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Research Prominence

Two faculty named Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Fellows

Queen’s researchers awarded one of Canada’s highest academic honours for health scientists.

Queen's researchers Robert Ross and Michael Green
Queen's University researchers Robert Ross and Michael Green.

Queen’s University researchers Robert Ross (Kinesiology) and Michael Green (Health Sciences) will be formally inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) Fellowship, one of Canada’s premier academic honours, on Thursday, Sept. 13. As internationally-recognized researchers, Drs. Ross and Green were selected for their global leadership, academic performance, and scientific creativity.

“Drs. Ross and Green have left indelible marks on their respective disciplines and, through their knowledge translation efforts, have improved physical health and access to health care for Canadians,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).

Dr. Ross has been recognized nationally and internationally for his research and knowledge translation activities concerning the unique role physical activity has in the management of lifestyle-based disease. Since 1992, he has received $8.3 million of research funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), won two of the most prestigious international awards for excellence in exercise science research, and served as the first vice-president of the Ontario College of Kinesiology and chair of the American Heart Association Program Committee for the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.

“The generation of knowledge that leads to the creation of strategies designed to manage lifestyle-based disease, and the translation of that knowledge to the end user, has been my life’s work,” says Dr. Ross, of the Queen’s School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “It is an honour to be named to the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences for our work thus far, and I look forward to using the platform provided as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences to continue promoting the message that exercise is medicine, and consequently, improving the health of Canadians."

Dr. Green is a leader in academic family medicine in Canada and head of the Department of Family Medicine at Queen's University. He is recognized across Canada and internationally for effective collaborations with Indigenous communities, and was instrumental in creating the College of Family Physicians Fact Sheet on Systemic Racism and Indigenous Health and on Canada's competency framework for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Health. His research with Indigenous communities was recognized with a major Impact award from the Ontario SPOR Support Unit, and he leads the INSPIRE-PHC research program that includes six universities and 35 researchers.

“I am very grateful to be named as a fellow by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences,” says Dr. Green. “I have spent my career working toward increasing access to and equity in primary health care, and improving Indigenous health. I see this award not just as recognition for how far we have come in those efforts, but as emphasizing the need to continue these improvements into the future.”

Drs. Ross and Green will be named to the CAHS Fellowship at a ceremony in Ottawa, joining the ranks of other Queen’s CAHS Fellows, including Anne Croy, Susan Cole, Roger Deeley, Stephen Archer, Jacalyn Duffin, John Rudan, Chris Simpson, Elizabeth Eisenhauer, and others. The CAHS is one of Canada’s national academies, along with the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering. These academies inform government and the public on issues critical to health care and health improvement.

Learn more about the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Fellowship.

The Conversation: Canada left behind as ride-hailing services go global

[Andras Vas/Unsplash]
Ride-hailing services have gone global and is now a mobility option in 89 countries, serving more than 2,600 cities around the world. (Photo by Andras Vas/Unsplash)

Like it or not, ride-hailing has become an established, regulated and accepted form of transportation in most of Canada’s largest cities.

Canadian cities aren’t unique in this regard. Ride-hailing is now a mobility option in 89 countries, serving more than 2,600 cities around the world.

By adopting a global outlook, Canada can better understand, manage and benefit from the integration of ride-hailing as a component of urban mobility.

Global scale

In Toronto and in many North American cities, ride-hailing was initially seen as a disruption to the taxi industry, a heavily licensed and regulated municipal sector. But ride-hailing is maturing, and firms continue to innovate and expand through a variety of modifications to ride-hailing services such as pooling and subscriptions.

Ride-hailing companies are also investing in other mobility services including bikes and scooters. And they’re leveraging their network of drivers to provide other logistics services like food delivery.

Globally, ride-hailing firms abide by place and city-specific regulations and policies while simultaneously catering their services to appeal to local markets and cultural practices. In Canada, the United States, the U.K. and Singapore, ride-hailing means travelling by car.

However, in places like Indonesia, Vietnam and Uganda, hailing a ride can mean riding on the back of a motorcycle. Jakarta is a city of more than 10 million people known for crushing congestion and a dearth of reliable public transit. The arrival of ride-hailing firms has been credited for offering a workaround to congestion.

This is because ride-hailing is bringing products and services directly to customers. In India, passengers can even hail a tuk-tuk.

The unicorns of ride-hailing

As ride-hailing becomes an increasingly accepted mode of transportation with relatively low barriers to entry and expansion, ride-hailing firms have gone global.

Uber, with operations in 66 countries, exemplifies the global reach of ride-hailing. But Uber is hardly alone.

There are now 12 ride-hailing firms that have reached what’s known as “unicorn” status. This means that they are startup firms with a market valuation of $1 billion or more. These ride-hailing unicorns are Uber, Didi-Chuxing, Lyft, Grab, Ola, Go-Jek, Yandex, Cabify, Gett, Careem, 99 and Taxify.

Their headquarter locations range from San Francisco to Sao Paulo, Dubai to Beijing, exemplifying the global reach of ride-hailing. They are also the recipients of significant venture capital investments. Based on an examination of venture capital investment in urban tech, ride-hailing and mobility service firms attracted more than 60 per cent — or greater than $40 billion —of all urban tech investments between 2016 and 2018.

These firms also lead as innovators by building new mobility services. Others combine products and services in new ways, taking advantage of technology, algorithms, networks and concentrations of people.

In Indonesia, for example, credit card adoption rates are below seven per cent, and most people don’t have bank accounts. Therefore, local startup Go-Jek is not just a ride-hailing company, but also a financial services firm offering a cashless payment system woven into its app.

In Singapore, local ride-hailing unicorn Grab invested $6 million in an artificial intelligence centre and partnership with the National University of Singapore. The centre will focus on using data collected by Grab to address mobility challenges faced across Southeast Asia.

And in India, Ola has partnered with government agencies, civic organizations and private sector firms on social entrepreneurship initiatives that train drivers, promote female entrepreneurship and emphasize sustainability through fuel choices.

Tiny Estonia has a ride-hailing unicorn

There are no ride-hailing unicorns headquartered in Canada. While Canada may represent a relatively small market in global terms, the most recent entrant to the ride-hailing unicorns club is Taxify.

Taxify is headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia, a former country of the Soviet Union with a population of just 1.3 million. Tallinn is a city that was pretty much on nobody’s map of global cities. The city, and Taxify, are emblematic of a new global economic geography of innovative firms and cities. Taxify currently operates in 28 countries, including Australia, Nigeria and Canada.

The rapid globalization of local ground transportation services was unexpected. But thanks to what’s known as the “platform economy,” many local services have been reconfigured into global ones with consequences for markets, firms and places.

The platform economy is comprised of big data, algorithms and cloud computing. These come together to create new digital infrastructure on which entire new markets and ecosystems operate.

This digital infrastructure has created new value for its owners and is an essential part of a reconfigured globalization. The global economy is being reorganized so that the owners and operators of these platforms are also the owners of the data and power. This power may be even more formidable than that held by the factory-owners of the early Industrial Revolution.

Ground transportation has until recently been a local concern and deeply rooted in place. For instance, public transit agencies like the Toronto Transit Commission or Vancouver’s TransLink are operated locally or regionally. Taxi brokerages also tend to operate locally.

Ride-hailing, however, is part of the platform economy infrastructure. This unique form of digitization allowed firms to expand rapidly to multiple markets, multiple languages and multiple sets of regulations and guidelines.

Ride-hailing depends on mobilizing local citizens to contribute, but it’s also profoundly global, with powerful consequences for the platform owners and those cities that house them.

The challenge for Canada

Canada is facing challenges because it’s simply become a consumer of platform ride-hailing products. We do not house any of the ride-hailing headquarters. We are not developing our own stand-alone mobility solutions for the world stage.

As multinational ride-hailing platforms firms take the lead on ground transportation services in Canadian cities, they also gain exclusive access to a treasure chest of data on people and places.

Our future economy depends on our public agencies having the knowledge and power to make informed policy choices around mobility investments. As our largest cities struggle with congestion, it’s now more important than ever to step up and invest in our urban mobility futures.

The sort of economy and society we create in this transition to digital platforms will be determined by the social, political and business choices we make. Canada needs to lead, not follow, in the global race for better mobility.The Conversation

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Betsy Donald is professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen's. She is also a Registered Professional Planner.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Queen’s-Dartmouth Research Development Fund open for applications

Queen’s University and Dartmouth College have launched a new fund to support faculty at both institutions to develop a new or deepen an existing research or scholarly collaboration.

The Queen’s-Dartmouth Research Development Fund provides up to $20,000 USD in funding, with preference given to proposals that align with one or more of Queen’s and Dartmouth’s Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) research priorities:

  • Cyber security
  • Global health
  • Sustainability, environment, and resources

As the only two North American members of the MNU, this is a unique opportunity for faculty to strengthen or create relationships between Queen’s and Dartmouth College.

The terms of reference and application forms are available on the Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) website.

Submit applications to the Queen’s Office of the Associate Vice-Principal (International) at vp.international@queensu.ca by midnight EST on Monday, October 15, 2018.

A hint of history for today's tech

Queen’s Human Media Lab unveils the world’s first rollable touch-screen tablet, inspired by ancient scrolls.

A Queen’s University research team has taken a page from history, rolled it up and created the MagicScroll – a rollable touch-screen tablet designed to capture the seamless flexible screen real estate of ancient scrolls in a modern-day device. Led by bendable-screen pioneer Dr. Roel Vertegaal, this new technology is set to push the boundaries of flexible device technology into brand new territory.

The device is comprised of a high-resolution, 7.5” 2K resolution flexible display that can be rolled or unrolled around a central, 3D-printed cylindrical body containing the device’s computerized inner-workings. Two rotary wheels at either end of the cylinder allow the user to scroll through information on the touch screen. When a user narrows in on an interesting piece of content that they would like to examine more deeply, the display can be unrolled and function as a tablet display. Its light weight and cylindrical body makes it much easier to hold with one hand than an iPad. When rolled up, it fits your pocket and can be used as a phone, dictation device or pointing device.

“We were inspired by the design of ancient scrolls because their form allows for a more natural, uninterrupted experience of long visual timelines,” says Dr. Vertegaal, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction and Director of the Queen’s University Human Media Lab. Another source of inspiration was the old rolodex filing systems that were used to store and browse contact cards. The MagicScroll’s scroll wheel allows for infinite scroll action for quick browsing through long lists. Unfolding the scroll is a tangible experience that gives a full screen view of the selected item. Picture browsing through your Instagram timeline, messages or LinkedIn contacts this way!”

Beyond the innovative flexible display, the prototype also features a camera that allows users to employ the rolled-up MagicScroll as a gesture-based control device – similar to that of Nintendo’s ‘Wiimote’. And the device’s rotary wheels contain robotic actuators that allow the device to physically move or spin in place in various scenarios, like when it receives a notification for instance.

“Eventually, our hope is to design the device so that it can even roll into something as small as a pen that you could carry in your shirt pocket,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “More broadly, the MagicScroll project is also allowing us to further examine notions that ‘screens don’t have to be flat’ and ‘anything can become a screen’. Whether it’s a reusable cup made of an interactive screen on which you can select your order before arriving at a coffee-filling kiosk, or a display on your clothes, we’re exploring how objects can become the apps.

Dr. Vertegaal’s Human Media Lab collaborator Juan Pablo Carrascal presented MagicScroll at MobileHCI, one of the leading international conferences on Human-Computer Interaction with mobile devices and services, in Barcelona, Spain on September 4, 2018.

Canada is a more suburban nation

New research shows more people than ever are living in the suburbs.

Using updated Canadian census data, Queen’s University urban planning professor David Gordon has determined Canada is a suburban nation and, despite the planning policies of most metropolitan areas, its population became more suburban from 2006-2016.

More than 80 per cent of the population in large metropolitan areas, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, live in the suburbs. The study also shows the number of people living in metropolitan areas in Canada grew by 15 per cent, or 3.2 million people, between 2006 and 2016. That’s more than the entire population of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

“Canada is a suburban nation,” Dr. Gordon says. “Its downtowns may be full of new condominium towers, but there is often five times as much development on the suburban edges of the cities. The good news is that some of the largest cities (Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver and Ottawa) have increased growth in more sustainable active core and transit suburbs in the centres of the metropolitan areas and some sustainable cores are emerging in Vancouver suburbs such as Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby. But the contrast in most peripheral areas is extreme. Their populations are growing far more quickly and in less sustainable automobile suburbs and exurbs. For example, more people now live off the Isle d’Montreal than on it, and in the Toronto region, far more people live in the 905 area code than the 416.”

The purpose of Dr. Gordon’s new research was to update the article Suburban Nation? Estimating the Size of Canada’s Suburban Population, published in the Journal of Architecture and Planning Research (JAPR) in 2013. The JAPR article was based upon 1996 and 2006 census data, while the new working paper updates the research using the 2016 census data that was released in late 2017.

His research for the 1996-2006 period estimated that 66 per cent of all Canadians lived in some form of suburb. This proportion rose to 67.5 per cent by 2016. In the new census data, his research team found that within Canada’s metropolitan areas, 86 per cent of the population lived in transit suburbs, auto suburbs, or exurban areas, while only 14 per cent lived in active core neighbourhoods.

“Politicians, planners, academics, and journalists focus much of their attention on inner-city issues, while ignoring suburban expansion,” Dr. Gordon says. “Partly, that’s because it’s too easy to see the growth in the inner-city. There are all those tower cranes in Toronto and Vancouver, and every single building is a political controversy; an article in the newspaper. Meanwhile, as city council argues furiously over whether to permit a new tower with a few hundred residents in the downtown, thousands of new homes replace farmland on the urban edge, and not enough attention is paid to that.”

This new data was recently presented at the Canadian Institute of Planners national conference and will inform debates on regional planning across the country.

To obtain a copy of the study, visit the Council for Canadian Urbanism website and for more details on the research program visit the Canadian Suburbs website.

The Conversation: Why we need academic health science centres

[Surgeons work in an operating room at a hospital]
A few woefully underfunded academic health sciences centres are responsible for providing complex care to patients with life-threatening illnesses as well as training future doctors and testing the latest in new surgical techniques. (Photo by Piron Guillaume / Unsplash) 

Academic health science centres (AHSCs) are Canada’s high-performance vehicles for better health.

These are partnerships between a university with a medical school and its teaching hospital. While there are hundreds of hospitals in Canada, there are few AHSCs.

The doctors who work there are called academic physicians and they train Canada’s medical students and residents — providing the seed crop of doctors who will ultimately lead the provision of care to Canadians. They also provide complex care and perform research.

When well maintained, these medical centres propel us safely forward for years to come. However, if neglected and ignored, they may ultimately leave us sick and stranded at the roadside.

[The Conversation]After assessing Canada’s AHSC, a national group called the Canadian Association of Professors of Medicine (CAPM) concluded that it’s time to fill the tank, change the oil and provide some tender loving care.

I would argue that academic medicine is currently experiencing the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. We possess new and powerful diagnostic and therapeutic tools and are poised to deliver more innovative care. However, our ability to accomplish these goals is challenged by a number of sociological, demographic and governmental factors.

This article aims to highlight these challenges, not as a complaint, rather to identify potholes in the road so that they can be avoided or repaired and we can accelerate our progress forward.

Research and specialized facilities

Academic health sciences centres conduct research — in the form of clinical trials (to test new drugs, devices and diagnostics), population health studies (to understand diseases at the population level) and translational research (to move basic science to the bedside and back again).

Research is a form of critical inquiry and discovery that generates the evidence upon which medical practise is based.

These doctors are also the experts who provide complex care for patients with life-threatening illnesses — including advanced surgeries, transplantation, catheter-based interventions to treat heart attacks and stroke and so much more. They also test the latest surgical techniques and interventions and evaluate new forms of molecular diagnostics.

The ASHC is also home to specialized and expensive core facilities including clinical laboratories, pharmacies and radiology programs (think PET scanners and MRIs) and interventional rooms (including robotic surgery suites, catheterization laboratories and the like) that support the community.

Congested hospital wards

To put into perspective how unique these organizations are, we can look at the numbers. Out of approximately 231 hospital sites in Ontario, only 16 are acute care academic centres and only five are fully-fledged AHSCs with medical schools.

These are located at McMaster University, University of Ottawa, Queen’s University, University of Toronto and Western University. Such classifications are however complicated, because the Northern Ontario School of Medicine also has a school of medicine and many of the features of an AHSC.

A 2010 report from the National Task Force on the Future of Canada’s Academic Health Sciences Centres concluded that AHSCs provide the majority of complex care in Canada.

However, one of the problems we face is the influx of Canada’s aging population of baby boomers into hospitals. Many of these people require alternate levels of care (ALC) and social support, rather than acute, tertiary care. But Canada lacks a comprehensive senior care network and in many hospitals in Ontario, ALC’s occupy 10 to 20 per cent of acute-care beds.

This, along with challenges such as the opioid crisis and homelessness, is congesting emergency departments and overcrowding inpatient wards. This compromises delivery of quality care and challenges physician wellness.

‘What makes dollars makes sense’

Academic health science centres are poorly understood by government. Often, to cater to public opinion, the government focuses on enhancing outpatient care, ignoring the importance of accessing state of the art, innovative care.

Compensation models are also misaligned with services provided. Most doctors in the community are paid on what we call a “fee for service” (FFS) payment plan. This means that they bill for each patient they see, for the service rendered.

This model disproportionately rewards clinical activity, particularly procedural activities, while failing to fund many important and time-consuming consultative services, and not funding research and educational activities at all.

At its worst this can lead to a culture where, “what makes dollars makes sense.”

Training pipeline goals at medical schools are also misaligned. While Canada needs large numbers of general practitioners, AHSCs need highly specialized physicians — cardiologists and cardiac surgeons, neurosurgeons and neurologists, gastroenterologists and general surgeons, nephrologists and transplant surgeons, laboratory medicine specialists, anaesthetists and radiologists. A focus on training more general internists is also important to the sustainability of our health-care system.

Finally, Canada lacks a funding mechanism to support the training of our most advanced learners, who are referred to as “fellows.” These are the doctors that go on to provide complex care such as coronary angioplasty, endovascular therapy for stroke, transplant medicine or catheter-based treatment of heart arrhythmias.

In the absence of fellowship funding, Canadian AHSCs rely increasingly on importing international medicine graduates to staff their hospitals.

No funding for outstanding research

Finally, we have inadequate research funding models. The creation of a clinician scientist takes approximately three additional years of postgraduate medical training. This is followed by five years as a junior faculty member, during which substantial time protection and mentorship are required.

This is difficult to provide when the rate of success for research proposals at Canada’s agency for funding biomedical research — the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) — is below 15 per cent.

Due to lack of funds, CIHR has been rejecting 80 to 90 per cent of funding applications, including those deemed outstanding by peer review. CIHR was intended to have a budget equal to one per cent of public health spending, but this has not kept up with health expenditures or inflation.

The 2017 Naylor report, from the expert panel on Canada’s Fundamental Science Review notes:

“Canada ranks well globally in higher education expenditures on research and development as a percentage of GDP, but is an outlier in that funding from federal government sources accounts for less than 25 per cent of that total, while institutions now underwrite 50 per cent of these costs with adverse effects on both research and education.”

The report recommended an increase in CIHR funding of, “$485 million, phased in over four years, directed to funding investigator-led research.” However, while some of the report’s recommendations were taken up in the 2018 Federal budget, many outstanding grants will continue to be unfunded.

The future is a federally-funded network

Alternate funding plans (AFPs) need to be considered, which reward activities in education, research and clinical care equally.

AHSCs also need more research funding — to enable the next wave of researchers to save lives. To achieve this they need an improved budget structure.

We should also create a federally funded network of accredited AHSCs. Although health care is primarily provincially funded, the federal government’s funding via the Canada Health Transfer accounts for approximately a quarter of the health-care budget.

Federal funding is both discretionary and growing (at a rate of around six per cent per year). This funding could be used selectively to develop, advance and unify a national network of AHSCs, in which academic departments of medicine could thrive.

With such investment we would certainly see benefits beyond improved health care.The Conversation

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Dr. Stephen Archer is the Head of Medicine at Queen’s University, Hotel Dieu Hospital, Kingston General Hospital, and Providence Care.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors. The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Investing in health

Six Queen’s University researchers awarded funding to improve human health and health care.

Queen’s research into cancer, remote health care access, and the human brain will lead to new discovery, knowledge, and treatments thanks to funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grant program. Announced last week by Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor, the CIHR Foundation and Project Grant programs are investing $378 million to support health research projects across the country.

“Building on areas of health research strength for Queen’s, this investment will drive health improvements, bolster our economy and create jobs for researchers and trainees,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).

Six Queen’s researchers received Project Grant funding, including Wendy Parulekar, Canada Cancer Trials Group Senior Investigator and oncologist.

Dr. Parulekar has been awarded $860,628 over six years for her work on the HN.10 trial study, which is investigating the potential benefits of the de-escalation of treatment for patients with tonsil cancer.

Oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) is one of the most common forms of head and neck cancer. Although this type cancer is often associated with other risk factors, OPSCC related to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has seen a dramatic increase globally. Radiotherapy is frequently used to cure patients with HPV-related OPSCC and is aimed at the tumour site and lymph nodes in the neck. The side effects of this treatment can be long lasting and distressing. Researchers are investigating whether radiotherapy to some of the lymph node areas can be safely omitted to decrease side effects without compromise of tumour control.

“Head and neck cancer is an uncommon tumour and collaborative research is needed to address important questions,” says Dr. Parulekar. “This trial will involve highly qualified treatment centres across Canada who have a track record of addressing important questions about the optimal treatment of head and neck cancer.”

Along with Dr. Parulekar, the following Queen’s researchers also received funding:

Peter Greer (Queen’s Cancer Research Institute) – $100,000 over one year. Dr. Greer is studying the enzyme calpain and its potential as a therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Janet Jull (Rehabilitation Therapy) – $191,251 over two years. In collaboration with community partners, Dr. Jull is field-testing the newly-developed Inuit shared decision making toolkit, “Not Deciding Alone,” to enhance Inuit participation in health decisions with health care providers in the far north.

Madhuri Koti (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) – $765,000 over five years. In her research, Dr. Koti will explore the links between genetic features of ovarian tumours and the corresponding tumour immune landscape. Her research will also investigate how this knowledge can guide ovarian cancer patient selection for a novel chemo-immunotherapy.

Neil Magoski (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) – $726,750 over five years. Dr. Magoski is using an invertebrate model to examine how nerve cells achieve long-term changes in electrical activity that initiate reproductive behaviour.

Steve Scott (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) – $963,900 over five years and a second grant for $975,376 over five years. In the first of his two projects, Dr. Scott will be examining how sensory information is processed in the cerebral cortex during voluntary control. His second project will explore how disruption of regions in the cerebral cortex impacts our ability to control our motor actions.

For more information on the Project Grants program, visit the CIHR website.

The Conversation: Fighting historic wildfires amid bad ideas and no funding

Canada's boreal region faces bigger, hotter and more frequent wildfires that are increasingly unpredictable, but lacks an investment in fire science that could help keep communities safe.

[Forest Fires]
A fire rages through Klamath National Forest in northern California. (Photo by Matt Howard)

Shortly after my book “Firestorm, How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future” was published in late 2017, I received a flurry of invitations to speak about the challenges of dealing with fires that are burning bigger, hotter, more often — and in increasingly unpredictable ways.

The invitations came from all over, from Los Angeles to Whitehorse in the Yukon and from Campbell River on Vancouver Island, to Portland, Me.

[The Conversation]I had serious doubts that anyone in Whitehorse would come out to hear me speak on a Saturday night in the dead of winter when it was close to -30 C.

It turned out to be standing room only.

The invite came from a group of concerned citizens, business leaders and the Yukon Science Institute. The attendees included homeowners, firefighters, emergency response personnel and Yukon cabinet minister John Streicker, who is responsible for the wildfire management division.

The discussion that followed my talk was heated at times, but it led to an open and frank conversation on how this boreal forest community, and others like it, might deal with wildfires like the one that engulfed Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016 and those that are burning big in British Columbia this summer.

Investing in the future

More and more Canadian communities are signing up for the very sensible Fire Smart program, which promotes a variety of preventative measures such as forest thinning and the use of fire-resistant building materials to reduce the impact of fire.

Vulnerable towns like Nelson, B.C., are on the right track in developing evacuation plans and encouraging people to keep enough food and water on hand to sustain them for 72 hours. First Nations communities in B.C. are working with scientists like Lori Daniels to make their communities and forest-management zones more resilient.

But there are also a lot of poorly thought-out proposals being made.

Some residents of Jasper are pressuring Parks Canada to clear-cut the forests around town to form a fire break to protect it.

Across North America, the logging industry is lobbying governments to salvage the healthy trees and the partially burned ones that remain in a burned-out area. The rationale in this case is that a dead or dying forest has little value other than boosting a local economy.

There is a significant role for the timber industry in managing wildfire in the future. But a growing number of studies show that clear-cutting a burned-out forest is not the answer.

Fire is a natural process that makes forests more resilient to drought, disease and future fires. And it’s good for wildlife.

[Forest fire approaches homes]
A forest fire burns near homes in Estreito da Calheta, Portugal. (Photo by Michael Held)

Woodpeckers, nighthawks and many species of owls thrive in burned-out areas. Elk and moose feed on the aspen shoots that rise up quickly after a fire. Grizzly bears and black bears benefit from the roots and berries that do well when a fire exposes the forest floor to sun and rain. Rivers and lakes tend to heat up in nasty ways when there are no trees to shade them and the cold-water fish they nurture.

There is also tendency to think that the best way of dealing with fire is to pour more money into traditional firefighting resources. When I spoke at the University of California, Los Angeles in April, many people in the audience called for more water bombers and irrigation systems.

While this helps, it’s not the whole answer. The only thing that is going to stop a big wind-driven fire that typically blows in from the east is the Pacific Ocean, Ralph M. Terrazas, the fire chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, said during the question-and-answer session that followed.

Modern firefighting for modern wildfires

What firefighters like Terrazas and others need are new or improved tools such as unmanned aircraft, better fire-risk maps, real-time warning systems, smoke projections for active wildfires and computer models that predict where the next fire might strike.

This is being done by several scientists in Canada, including Mike Flannigan at the University of Alberta, David Martell at the University of Toronto and research scientists at the Canadian Forest Service.

The ranks of these researchers, however, are small, and the funding for wildfire science in Canada and the United States is miserly compared to the generous amounts that are allotted to disaster recovery. In 2016, for example, the federal government provided approximately $300 million to Alberta to help Fort McMurray rebuild. More came from the province and Red Cross donations, which the federal government matched. All told, more than $600 million was spent fighting the fire.

This knowledge deficit and the shortage of new tried-and-true strategies are what is leading decision-makers and the public astray when it comes adapting to and responding to the new wildfire paradigm that is unfolding in our forests.

Building a national wildfire strategy

The fact that people want better wildfire management is a good thing.

What’s needed is a national wildfire strategy such as the one proposed by the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers several years ago. Many of the best recommendations made in a report commissioned by the council haven’t yet been implemented, including the need to invest in wildfire science.

What’s needed is funding agencies such as the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council to step in and identify wildfire as a priority issue for researchers.

What’s needed is for the FireSmart program to be accelerated with more funding from the provinces and territories.

What’s needed is for Parks Canada to invest more in prescribed burning and forest management

And finally, what’s needed is for the federal government to restore funding for the Canadian Forest Service to at least 1990s levels, when it employed 2,200 people. CFS employs about 700 people now, and only about a dozen of those are wildfire scientists.

How can we expect to make progress on preventing catastrophic wildfires when we have a hotter and drier boreal forest than we had 30 years ago, and fewer fire scientists working to protect it?

The Conversation

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Ed Struzik is a fellow of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, School of Policy Studies.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, which provides news and views from the academic and research community. Queen’s University is a founding partner. Queen's researchers, faculty, and students are regular contributors.

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

Looking back in time

Lauded limnologist John Smol reflects on career and environmental change following lifetime achievement award.

Queen's professor John Smol
Queen's University professor John Smol.

Limnologists study the biological and chemical features of lakes. Queen’s University professor, John Smol, has built his career in the sub-discipline of paleolimnology, examining lakebed sediments for a glimpse into the Earth’s past. Within the sediment layers, paleolimnologists are able to track the effects of climate change, human impacts, and natural processes long before historic recordkeeping began – all of which may hold the secrets to our environmental future.

On August 20, 2018, Dr. Smol was recognized by the International Society of Limnology (SIL) with a Naumann-Thienemann Medal – the highest honor awarded for outstanding contributions to limnology – adding another layer to a storied career that has seen him win more than 60 national and international awards for scientific and teaching excellence.

“Being awarded the Naumann-Thienemann Medal is very special to me,” says Dr. Smol, who was also recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society. “I have been a member of SIL since I was 21 years old and have watched many of my heroes receive this honour in the decades since, so I am humbled to be recognized at this level among my peers.”

During the early years of his career, Dr. Smol often felt that many limnologists thought the developing sub-discipline of paleolimnology was some odd offshoot of the field, and that its sediment predictions were more akin to alchemy than proven science. Over time, however, major scientific breakthroughs saw the discipline move from a largely descriptive discipline into a quantitative and precise science, and a vital part of environmental studies.

“Acid rain was one of the first environmental problems that made headlines, and we believed we had methods that could provide policymakers with information they needed to curb it,” says Dr. Smol. “By analyzing lakebed sediments we were able to look back in time to the 1800s, before acid rain, to show how pollution had harmed inland aquatic ecosystems and that lakes acidified because of acid rain and not because they were naturally acidic.” His collaborative work on acid rain went on to influence the implementation of environmental regulations, which are now showing positive results, with lake water acidity levels returning to background conditions.

Over time, environmental issues have only become more numerous and complex.

“Early limnologists, including the medal’s namesakes Einar Naumann and August Thienemann, often focused on issues separately,” says Dr. Smol. “They would examine things like the over-fertilization (eutrophication) of lakes and rivers within its own bubble, whereas today we are forced to address multiple environmental stressors simultaneously – not least of which is climate change. We have opened Pandora’s Box of evils on our planet, and now have to deal with these issues in increasingly innovative ways.”

Currently, Dr. Smol and colleagues are examining how they can help answer questions posed by conservation biologists, like those focused on vulnerable fish and seabird populations, amongst many other applications.

“The missing information with almost every environmental problem is a careful understanding of how we got to where we are,” says Dr. Smol. “Using lake sediments as a history book, we’re helping to track how ecosystems have changed over time, and why. Ultimately, we hope to shed light on how best to deal with multiple environmental stressors, as our climate continues to change.”

Much like examining sediments from time past for clues about the future, Dr. Smol attributes much of his career successes to younger limnologists and students who have added to his work.

“The real credit for this medal goes to an amazing group of current and past students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff” says Dr. Smol. “Over 100 graduates have passed through my lab thus far, and I hope many more still will. I have benefitted greatly from their hard work and ideas, and their successes remain my proudest achievement. It convinces me daily that the future for limnology is very bright.”

Dr. Smol was presented with the Naumann-Thienemann Medal at a SIL ceremony in Nanjing, China.

Introducing our new faculty members: Lindsay Fitzpatrick

Lindsay Fitzpatrick is a faculty member in the department of Chemical Engineering.

This profile is part of a series highlighting some of the new faculty members who have recently joined the Queen's community. The university is currently in the midst of the principal's faculty renewal plans, which will see 200 new faculty members hired over five years.

Lindsay Fitzpatrick (Chemical Engineering) sat down with the Gazette to talk about her experience so far. Dr. Fitzpatrick is an assistant professor.

[Queen's University Lindsay Fitzpatrick Engineering]
Lindsay Fitzpatrick is a faculty member in the department of Chemical Engineering. (University Communications)
Fast Facts about Dr. Fitzpatrick

Department: Chemical Engineering

Hometown: Timmins, Ont.

Alma mater: Georgia Institute of Technology (Post-doctorate), University of Toronto (chemical engineering doctorate) 

Research area: Biomedical and biomaterials engineering

Hobbies include: Cycling, triathlon, soccer, volleyball

Dr. Fitzpatrick’s web bio
How did you decide to become an engineer?

In high school, I really enjoyed calculus and science courses, like physics, chemistry and biology. Engineering seemed like the best fit for my interests, and I liked that I would have a professional degree at the end.

I started out in general engineering at McMaster and it just so happened that the first year they offered their chemical engineering and biosciences degree was the year that I was choosing my discipline. I was really interested in health sciences and how cells worked, so the chemical engineering approach to biomedical engineering seemed like a good fit and I decided to apply. I have loved it ever since I started.

The summer after my second year, I was lucky to start working in Heather Sheardown’s biomaterials lab at McMaster as a summer student and continued from there.

I have always been a bit oblivious to the ‘expectations’ or stereotypes placed on women, so I never saw going into a field like engineering as a boundary for me. My parents were always supportive of me doing whatever I wanted, and I didn’t know any engineers, so I had no idea that it was a field that girls typically didn’t go into. If I had, it probably would have just encouraged me further; I don’t really like being told that I can’t do something. I also had great role models in high school; all my calculus and science teachers (except physics) were women.

[Queen's University Lindsay Fitzpatrick Engineering]
Dr. Fitzpatrick maintains two labs - one in the Biosciences Complex (pictured), and one at the Kingston General Hospital. (University Communications)
Why did you decide to teach?

I have always enjoyed teaching and learning, and it is very rewarding to teach bright and enthusiastic students like the ones we have here at Queen’s. Working with our graduate and undergraduate students helps keep me motivated and enthusiastic as well.

It also forces you to stay on top of your game and stay current with information that is a bit outside of your specific research discipline. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I have also really enjoyed watching my former students and trainees mature and go on to do such exciting things. 

How are you enjoying being at Queen’s?

Queen’s has been a wonderful environment for a new professor and I have had a great experience so far. Starting out as an assistant professor is a pretty exciting but also daunting experience; there’s just so much you don’t know from teaching your first class to hiring your first student and setting up a lab. I’ve been very fortunate that my department is quite supportive and full of people who are there to help and want you to succeed.

I have been at Queen’s for just over four years now, although I’ve just come back from a maternity leave. My husband and I have really enjoyed living in Kingston – it has such a vibrant downtown, it is affordable, and is just a lovely place to live. Now that we have a baby, we are also recognizing all the benefits that Kingston offers for young families too.

What will you be teaching this academic year?

This fall, I am teaching a course I have not taught before – CHEE 452: Transport Phenomenon in Biological Systems. It is a fourth-year core course for our Bioengineering - Biochemical, Biomedical, Bioenvironmental Sub-plan (also known as CHE2) students.

The course gives our upper-year students the opportunity to apply their transport phenomenon knowledge – how mass, energy (heat), and momentum is transported within systems – to biological systems. We look at things like gas exchange in the lungs and in tissues, and pulsatile blood flow in compliant blood vessels.

We are actually applying some of the concepts from my masters by modeling how oxygen diffuses through tissues and is taken up by cells. This limits how large you can make tissue engineered constructs. We will be applying these concepts later in the term, understanding how the transport phenomena can impact the design of engineered tissues and how our bodies have developed vascular networks to overcome these types of diffusional limitations.

In the winter term, I will be teaching CHEE 340: Introduction to Biomedical Engineering. It is a precursor to the transport phenomenon course. This is a really fun class to teach, and my students really enjoy it too.

The course introduces students to the different aspects of human anatomy and physiology, and then we apply different types of engineering concepts to them. This course focuses on everything from transport phenomenon and fluid dynamics all the way to biomaterials and their applications to tissue engineering and stem cells. It is a survey course for that highlights different areas of biomedical engineering you can enter into through a degree in engineering.

Tell us a bit about your research.

My research focus is at the intersection of immunology and biomaterials research. We study how the cells of our immune system recognize and respond to implanted materials, like those you would use to construct a glucose sensor, pacemaker, or drug delivery system, and develop strategies for controlling the host response.

When any material is implanted, the cells of our immune system recognize that the material is foreign and tries to remove it through an inflammatory response called the foreign body reaction. This term describes a series of events that ultimately results in the implant being encased in abnormal fibrous tissue, sort like a scar forming around the implant.

For some applications this isn’t an issue, but many emerging biomedical technologies, like insulin infusion, glucose sensors, and neurostimulation probes rely on integration with healthy, normal tissue. Fibrous encapsulation of an implant, and the inflammatory response that precedes it, can limit the lifespan of devices, or cause them to fail prematurely.

We recently published our first paper in this area, which was really exciting. In it, we showed that when a material is implanted, danger signals that are released from damaged tissue and cells can adsorb on the material surface and activate responding immune cells via a receptor called Toll-like receptor 2.

By inhibiting this receptor’s signaling pathway, we were able to reduce the cells’ inflammatory response. However, this was all done using cells cultured in our lab, so we need to do more research to determine if this pathway plays a critical role in the foreign body reaction in living organism.

My second research stream is a bit more out there in terms of biomaterials research. We are looking at developing a new model system for looking at material cell interactions that uses zebrafish embryos as a model organism. By taking advantage of the optical transparency of zebrafish and reporter strains that have fluorescently-tagged cells or proteins, we can watch cell-material interactions in real time using fluorescence microscopy. However, zebrafish are really small, so we’re having to figure out how to implant materials in them in a reproducible and predictable way.

The idea is that we could then screen lots of different materials to give us a better fundamental understanding of what types of material properties trigger different types of responses, resulting in better material design.

It sounds like your work marries many different disciplines.
My training has allowed me to bridge different areas, primarily immunology and materials science. I am trying to build more collaborations with polymer scientists and immunologists here at Queen’s and eventually clinicians who work with patient populations that use implanted biomedical devices, like glucose sensors. 
What do you do for fun?

My husband’s family has a cottage near Bancroft, so we try to get up there as much as possible in the summer.

We all enjoy cycling and I was just getting into triathlons when got pregnant with my first child, which put a stop to that for now…although my husband just did his first half-ironman, so my daughter and I are becoming avid triathlon fans.

In the winter, I love to snowboard and cross-country ski. I used to play soccer and volleyball, but don’t seem to have the time anymore. Mostly, my free time is dedicated to playing with my daughter, Norah. She’s just turned one and is a wonderful and busy little girl!

I’m a total bookworm too. I grew up on The Lord of the Rings, so I have a definite a soft spot for epic fantasy sagas like Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, and have just been reading The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s a bit a guilty pleasure.

Faculty Renewal

Principal Daniel Woolf has identified faculty renewal as a high priority for reinvestment by the university in support of the academic mission. The five-year renewal plan, launched in 2017, will see 200 new faculty hired, which nearly doubles the hiring pace of the previous six years.

Faculty renewal supports Queen’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by giving the university the opportunity to seek, proactively, representation from equity-seeking groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and racialized individuals. It will also build on Queen’s current areas of research strength.

To learn more about the Principal’s faculty renewal plans, read this Gazette article. Stay tuned for additional new faculty profiles in the Gazette.

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