. (University Communications)

Tapping the renewable energy found in the oceans’ tides is the focus of an upcoming conference at the University of Oxford and a Queen’s professor will be one of the presenters.

Ryan Mulligan, an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, will be presenting his work at the 4th Oxford Tidal Energy Workshop, including the latest data collected by one of his Master’s students during a research cruise in the Bay of Fundy, one of the greatest potential sources of tidal energy in the world.

As a coastal engineer and oceanographer, Dr. Mulligan’s research is focused on the large-scale effects that tidal current turbines would have on the underwater environment.

“If we put out an array of tidal current turbines in the ocean to generate sufficient energy to power a city, which in the present economy isn’t feasible but could be in the future, we need   several hundred  turbines, like a windfarm but under water,” Dr. Mulligan explains. “My research uses computer models to examine the changes in the water levels, the currents and the sediment transport that could occur due to tidal energy extraction in the Bay of Fundy specifically.”

The data collected from the Bay of Fundy provides “validation against observation” for the modelling being done, he says.

The workshop also offers him a great opportunity to meet with others working in the field, particularly in the United Kingdom where the largest amount of research is being done.

“I know several people who will be there and read the work of others but I will get the chance to meet them, learn about tidal research at UK sites and get a better feel for how my research  fits into the global perspective,” he says. “Some researchers are doing similar work on basin-scale modelling  and the impacts on the marine environment, and others are investigating  turbulence  around the turbine blades and small-scale issues related to designing turbines, so there’s a large range of scales of fluid motion that are going to be discussed.”

Dr. Mulligan says he is honoured to be the only Canadian, and only North American, to present at the UK-focused research symposium that will bring together many of the leading researchers in the field.

Extracting energy from tidal currents is still in the early stages of research, Dr. Mulligan points out, but there are projects that are bringing harnessing the vast amounts of power closer to a reality.

The workshop will be held March 23-24 at University of Oxford.

When research goes pop

Dr. Robert Morrison

At the intersection of academic research and popular culture comes the resurrection of a long dead opium eater.

The opium eater in question is the 19th century English essayist Thomas De Quincey, known for his autobiography Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. De Quincey also happens to be Queen’s professor Robert Morrison’s academic raison d’être and the subject of novelist David Morrell’s two latest books.

Dr. Morrell, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Iowa, turns back the clock to Victorian England in his book Murder as a Fine Art (2013) to write about De Quincey as the suspect in a gruesome murder case. In his newest book, Inspector of the Dead (2015), Morrell follows De Quincey as he races to halt an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria.

The timing was perfect as when Dr. Morrell was beginning research for his De Quincey-inspired novel, Dr. Morrison was releasing his biography of De Quincey, The English Opium-Eater.

After Dr. Morrison offered his research expertise to Dr. Morrell to ensure the historical accuracy of the novels, both of Dr. Morrell’s books were co-dedicated to Dr. Morrison. Now, the burgeoning interest in De Quincey as a result of the novels means Dr. Morrison’s research, his biography and a new edition of De Quincey’s finest essays forthcoming with Oxford University Press, are reaching an ever-widening audience.  

“The relationship between my scholarship and David’s fiction is a very good example of the ways in which academic research can reach out to and eventually shape popular culture,” says Dr. Morrison, a professor in the Department of English. “Research in the humanities matters because it deepens our understanding of the past, and often triggers imaginative and fictive engagements that inform the present and future. Society, for example, has been struggling for a long time with the issue of addiction. From different angles, David and I try to reveal the history and impact of that struggle.”

While the two have never actually met in person, emails back and forth for the last four years have kept their academic affiliation a prime example of how scholarly research can aid in the development of pop culture, and how pop culture frequently capitalizes on information and insights brought forward by scholarly research in the Humanities.

“When I was researching for these novels I had access to a variety of materials, but nothing compares to the kind of information Robert was able to provide me with,” says Dr. Morrell, whose debut novel First Blood saw the introduction of the action hero John Rambo. “To me, Rob comes across as the kind of professor that every student should want to spend hours with.”

Both Dr. Morrison and Dr. Morrell are big proponents when it comes to the importance of an education in the humanities or liberal arts.

“A humanities or liberal arts education is something of an education in cultural survival. We’re teaching an open, creative and vital approach to culture so that we’re not sleepwalking through life but instead engaging with the world around us and moving forward,” says Dr. Morrell.

Inspector of the Dead will be released on March 24, 2015. For more information on Robert Morrison’s research, please follow this link.

A flawed system

Queen’s University professor Allyson Harrison has uncovered anomalies and issues with the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV), one of the most widely used intelligence tests in the world. IQ scores are used to predict educational success, to help identify intellectual disabilities or intellectual giftedness and to establish whether a person has a specific learning disability.

For her research, Dr. Harrison and her colleagues examined the differences between Canadian and American WAIS-IV scores from 861 postsecondary students from across Ontario. The research identified a trend where the individual’s scores were consistently lower using the Canadian test scoring system. The WAIS-IV scores are used to make diagnostic decisions on the person’s ability relative to their peer group.

“Looking at the normal distribution of scores, you’d expect that only about five per cent of the population should get an IQ score of 75 or less,” says Dr. Harrison. “However, while this was true when we scored their tests using the American norms, our findings showed that 21 per cent of college and university students in our sample had an IQ score this low when Canadian norms were used for scoring.”

The trend was the same across all IQ scores, with Canadian young adults in college or university consistently receiving a lower IQ score if the Canadian norms were used. There were fewer gifted students identified when Canadian norms were used, as well as more students who were said to be intellectually impaired.

When scoring the WAIS-IV, Canadian psychologists have the option to compare the obtained raw score with the normative data gathered in either Canada or the USA.

Dr. Harrison notes these findings have serious implications for educational and neuropsychological testing. “Research shows that you can go from being classified as average to intellectually impaired based only on whether American or Canadian norms are used to rank the obtained raw IQ score.”

The research was published in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment.

Positioning Canada for global research leadership

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada president Mario Pinto (BSc '75, PhD '80) visited Queen’s University Friday to present the draft NSERC 2020 Strategic Plan. Dr. Pinto is travelling across Canada to solicit feedback about the proposed plan. He sat down with senior communications officer Mark Kerr to talk about the plan.

Mark Kerr: Tell us a bit more about yourself and your time at Queen’s?

Mario Pinto: My time at Queen’s was wonderful. I started off as an undergraduate student initially in mathematics and computing and then I changed into life sciences and then biochemistry. Eventually I graduated with a BSc in chemistry. I have fond memories of Queen’s because I met my wife in the Jock Harty Arena at the orientation registration on my first day at the university, and we just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. I also did my PhD at Queen’s. I was based at Queen’s but also worked at University of Toronto and Dalhousie. Queen’s was my home base because I had a particularly great supervisor, Dr. Walter Szarek, and we managed to do great things together.

MK: Since becoming NSERC president, you’ve made it a priority to travel across the country and get feedback on the NSERC 2020 Strategic Plan. What themes emerged from the extensive consultations?

MP: The first was the need to promote science culture in Canada. Until STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) becomes a household word in this country, I don’t believe we are going to be able to achieve the investment in research and innovation we desire.

The second theme deals with the diversified competitive research base across Canada. We have to admit that we have a highly diverse eco-system consisting of colleges, polytechnics, primarily undergraduate universities, highly intensive research universities, and medium research intensive universities. Each has a skill set so our plan is to leverage the respective strengths of those different sectors and take advantage of them.

Diversity also relates to populations. We have to do a much better job of attracting women and Aboriginal Canadians to sciences. This is an initiative I am particularly passionate about. We have to make career opportunities in STEM far more attractive to women and Aboriginal Canadians and provide mentoring so that they progress through the ranks at all levels of the education system.

The third theme has to do with recognizing and strengthening the dynamic interaction between foundational research and applied research activities. We have to admit that there is a dynamic interaction between the two and there isn’t a hand-off from discovery to innovation. Rather, discovery feeds into innovation and, in turn, innovation feeds back into discovery.

The final theme is “going global.” In Canada, we have strengths but there are also gaps. In order to innovate effectively, we have to partner with researchers in other countries, either bilaterally or multilaterally, and to take the best of complementary expertise in those different groups.

MK: How will NSERC go about achieving the vision laid out in this plan?

MP: As the leader in funding discovery research and one of the prime connectors between the different organizations working in the research and innovation space, we should be reaching out and building bridges to other organizations. That’s something I’ve already initiated where, once again, we will leverage our respective strengths to achieve our four goals. We currently fund 11,300 professors and 30,500 students and postdoctoral fellows. That represents a force of ambassadors. We have to speak with one voice and show support for the four objectives, be consistent in presenting those.  As the coordinating body NSERC can leverage these strengths to make a dramatic impact.

MK: What does the plan mean for Queen’s University and the researchers working at the institution?

MP: I think Queen’s is in an ideal position for success in general. It’s well recognized – you have world class researchers, you have excellent students, you have excellent faculty. You are well suited and you are well positioned to make a serious impact. Canadians do well on the world stage and we know that. I think it’s an understatement  that students from Queen’s are well equipped to take advantage of emerging opportunities, and respond to emerging challenges.

After all, this is why we are in the business of research and innovation.  That’s why I took up the challenge to be the president of NSERC because I think we have a responsibility to solve global challenges. I encourage students and faculty to respond to the web-based survey and give us their insight.

Visit the website to review and provide feedback on the NSERC 2020 plan.

A painful problem

Statistics and software seem an unlikely combination for addressing chronic pain. But for more than 15 years, Elizabeth VanDenKerkhof, a Professor of Nursing with a cross-appointment in Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine and clinician researcher in the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute, has been investigating how data and technology at the point of care can both improve patient care and enhance understanding of the myriad factors behind the complexities of pain.

A doctorate in public health from Johns Hopkins University who specializes in the epidemiology of pain, Dr. VanDenKerkhof was part of a university-hospital team in the Queen’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine who broke new ground in patient care at the turn of the millennium by developing an electronic documentation tool for use with an acute pain management system.  

“My role was to make sure the technology captured the data for tracking, management and research into pain,” Dr. VanDenKerkhof explains. Initially developed to care for patients with post-operative and acute pain, the approach has now been adopted at many other points of care, and is in use in hospitals in Montreal and Ottawa.

Virtually unheard-of in pre-smartphone days, the handheld technology was not initially welcomed with open arms, she says. But the experience of developing and implementing that novel tool opened up new avenues of research, by virtue of its ability to capture and store data in real time. It has also led to numerous investigations into the effects of technology on patient care and professional practice. 

More than a decade later, the tool continues to contribute to acute and chronic pain research and enhance pain management.

“We started doing studies in 2001, and we now have 12 years of point-of-care data,” she says. “It enables us to look at statistics, such as the trajectory of pain intensity after surgery and average number of clinician visits – which can be a measure of pain severity -- or to track adverse events such as respiratory depression or allergic reactions. There’s nothing that we know of elsewhere that captures pain data to the same extent at the point of care.”

Dr. VanDenKerkhof continues to integrate technology, and study its effects, in conjunction with her investigations into chronic pain. Her primary research program looks at the epidemiology of chronic post-surgical pain in women to identify subgroups at high risk for developing chronic pain after surgery, and how those women use health care resources before and after surgery.

This story is the sixth 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.

NSERC asking for feedback

On Friday March 13, Queen’s University will welcome the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada’s President, Dr. Mario Pinto, for a consultation session on the NSERC 2020 Strategic Plan. The session will provide researchers, students, administrators and stakeholders an opportunity to learn more about Dr. Pinto (Artsci’75, PhD’80) and provide views and feedback on the Plan.

The draft plan captures the discussions with members of the academic community, associations, government officials and businesses in 2014 and also incorporates the feedback from the NSERC council members, a special steering committee and staff.

Dr. Pinto is holding the consultation session Friday, March 13 from 10 am until noon in the George Teves Dining Room, second floor of the University Club on Stuart Street. Register on the NSERC website.

Putting the tech in technicolour

From left to right, Team Eye3: Zaeem Anwar (Cmp'15), Jake Alsemgeest (Cmp'15), Eddie Wang (Com'18)

Three Queen’s students have developed a way to make electronic technology more accessible for the 700 million people worldwide who are colour blind.

The technology, Ciris, took home first prize in the Microsoft Imagine Cup – an international technology competition.

The winning team, Team Eye3, represented Canada and was made up of Jake Alsemgeest (Cmp’15), Zaeem Anwar (Cmp’15) and Eddie Wang (Com’18). They received first prize in the Blueprint Challenge Phase for the World Citizenship category of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

"The power of cross collaboration between faculties at Queen's University really shines here,” says Mr. Wang. “We are absolutely honoured to have been selected as the winners for this challenge, and we can't wait to show the world what's in store for Eye3 and the Ciris technology."

We are absolutely honoured to have been selected as the winners for this challenge, and we can't wait to show the world what's in store for Eye3 and the Ciris technology.
- Eddie Wang, Com'18

Ciris is a real-time colour augmentation overlap for desktop computers and mobile devices that allows colour blind people to see more clearly contrasts between different colours. The team has already enabled Ciris on a video app for mobile devices.

"We're really excited about the positive feedback from our professors and the community,” says Mr. Anwar. “We have a real chance to do something helpful for the world and are looking forward to the work ahead."

Using colour in charts, pictures, graphics and clothing can mean that colour blind individuals miss out on valuable information. Team Eye3 wanted to be able to provide them with a way to translate hard-to-see colours into a visual equivalent that is easier for colour blind individuals to identify.

“We are extremely excited and thankful for all of the feedback from the community, professors and colleagues,” says Mr. Alsemgeest. “Our team is very excited to continue pushing our limits to have a finished product we are proud of.  We hope to make the world a better place and hope to achieve it through Ciris.”

The team, which also received a $3,000 prize, was coached by professors Brent Gallupe (School of Business) and Patrick Martin (School of Computing).

“This is a very talented team.  I think that their combination of technical and business skills helped them win,” says Dr. Gallupe. “Ciris addresses an important problem affecting millions of colour blind people around the world who can’t distinguish colours on their smartphone, tablet and laptop screens.”

Next up for the team is the Imagine World Cup Semifinals, where the team will compete to win a trip to the finals in Seattle in July. A $50,000 prize goes to the winner at the World Finals.

“The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a great opportunity for our students to challenge themselves and to apply what they are learning here at Queen's,” says Dr. Martin. “Team Eye3 demonstrated great skill and innovation in coming up with their project and winning the Blueprint Challenge phase. Their project definitely fits the world citizenship theme of the competition.”

Visit the Ciris Facebook page for more information about the app.

Steven Liss reappointed vice-principal (research)

Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf today announced the reappointment of Steven Liss as vice-principal (research) for a second term, from Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2020.

“Over the past five years, Queen’s has continued to build on its reputation as an outstanding research institution due in large part to the expert guidance of Dr. Liss,” Principal Woolf says. “I am delighted that Dr. Liss will continue to lead our efforts to sustain and enhance Queen’s research prominence.”

[Steven Liss]
Dr. Steven Liss has helped build Queen's reputation as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

During his first term, Dr. Liss led the renewal of the Queen’s Strategic Research Plan (SRP), which outlines research priorities and details the processes and mechanisms for advancing research at Queen’s. During Dr. Liss’ tenure, Queen’s improved its standing among Canadian universities in both research income and research intensity. He also spearheaded efforts to raise the profile of Queen’s research through a variety initiatives including the launch of the (e)AFFECT magazine.

Quick Links
Learn more about Dr. Liss on the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) website

Dr. Liss, a professor of environmental studies and chemical engineering, graduated from Western University in microbiology and immunology, and has a master’s degree and PhD in applied microbiology from the University of Saskatchewan. He is a member or chair of a number of boards and management groups. Recognizing Dr. Liss’ work to advance research and innovation in this country, the Government of Canada awarded him the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

The university’s Board of Trustees recently approved the reappointment of Dr. Liss.

Queen’s distinguishes itself as one of the leading research-intensive institutions in Canada. The mission is to advance research excellence, leadership and innovation, as well as enhance Queen’s impact at a national and international level. Through undertaking leading-edge research, Queen’s is addressing many of the world’s greatest challenges, and developing innovative ideas and technological advances brought about by discoveries in a variety of disciplines.


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