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Research Prominence

Research hits the airwaves

“Blind Date with Knowledge” will air on CFRC.

Do you ever wonder what drives a researcher’s curiosity? What was the spark that led them to discovery? Beginning on January 31 at 5:30 pm, you can listen in and hear these types of questions answered directly by scholars themselves.

CFRC, the Queen’s radio station, 101.9fm,  is launching a bi-weekly radio show called “Blind Date with Knowledge.” The show seeks to demystify scholarly research and personalize the research process through discussions with various Queen’s faculty members.

“Blind Date with Knowledge” is one way Queen’s is increasing its efforts to promote the importance of research conducted by faculty and students. The show is a collaboration between CFRC, the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations), and the show host, Barry Kaplan. Kaplan is a member of the Kingston community, and his passion for spreading knowledge about research at Queen’s is palpable.

“There is a lot of interesting and consequential knowledge being created, in a huge range of subjects, by an array of Queen’s researchers,” says Kaplan. “This show is a small but important platform for knowledge-sharing about research, as spoken about by the researchers themselves, to get a little more visibility and traction with everyday people.”

The quirky name “Blind Date with Knowledge” is based on the premise that research isn’t predictable. Like a blind date, research is about taking risks and being prepared for failure and success.

Each episode will feature scholars from different disciplines sharing their stories about what it’s really like to do research. With so many different research projects being conducted by Queen’s faculty, “Blind Date with Knowledge” provides a small glimpse into the pioneering work of these scholars.

Laura Murray
Dr. Laura Murray (Photo Credit: Barry Kaplan)

Dr. Laura Murray (English Language and Literature) will be featured in the first episode of the show, discussing how she has used archival research and oral history as a tool to uncover some of Kingston’s lesser-known history.

“Talking to non-specialists about academic research isn’t always that easy – but it’s hugely important and rewarding,” says Murray. “I’m glad Queen’s is encouraging it. My 15 minutes with Barry went extremely quickly and I enjoyed the challenge!”

John McGarry
Dr. John McGarry (Photo Credit: Barry Kaplan)

Dr. John McGarry (Political Studies) will also appear in the first episode. As an expert in conflict resolution, Dr. McGarry will explain the forces that can lead to the beginning of civil conflict, focusing on Northern Ireland.

“It is great for Queen’s to have a radio show that does not just showcase research, but shows the positive impact that research can have on people’s lives,” he says. “People are often curious about how my research begins and the form it takes, and participating in the show is a way to share this with everyday people.”

CFRC also hosts the weekly radio show "Grad Chat", which is a platform for Queen's graduate students to share their research with both the Queen's and greater Kingston community. The show airs on Tuesdays at 4pm, and past episodes can be listened on the School of Graduate Studies website.

After airing, all episodes of "Blind Date with Knowledge" will be available online on the CFRC website. If you have questions about the radio show, please contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives.

The schedule for the first five episodes of "Blind Date with Knowledge" is available now. The schedule is subject to change.



Air Date



Jan. 31, 2018

Laura Murray (English Language and Literature) and John McGarry (Political Studies)


February 14, 2018

Lynda Colgan (Education) and Adrian Baranchuk (Medicine)


February 28, 2018

Patricia Smithen (Art History and Art Conservation) and John Smol (Biology)


March 14, 2018

Leela Viswanathan (Geography and Planning) and Gregory Jerkiewicz (Chemistry)


March 28, 2018

Alana Butler (Education) and Antonio Nicaso (Languages, Literatures and Cultures)

Karen Rudie named IEEE fellow

Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the School of Computing recognized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Karen Rudie, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and cross-appointed to the School of Computing at Queen's, has been named as a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for her “contributions to the supervisory control theory of discrete event systems.”

Karen Rudie
Karen Rudie, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and cross-appointed to the School of Computing, has been named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). (University Communications)

As a result, Dr. Rudie joins a very small group of women to receive the honour. As of 2017, there were fewer than 400 women listed among some 10,000 IEEE fellows worldwide. 

“I’m a member of the IEEE Control Systems Society,” says Dr. Rudie. “There are only 26 IEEE Control Systems Society fellows in the world who are women and I’m the only one from Canada.”

New fellows are nominated by their professional peers. IEEE fellowship signifies collegial approval and validation of a researcher’s complete body of work.

“Professor Rudie is the world’s authority on decentralized control of discrete-event systems," writes IEEE Control Systems Society President Edwin Chong. “The IEEE Control Systems Society is proud of her contributions and happily celebrates her elevation to the rank of IEEE fellow. The number of IEEE members being elevated to the rank of fellow is fewer than one in a thousand.”

Dr. Rudie will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Miami in December.

The IEEE is a professional association for advancing technology for humanity. Through its 400,000-plus members in 160 countries, the association is an authority on a wide variety of areas including aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications, biomedical engineering, electric power, and consumer electronics.

Dedicated to the advancement of technology, the IEEE publishes about 30 per cent of the world’s literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, and has developed more than 1,300 active industry standards.

A home for innovation

The Innovation and Wellness Centre will provide innovators and entrepreneurs on campus with something they have been lacking. 

When helping student entrepreneurs get their start, one common piece of advice is to start small and lean. Once you have proven the model for your new business, then you can take on liabilities like leasing your own office space. 

Innovation leaders at Queen’s have practiced what they preached, and are now getting ready to reap the rewards when the Innovation and Wellness Centre (IWC) opens its doors next fall. 

The Innovation Hub will feature an event space for programming and student-led conferences.
The Innovation Hub will feature an event space for programming and student-led conferences. (Rendering)

“The IWC will bring our innovation resources on campus out of the bootstrapping phase,” says Benoit-Antoine Bacon, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “The facility will provide a focal point for innovation and entrepreneurship activities at Queen’s, and forge important cross-campus connections across our programs.” 

Located within the IWC, the Innovation Hub will unite some existing resources and programs and add a few new ones. It will include an event space, touch down tables for easy collaboration, and a maker space – a well-equipped work space where student entrepreneurs can create, experiment, and refine their ideas. Students helped shape the final design of the Hub. 

“We work with 2,000 students a year, and I expect that number will double in the next couple of years,” says Greg Bavington (Sc’85), Executive Director, Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC). “The Innovation Hub will play a key role in supporting existing demand and future growth for innovation on campus.” 

Once it opens, the DDQIC is planning to expand its programming, with a focus on social enterprise – creating more organizations with a mission to both make money and do social good.  

Most importantly, the IWC will give the DDQIC the one thing they have been lacking: common space. 

“We toured other schools when making decisions on what needed to be in our Innovation Hub, and we found that Queen’s did a pretty good job at supporting innovation on campus,” says Mr. Bavington. “The final box we had to tick was to gather it all under one roof, allowing students to scale their business in a straightforward way without leaving campus.” 

The belief is that having everything located side-by-side will not only boost collaboration, it will also increase the visibility of innovation resources and programs. For example, students led 13 conferences and events linked to innovation this year and it was a challenge for each group to find space.  

“Locating the Innovation Hub within a multi-function building like the IWC is a strategic choice – one which is meant to show that everyone is welcome,” he says. “It can take many different people and different skillsets to make a successful business. We’re hoping to bend and weld the academic disciplines to get the sparks flying.” 

The Innovation Hub will not merely connect students to resources on campus – it is expected to build the links between the campus, Innovation Park, and the community. While the Hub will focus on current students, Innovation Park offers a “long runway” as students graduate and look to grow their businesses. Likewise, the Hub will complement what Innovation Park does in supporting community entrepreneurs in southeastern Ontario. 

The creation of the IWC was made possible through $55 million in philanthropic support, including $40 million to revitalize the facility. In addition, the federal and Ontario governments contributed a combined total of nearly $22 million to this facility. 

To learn more about the Innovation and Wellness Centre, visit queensu.ca/connect/innovationandwellness.

Major clinical cancer trial collaboration announced

International clinical research partnership has potential to advance new immunotherapy cancer treatments.

CCTG and CRI logos

Pipette depositing liquid into medical vialsThe internationally-recognized,  Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) at Queen’s University, together with the US-based Cancer Research Institute (CRI), announced a multi-year, multi-trial collaboration today, designed to accelerate the clinical development of new immunotherapy treatments for cancer.

There are currently 940 immunotherapy agents in clinical development, all of which have the potential to improve the standard of care for patients fighting myriad types of cancer.  This new partnership will combine CRI’s expertise in immunology research and therapy with CCTG’s expertise in the design and execution of clinical trials to improve the practice of treating cancer and to enhance the quality of life for cancer survivors.  The collaboration is a multi-trial agreement over a five-year period.

“International collaborations and partnerships are essential to the success of clinical trials and are critical in moving the cancer research agenda forward. We will leverage the strengths of both CCTG and CRI in this strategic collaboration, to bring important improvements in cancer therapies to the patients who need them,” says Janet Dancey, CCTG Director.

Broadly, immunotherapies work by stimulating a patient’s own immune system to attack the disease, either by generally strengthening its function or by leveraging it to target cancer cells.

“Combating cancer demands the expertise and cooperation of the world’s top minds,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “Queen’s University has long been the home of CCTG’s groundbreaking research group, which includes many of our esteemed faculty members. We are very proud to see their efforts continue to evolve into exciting international collaborations like this newly-minted partnership with the renowned Cancer Research Institute.”

CRI is a non-profit organization that has supported the discovery and development of immunotherapeutic cancer treatments for 65 years. Its unique clinical program, the Anna-Maria Kellen Clinical Accelerator, supports non-profit, academia, and industry partnerships designed to develop and organize the clinical study of combination cancer immunotherapies. 

“This collaboration is what great partnerships look like – uniting CRI’s cancer immunology expertise with the clinical research expertise and global footprint at CCTG, which I’ve observed is the fastest and most effective cooperative group worldwide,” says Aiman Shalabi, Chief Medical Officer, Clinical Accelerator, CRI. “Together, and with our combined global expert network, we will accelerate innovation for patients.”

CCTG is a non-profit cancer research cooperative and is recognized as being one of the most impactful and influential research groups, with a proven record of accomplishment in the rapid and efficient conduct of studies across an extensive network in Canada and around the world. Currently, CCTG is running phase I-III trials of cancer treatment and supportive therapies at over 80 institutions across Canada and internationally.

YEAR IN REVIEW: An exciting year in research

Year in Review for Research
Queen's University researchers and experts continued to make headlines throughout 2017. (University Communications)

Queen’s University researchers continued to make breakthroughs, garner attention from around the world, and earn recognition for themselves, their teams, and the university in 2017.

Research prominence at the national and international level is a key driver for Queen’s and, as we near the end of the year, the Gazette takes a look at some of the work and people capturing our attention.

Funding and support highlights

The year got off to an excellent start when Bell Let's Talk and Queen’s renewed their commitment to mental health research. On Jan. 24, Bell Let’s Talk announced a $1 million gift to renew the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair at Queen’s with Heather Stuart (Public Health) being reappointed to the position for another five-year term.

In February, Queen’s received a $5 million gift from geologist and entrepreneur Ross J. Beaty to support collaborative research and education in the field of freshwater resources. In recognition of the gift, the interdisciplinary research initiative, which will have a permanent space in the new Queen’s Innovation and Wellness Centre, has been renamed the Beaty Water Research Centre with Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering) as director.

At the beginning of March, the Canadian Frailty Network, an internationally-recognized research network focused on improving health care for an aging population, received $23.9 million in renewal funding from the Government of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence program, covering the next five years.

In early October, Queen’s witnessed the opening of a world-class cardiopulmonary research facility thanks to $7.7 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science.

 A week later a combined $4.8 million in funding from the CFI Innovation Fund was announced in support of continuing research into detecting dark matter as well as optical science.

Fellowships and Chairs

Each year, Queen’s faculty and researchers receive recognition for their work and dedication to pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Standing out this year was Queen’s National Scholar Norman Vorano, who received a Trudeau Fellowship for his work with Indigenous communities in the Canadian Arctic to record, understand, and share Inuit art history. An assistant professor in the Department of Art History and Art Conservation and curator of Indigenous art at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Dr. Vorano was one of five recipients of one of the most competitive awards available to humanities and social science scholars in Canada.

Queen’s researchers continued to be recognized by the Royal Society of Canada with Richard Bathurst (Civil Engineering), Anne Croy (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), and Robert Morrison (English), being elected as fellows. Two mid-career faculty members – Katherine McKittrick and Karen Yeates – were named to the Royal Society of Canada’s (RSC) College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists program.

When it comes to the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program, Queen’s continued to attract attention with a new chair being named while two others were renewed. In May, Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry) was named the new Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry, while Peter Davies (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) was named Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering) and Mohammad Zulkernine (Computing) was named Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Reliability and Security. In November, five researchers – Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering), Will Kymlicka (Philosophy), Warren Mabee (Geography and Planning), Morten Nielsen (Economics), and R. Kerry Rowe (Civil Engineering) – had their CRCs renewed.

Prizes and Awards

Other recognition includes prizes and awards, and Queen’s researchers proved prolific once again this past year. While there are too many to list, some of the highlights for 2017 include: Professor Emerita Elizabeth Eisenhauer receiving the Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research from the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance; John Rudan (Surgery) being inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Fellowship; Andrew Pollard (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) and Christopher Pickles (Mining Engineering) being named named fellows of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. Internally, the Prizes for Excellence in Research, Queen’s highest research award, were given to Sam McKegney (English), Liying Cheng (Education), Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry), Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering), and Denis O’Donnell (Medicine).

Queen’s students also were recognized this year for their research. Matthew Holden, currently pursuing a PhD at the School of Computing, became only the second Canadian to recieve a Link Foundation Fellowship. Another PhD student, Caitlin Miron, received the Mitacs PhD Award for Outstanding Innovation for her work in biochemistry.

Notable Developments

There also were a number of notable developments in the research portfolio at the university in 2017. In March, John Fisher was appointed Interim Vice-Principal (Research). Not long after, a renewal process was launched for the Strategic Research Plan to help guide the university over the next five years. Providing a boost for technology transfer at Queen’s was the establishment of the Office of Partnerships and Innovation with Jim Banting being appointed Assistant Vice-Principal (Partnerships and Innovation).

Finally, Queen’s joined as a founding member of The Conversation Canada , an exciting partnership combining the expertise of the university’s academics with the journalistic rigour of a professional editorial team to publish articles and opinion pieces that can be picked up by media outlets around the world.  Over 40 Queen’s researchers have published pieces with the platform since the site’s launch in Spring 2017.

To learn more about research at Queen’s, visit the Queen’s research website.

Finding inspiration

  • A Queen's faculty member speaks during one of the small group discussions at the Faculty Writing Retreat, held at the Donald Gordon Centre.
    A Queen's faculty member speaks during one of the small group discussions at the Faculty Writing Retreat, held at the Donald Gordon Centre.
  • Susan Korba, Director of Student Academic Success Services: Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre, talks about the external and internal factors that affect academic writing.
    Susan Korba, Director of Student Academic Success Services: Learning Strategies and the Writing Centre, talks about the external and internal factors that affect academic writing.
  • Claire Hooker, Writing and Learning Strategist, leads one of the small group discussions during the Faculty Writing Retreat hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research).
    Claire Hooker, Writing and Learning Strategist, leads one of the small group discussions during the Faculty Writing Retreat hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research).

Faculty members at Queen’s had another opportunity to hone their academic writing skills and boost their organizational ability during the Faculty Writing Retreat, coordinated by the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research), on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre.

Designed for the busy scholar, at any stage of their career, the writing retreat offered small group discussions with colleagues from across the university, one-on-one consultations with University Research Services and the Writing Centre, as well as blocks of uninterrupted writing time.

Now in its third year, this year’s event involved approximately 60 faculty members. Past participants have reported reaching their writing goals, such as completing research funding applications and finishing manuscripts. Topics of discussion included “Finding and Protecting Your Writing Time” and “Generating Content/Writing Through Blocks/Getting Started.”

New hope in Lyme disease battle

Queen’s medical team uncovers new approach to treat cardiac issues caused by Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can leave people feeling fatigued, fevered, and stiff but many don’t know it can also cause a serious heart condition known as Lyme carditis.

The condition is most prevalent in males under 40 years of age and a team of researchers led by Queen’s University cardiologist Adrian Baranchuk has now advanced a revolutionary approach that could lead to a different method to treat these patients.

Lyme carditis specifically attacks the electrical system of the heart, leading to a rapid progression to atrioventricular block (AV) which is a complete shutting down of the heart activity. Typically the condition is treated with the installation of a permanent pacemaker but Dr. Baranchuk’s research indicates this isn’t always necessary. In all five of his test cases, the patient’s heart returned to normal after the use of antibiotics, and only some of them, have required a temporary pacemaker for few days.

“Lyme disease is transmitted by infected ticks, primarily black-legged ticks, and Kingston is in the middle of one of the endemic regions in Canada,” says Dr. Baranchuk. “The disease become reportable in 2009 and since then, case numbers have steadily climbed. With that, the cases of Lyme carditis are also increasing.”

According to numbers provided by the Government of Canada, there were 917 cases reported in Canada in 2015.

Dr. Baranchuk credits Kingston Health Sciences Centre nurses Crystal Blakely and Pamela Branscombe with identifying the initial case of Lyme carditis, presenting this cases to Dr. Baranchuk and his team, and the team coming up with a solution that saw all five males make a full recovery.

The first case that caught their attention was a 23-year-old male who was admitted to the cardiology department with a failing heart. This came after three emergency room visits and two visits to a medical clinic. After consultation, it was decided to treat the patient with antibiotics and to insert a temporary pacemaker. His heart returned to normal in 48 hours.

“The red flag for us was his age and the fact he had no prior cardio issues,” says Ms. Blakely. “It didn’t make sense to us why he was presenting with these symptoms. We only knew he had just tested positive for Lyme disease and that’s when we starting putting everything together.”

The same was true for the next four cases Dr. Baranchuk used to test his theory. The next three cases involved males in their 30s while the fifth case featured a 14-year-old boy who was admitted to Kingston General Hospital with a second degree AV block.

“There are many risks when we implant a permanent pacemaker in a young person plus the treatment is expensive and for life,” Dr. Baranchuk says. A typical pacemaker lasts seven to 10 years. In a young person, they may need the pacemaker replaced more than six times in their lifetime which involves surgery that it is not complication-free. This new approach could solve that problem.

Moving forward, Dr. Baranchuk and his team are working to track Lyme carditis cases from across Canada to continue moving his research forward.

“We need to educate health care professionals about Lyme carditis and its treatment,” he explains. “I would also like to apply for funding for a multi-centre study into Lyme disease and Lyme carditis. There is a better way to treat this and medical professionals aren’t always prepared. We can change the treatment approach for this disease.”

Positive economic predictions

Smith School of Business experts connect with business and community leaders at Business Forecast Luncheon.

Canada’s surprisingly hot economy will cool slightly in 2018 as the Bank of Canada looks to ease growth and avoid high inflation. But potential for a long and messy U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA could get in the way of continued good times.

"Business Forecast Luncheon"
The Business Forecast Luncheon, hosted by Smith School of Business, drew more than 200 of Kingston’s business and government leaders. (Supplied Photo)

That’s the prognosis Evan Dudley, Assistant Professor of Finance at Smith School of Business, delivered during the school’s annual Business Forecast Luncheon, at Four Points by Sheraton Kingston on Thursday, Dec. 7.

“The Canadian economy is doing really well. Growth has come in above everyone’s expectations,” Dr. Dudley says, citing strong manufacturing, rising exports and renewed stability in the oil sector, after prices collapsed in 2016, as key contributors to the surge.

Real gross domestic product of 2.9 per cent nationally this year will slow to two per cent in 2018.

Dr. Dudley anticipates the central bank will raise interest rates twice in the year ahead to give the economy a “soft landing.”

Canada’s unemployment rate, which stood at 5.9 per cent in October, will remain low at six per cent in the coming year.

Inflation will be stable at 1.6 per cent, up from 1.4 per cent this year, thanks in part to low wage-hike pressures.

But NAFTA could throw a wrench into the nation’s economic gears. Should President Donald Trump signal that he wants out of the pact, NAFTA would effectively become a “zombie” trade agreement – not dead, but not quite living either, Dr. Dudley explains. The reason: it’s up to Congress, not Trump, to formally withdraw from NAFTA, and in the wake of a Trump declaration, pro- and anti-NAFTA lawmakers would face off in a long and heated battle.

“NAFTA would still be in place but companies exporting to the (U.S.) would put their capital investments on hold. They would not be able to make plans, and there would be a lot of uncertainty,” Dr. Dudley says.

Smith’s Business Forecast Luncheon drew more than 200 of Kingston’s business and government leaders. Speakers included Julian Barling, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Borden Chair of Leadership at Smith, and Betsy Donald, Professor in the Department of Geography and Planning at Queen’s.

Dr. Donald weighed in on efforts to diversify the Kingston economy and attract more private-sector jobs. She pointed to several successes in recent years: Frulact Group, a Portuguese fruit processor, which has opened a plant; and the Chinese dairy processor Feihe International, setting up an infant formula-making facility here.

The city’s investment in its bus system has also paid off, she adds. Census data shows Kingston had the highest increase in public transit ridership in Canada: up 33 per cent from 2011 to 2016.

“I think Kingston is in a good position right now. The city has a newfound confidence,” Dr. Donald says.

Kingston’s downtown also holds potential, with people still choosing to live in the core.

“Other cities of our size are seeing their downtowns hollow out,” she explains. “Our downtown is a golden asset. It’s a walkable heritage asset on the waterfront.”

Kingston’s economy is enjoying good times mostly because the Ontario economy has done well, Dr. Dudley says. GDP in the Kingston census metropolitan area rose 1.8 per cent this year. Given Kingston’s reliance on government, education and healthcare jobs, it’s no surprise that figure is lower than the provincial average of 2.9 per cent GDP growth and also less than manufacturing cities, such as Oshawa and Windsor, which both saw 2.5 per cent gains.

“Kingston doesn’t see big surges in economic growth, but we don’t see big declines either,” he says.

However, overall job growth in Kingston has been strong. Dr. Dudley points to RBC Economics Research data that ranked Kingston fourth out of 27 cities across Canada for job growth, with a 3.7 per cent gain here during the 12-month period to October.

Go with the flow (or against it)

Queen's researchers use magnetic fields to control bacteria with the potential to deliver drug treatments

Queen’s University researchers are using magnetic fields to influence a specific type of bacteria to swim against strong currents, opening up the potential of using the microscopic organisms for drug delivery in environments with complex microflows – like the human bloodstream.

Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Carlos Escobedo and PhD candidate Saeed Rismani Yazdi analyzing MTB behaviour in the laboratory.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Carlos Escobedo and PhD candidate Saeed Rismani Yazdi in the laboratory.

Led by Carlos Escobedo (Chemical Engineering) and PhD candidate Saeed Rismani Yazdi (Chemical Engineering), the research focused on studying and manipulating the mobility of magnetotactic bacteria (MTB) – tiny organisms that contain nanocrystals sensitive to magnetic fields. Their findings were recently published in nano- and micro-science journal Small.

“MTB have tiny (nanoscopic) organelles called magnetosomes, which act like a compass needle that helps them navigate to nutrient-rich locations in aquatic environments – their natural habitats – by using the Earth’s magnetic field,” says Dr. Escobedo. “In nature, MTB play a key role in Earth’s cycles by influencing marine biogeochemistry via transporting minerals and organic matters as nutrients.”

After studying how MTB respond to magnetic fields and currents similar to those found in their natural habitats, the team introduced stronger currents and magnetic fields to see if the bacteria could still navigate successfully.

“When we increased the rate of flow and the strength of the magnetic field, we were astounded by the MTB’s ability to swim strongly and concertedly against the current,” says Mr. Rismani Yazdi. “They were even able to swim across a strong current with ease when we moved the magnet perpendicular to the flow.”

Microscope slide with a channel to circulate flow
This microscope slide features a small channel through which Queen's researchers simulated the flow of a human bloodstream.

The team’s success in directing MTB through a complex and fast-moving environment could be a significant step toward using the bacteria to transport pharmaceuticals through the human bloodstream to treat tumours directly.

“Next, we plan to bind therapeutic drugs to the bacterial bodies for transport,” says Dr. Escobedo.

To do so, the team is collaborating with the group led by Peter Davies (Biochemisty), Canada Research Chair in Protein Engineering, who are figuring out how to adhere existing cancer therapeutic drugs to the bacteria, as well as how to have them release the drugs once they reach a chosen destination.

The team has also teamed up with Dr. Madhuri Koti of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute and plan to refine their ability to direct the MTB toward tumours with a high degree of accuracy. Together, the team will use magnetic fields to guide the bacteria from one end of a microchannel on a tiny microscope slide to samples of biopsied cancer tissue at the other end.

Dr. Escobedo hopes that their multi-disciplinary approach to this research will help unlock MTB’s potential to be a biological, effective, and formidable drug-delivery method.

“We’ve shown that the bacteria’s natural properties can be exploited to guide them in complex and strong flow conditions, much more challenging than those found in nature, which opens up opportunities not only in the drug-delivery field, but in other biomedical applications as well,” concluded Mr. Rismani Yazdi.

One step at a time

Queen’s University research examines the fear of falling in seniors and the damaging impact it can have on their health.

New research out of Queen’s University has shown a fear of falling can lead to function disability in seniors over the age of 65. High fear can lead to less mobility, isolation, a loss of independence, depression, and, eventually, the need to move into a care facility.

“Falling is a serious concern, but the fear of falling can also be serious and can rob seniors of the autonomy that keeps them active longer,” says lead research Mohammad Auais (School of Rehabilitation Therapy). “Once you fall, it tends to increase your fear of falling, and then that fear of falling can be associated with decreased mobility, decreased social participation, and isolation. It is also important to know that at least two out of 10 seniors overestimate their risk of falling so their fear of falling is not justified.”

Mohammad Auais
Mohammad Auais (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) is studying the fear of falling in seniors and how that can lead to functional disability. (University Communications)

Dr. Auais used international data collected over two years focusing on seniors aged 65 and older. The measured data was both self-reported and observed and included day-to-day activities such as walking upstairs or standing from a chair. With this new data, he says he will next present the information to doctors, nurse practitioners, and the general public so people can start recognizing and intervening if someone has an unhealthy fear of falling.

He adds that due to a lack of awareness, a fear of falling is not a common target in rehabilitation programs despite the fact that behavior is modifiable.

“Fear of falling is prevalent among senior Canadians and – with the aging population – it is expected to be even more prevalent in the near future,” says Dr. Auais. “According to Statistics Canada, one out of three seniors aged 65 and older were concerned that they might fall in the future and this percentage increases with age.”

Close to half of seniors aged 85 years and older report fear of falling. Moving forward, Dr. Auais says the next steps in his research include developing a screening process for those at risk and developing intervention strategies.

“Seniors need to address any true risk of falling (e.g. balance problem) and start to venture out before they become isolated and lose their independence," he says. "And the good news is that balance can improve with training. If weather permits and sidewalks are safe, head outside; otherwise find an indoor spot that works for you (e.g. shopping mall).”

The findings are part of the International Mobility in Aging Study. It’s an international collaboration featuring researchers from Albania, Brazil, Colombia, Quebec, and Kingston and led by Dr. Maria-Victoria Zunzunegui, from the University of Montreal.

The research was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.


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