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Research Prominence

Forecasting an innovative partnership

A new agreement will see Queen’s become the research and development hub for The PRS Group, a leading firm specializing in quantitative analysis-based risk forecasts

Take a scan of the daily news and you will find a world in motion with each day bringing new developments and new challenges. Trying to weigh all that happens in a day and make a prediction – about whether a particular investment makes sense, or whether a country has become more or less safe – is difficult. Yet, at the same time, technological advances are offering analysts new opportunities to refine and strengthen their predictions, and there is a strong demand for accurate, reliable estimates.

This is why The PRS Group, a leading firm that specializes in quantitative analysis-based risk forecasts, is looking to harness artificial intelligence to augment its products, and PRS wants to partner with Queen’s to help make it happen. Queen’s and The PRS Group recently announced the signing of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding. Under this agreement, Queen’s and PRS will jointly form an Artificial Intelligence Initiative that will harness the strengths of Queen’s, create opportunities for both graduate students and faculty members, and set in motion the development and commercialization of highly sophisticated analytical tools.

“The PRS Group | Queen’s University Artificial Intelligence Initiative unites two innovative partners in support of cutting-edge research and student learning,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s. “This collaboration with The PRS Group will provide faculty and graduate students with valuable opportunities to engage in hands-on learning and research with numerous organizations. Additionally, this partnership establishes Queen’s as the research and development hub for the company, growing our research reputation. I want to thank our Office of Partnerships & Innovation for their efforts in establishing this relationship.”

The PRS Group logo. The tagline reads "Est. 1979 - Challenging Borders, Challenging Risk." (Supplied Photo)

Under this agreement, the company, which is based in Syracuse, New York, will leverage the expertise of Queen’s faculty and graduate students through research contracts and internships, and the expertise and resources of the Centre for Advanced Computing (CAC) to broaden and deepen the company’s analytical capabilities. The PRS Group will also promote its collaboration with Queen’s to attract joint research and service contracts from its roster of international clients, including the world’s largest institutional investors, central banks, sovereign wealth funds, multinational corporations, and leading academic institutions.

“Our agreement with Queen’s University establishes The PRS Group as the only quant-driven political risk firm that combines four decades of independently back-tested proprietary risk data with sophisticated algorithms and artificial intelligence”, says Christopher McKee (PhD’94), CEO of The PRS Group. “Our initial work with the Centre for Advanced Computing at Queen’s has delivered very insightful analyses, and attracted significant global interest.”

The Cognitive Development Hub of the CAC and PRS hope to work together to find ways artificial intelligence could be used to identify risk factors faster and more accurately, thus providing PRS and its clients with insights to help direct future investments. The Queen’s Economics Department (QED) is also interested in engaging with The PRS Group in the future, and more Queen’s departments may take advantage of this collaboration down the line.

“Several faculty members have interest in empirical cross-country, economic and political issues and use-related data, others are engaged in work on financial risk management and regulation, and several faculty and students are focused on developing new methods for analyzing time-series and cross-sectional data,” says Huw Lloyd-Ellis, head of QED. “We look forward to the opportunities still to come through this new collaboration.”

To learn more about The PRS Group, visit www.prsgroup.com

A cut above

Public lecture will highlight cutting-edge surgical tool that will change the way tumours are removed.

Researchers from Queen’s University, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, and Imperial College in London, England are breaking new ground with a cutting-edge technology that could transform the way tumour removal surgery is performed.

Zoltan Takats (r) discusses the benefits of the iKnife, an innovative surgical tool that can detect cancer by analyzing or ‘smelling’ smoke created during surgery. (Photo by Matthew Manor)

The Intelligent Knife or ‘iKnife,’ developed by researchers at Imperial College London, is an innovative tool that can detect cancer by analyzing or ‘smelling’ smoke created during surgery. With a global reputation for work in developing image-guided surgical interventions that could enhance use of the iKnife technology, Queen’s has been asked to join a consortium to advance the tool’s capabilities.

“Surgeons and researchers from Queen’s University have joined a consortium of three academic partners and a corporate sponsor to investigate the possible uses of the iKnife,” says Dr. John Rudan (Head, Department of Surgery). “The iKnife has the potential to revolutionize the surgical treatment of cancer. Queen’s expertise in image-guided surgery and cancer research provides unique expertise important to the further development of the iKnife.”

At this time, the iKnife is an investigative research and surgical tool. Kingston will become the first city in North America to have access to the technology, joining a small number of centres in Europe. Intensive research will be done over the next several years at Queen’s with the iKnife being used in the operating rooms.

The iKnife was invented by Zoltan Takats, a member of the Department of Cancer and Surgery at Imperial College London, who is visiting Queen’s from Nov. 6 to 10 as the Dr. Andrew Bruce and Margaret Bruce Visiting Scholar in Surgical Innovation. Established by Dr. Andrew and Margaret Bruce, the endowment will be used to support the hosting of prominent scholars at Queen’s. These visiting scholars will bring special expertise in the area of surgical scholarship, introduce new research and ideas, teach new methodologies to Queen’s medical scientists and clinicians, and provide new concepts to Queen’s students.

The public is invited to hear Dr. Takats present a talk entitled, What Do the Molecules Tell Us? - The quiet revolution of chemical information, on the importance of molecular imaging in surgery, at a public lecture on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 4:30 pm at the Britton Smith Lecture Theatre in the Queen’s Medical Education Building on Arch Street.

A scientific success

Post-doctoral fellow Kelly Suschinsky is one of only five Canadian women honoured with a research award from L’Oréal and UNESCO.

Kelly Suschinsky, a post-doctoral fellow at Queen's University, has been awarded one of the top awards in Canada for women working in the scientific research field. Dr. Suschinsky has been awarded a L’Oréal-UNESCO 2017 Excellence in Research Fellowship, awarded to support major post-doctoral research projects undertaken by young Canadians.

A post-doctoral fellow working in the Sexuality and Gender Laboratory (SAGE), Dr. Suschinsky’s research focuses on relationships between sexual desire and arousal.

Kelly Suschinsky has earned a L'Oreal-UNESCO 2017 Excellent in Research Fellowship.

“A lot of past research has focused on men’s sexual arousal and desire and suggested desire was spontaneous,” says Dr. Suschinsky (Psychology). “What we are finding by studying women is that desire for women isn’t necessarily spontaneous. It tends to be triggered or cued by sexual arousal.”

The $20,000 in funding will allow Dr. Suschinsky to start a new research project in the SAGE Laboratory at Queen’s.

“It will allow me to conduct a new study around the relationships between sexual desire, arousal, and goals in women,” says Dr. Suschinsky. “We know women who have higher desire tend to engage in sex for different reasons than other women. We want to uncover why.”

Since 1998, the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation and UNESCO have been committed to increase the number of women working in scientific research. Since the program began, it has supported more than 2,700 women from 115 countries, including Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Ada Yonath, who went on to win a Nobel Prize.

Dr. Suschinsky talks about the challenge facing women researchers, specifically working in scientific research.

“Women in 2017 still encounter challenges when they are in a scientific field," she says. "We tend to go to school for long periods of time and the careers we chose tend to be fairly demanding. It’s difficult to determine if you want to start a family and to balance those commitments with continuing a research program. Sometimes it is difficult to find a balance between those two competing interests.”

The award was presented by Liette Vasseur, President of the Natural, Social and Human Sciences Sectoral Commission of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

“Tonight, we honor women of science, because the L'Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have a conviction that is also obvious: the world needs science and science needs women, because women of science have the power to change the world,” says Frank Kollmar, President and CEO of L’Oréal Canada. “These five young researchers represent the future of scientific excellence in Canada and the advancement of our society.”

Investing in research = investing in people

Symposium highlights the importance of research in the development of highly qualified personnel.

People are the key. In particular, highly qualified personnel (HQP) are a key part of the equation for scientific discoveries, evidence-based decision-making, and for building a foundation for economic growth and social progress. Stakeholder recognition of the value to society from training HQP is more important than ever before: the next generation of researchers will tackle the world’s most pressing issues and we must make sure they are prepared.

Investment in people was the dominant theme in The Importance of Research in the Development of Highly Qualified Personnel, a Queen’s University-hosted symposium as part of the Canadian Science Policy Conference, Nov. 1-3 in Ottawa. The symposium featured remarks from Reza Moridi, Ontario’s Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Art McDonald, Queen’s professor emeritus and 2015 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and a keynote from Cathleen Crudden, Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry. Each echoed the sentiment that research training at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels is critical to the development of the HQP needed by Canada’s knowledge economy, and that Canada has not kept pace internationally regarding investments in this area.

“We cannot do more with less,”  Dr. Crudden says. “A substantial increase in support for investigator-led funding is extremely important and will provide a major source of enhanced support for students and training of HQP across the ecosystem.”

A panel, moderated by Ted Hsu, former Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, featured representatives from academia, government and industry, developed into a dynamic discussion on the return on investment for training of HQP and the importance of effectively communicating this value proposition to decision-makers and industry leaders.

“We cannot do more with less. A substantial increase in support for investigator-led funding is extremely important and will provide a major source of enhanced support for students and training of HQP across the ecosystem.”
                   – Cathleen Crudden, Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry

“The symposium was stimulating and thought provoking,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “The symposium highlighted the fact that Canadian universities need to tell a better story about the remarkable value and impact of research in terms of generating what the government calls 'highly qualified personnel.' HQP are the talented individuals who emerge from research training to drive our knowledge economy and routinely produce commercializeable products. We need to highlight the impacts that HQP are making and how they are dependent on investment in fundamental research.”

Investing in fundamental science = investing in people

The symposium was inspired by advocacy efforts to encourage the federal government’s implementation of the 35 recommendations outlined in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review, Investing in Canada’s Future: Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research.

Commonly referred to as the “Naylor Report” after its lead author, the review was commissioned by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and was developed by a panel of nine non-partisan experts, including Dr. McDonald. The report, released in spring 2017, focuses on the importance of fundamental research support to Canada, andalso to its global competitiveness.

The university supports the review’s recommendations and is committed to working collaboratively with the government to advance Canada’s leadership in fundamental science. In addition to a statement of support and an op-ed in University Affairs penned by Daniel Woolf, the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) developed resources to aid those wishing to #supportthereport. Individual researchers have also added their voices to the discussion: last week, Andrew Craig (Cancer Research Institute), penned a piece for The Conversation Canada, subsequently repurposed in the National Post, Maclean’s and other media outlets, stressing that “Science in Canada needs funding, not photo ops.”

“The review’s recommendations have been presented to government and we are hopeful for a positive response, said Dr. Art McDonald.  “Federal investment in fundamental science has slumped in recent decades, especially support for individual researchers, who are key. If we want Canada to become a global research powerhouse, we need to invest in the people – the HQP – who will elevate our competitive advantages.”

For more information on Queen’s advocacy efforts and how you can #supportthereport, please contact the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research).

Bringing dark matter to light

The Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre hosted two events celebrating International Dark Matter Day.

  • Engineers Sean Crawford and Jacob Morrisson display a model of a NEWS-G sphere they built.
    Engineers Sean Crawford and Jacob Morrisson display a model of a NEWS-G sphere they built.
  • Large crowds gather in the foyer of Stirling Hall to check out the Dark Matter Day live demos and get some treats.
    Large crowds gather in the foyer of Stirling Hall to check out the Dark Matter Day live demos and get some treats.
  • PhD candidate Matthew Chequers explains how astronomers are simulating the structure of dark matter in the universe using high-powered computing clusters
    PhD candidate Matthew Chequers explains how astronomers are simulating the structure of dark matter in the universe using high-powered computing clusters
  • The in-house speaker, CPARC's own Joseph Bramante, explains the link between dark matter, neutron stars, and heavy elements to a packed house at Stirling Hall.
    The in-house speaker, CPARC's own Joseph Bramante, explains the link between dark matter, neutron stars, and heavy elements to a packed house at Stirling Hall.
  • MSc candidate Joseph McLaughlin performs the ceremonial dumping of the liquid nitrogen to close the night's events.
    MSc candidate Joseph McLaughlin performs the ceremonial dumping of the liquid nitrogen to close the night's events.
  • MSc candidate Joe McLaughlin explains how the DEAP-3600 experiment will use liquid argon to detect dark matter particles.
    MSc candidate Joe McLaughlin explains how the DEAP-3600 experiment will use liquid argon to detect dark matter particles.

There are still many puzzles in our universe to be solved, but few are quite as puzzling as dark matter.

The invisible matter does not glow or absorb light, yet it makes up about 85 per cent of all matter in the universe. Luckily, astronomers and physicists from all over Canada are on the case.

The Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre and Queen's University, in collaboration with the Dunlap Institute at the University of Toronto, hosted its first public event on Oct. 23 to celebrate International Dark Matter Day. The talk began with an inspiring message from newly-appointed Governor General Julie Payette, and the event itself featured several astronomers and physicists performing cutting-edge research on the subject of dark matter. The event also had live demos by Queen's astronomers and experimental physicists taking part in the SNOLAB collaboration’s search for dark matter.

More than 200 people attended the public event and learned about astronomical proof of the existence of dark matter, how to perform alchemy with dark matter and neutron stars, the reseachers at SNOLAB trying to detect dark matter, and other scientists who are trying to create dark matter.

In addition to the public talk, CPARC hosted a workshop for high school students on October 30 to continue the Dark Matter Day celebrations. Led by Nathalie Ouellette, CPARC Education and Outreach Officer, 31 Grade 10 to 12 students received a primer on dark matter based on materials created by the Perimeter Institute. They also had the chance to interact with Queen's researchers who are actively trying to solve the puzzle of dark matter. The workshop concluded with an exciting display of a 14-inch telescope.

Queen’s has a strong tradition of research excellence in the field of particle astrophysics with its researchers garnering many awards, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. In 2016, Queen’s received an investment of $63.7M from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to support the creation of the CPARC. The centre aims to strengthen partnerships between Queen’s and other Canadian universities, attract top talent and build on Canada’s position as a leader in this field.

For more information on Dark Matter Day or the Canadian Particle Astrophysics Research Centre, visit their website

Women talk tech

Women in Tech World discuss technology careers with local leaders during stop in Kingston.

A group of leaders in the technology world recently gathered at Innovation Park to discuss challenges facing women in the sector.

Queen’s University, Innovation Park and Kingston Economic Development co-hosted a pan-Canadian research initiative aimed at supporting and promoting women working in technology. Women in Tech World brought their Driving WinTech program to Kingston in mid-October and engaged local women in tech, as well as enablers of women in tech, in a community conversation.

Taking part in the workshop were (l to r): Janice Mady (Director, Industry Partnerships & Innovation Park), Sarah McCarthy (WinTech Ambassador), Ali Close (CEO and Co-Founder, WinTech), Donna Gillespie (CEO, Kingston Economic Development Corporation), Judith Pineault (CEO, Eastern Fluid Power Inc.), Katie Ross (Business Development Officer, KEDCO).

“The event attracted different groups of women, each with a unique voice. Several of the participants run their own company,” says Janice Mady, Director, Industry Partnerships & Innovation Park. “They indicated that they are in control of their own destiny and do not experience issues as women working in tech. We also had mid-career women who work in science and tech for a variety of local companies. They indicated that they often feel they are a lone voice, and struggle to have their input heard, understood or acted upon. Younger women, whether in academia or industry, talked about falling behind when they started raising their family.”

Women in Tech World is a grassroots organization based out of Vancouver dedicated to creating opportunities, connections and actionable steps to elevate women in tech. It’s volunteer run and the group is currently on the road, travelling via RV across Canada. Driving WinTech is partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign with that funding being used for transportation costs, car repairs and fuel.

The goals include developing a better understanding of women who are working in technology in Canada, understanding women’s experiences in the technology industry, and identifying the best practices for inclusion and promotion of women in the tech industry.

To make that happen, Women in Tech World has developed relationships with more than 45 community partners that are key partners in disseminating the information.

“We think we’ve come so far but we definitely heard that there are still issues to address, and so doing may help to attract more women to pursue technology careers,” says Donna Gillespie CEO, Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

With the information collected from across Canada, Driving WinTech will author a national report featuring their findings, and create a set of regional playbooks to guide the development and implementation of strategies to more effectively support and retain women in tech fields.

Ms. Gillespie says once the Kingston group has this information in-hand, they can decide on next steps.

“We would like to get this information in front of the government so they can help us with the next steps. Women interested in working in technology need to see it as a viable career path," she says. "There is an appetite for this conversation to continue and we have the resources to do that.”

The groups are planning another discussion in early 2018.

“Many communities have established forums for women in tech, including entreprenuers, to convene. Twenty per cent of people leading tech startups are women, and we would like to see this number grow,” says Ms. Mady. 

The Conversation: Science in Canada needs funding, not photo-ops

Fresh off an election win in 2015, the Trudeau government won the support of the Canadian research community with a declaration that science and evidence-based decision making was back.

"Andrew Craig"
Andrew Craig, an associate professor in biomedical and molecular sciences at Queen's University, would like to see the government implement all recommendations from the Naylor report. (University Communications) 

Early action included the appointment of Canada’s first minister of science, and a modest increase in funding to the federal agencies that administer federal research funds in their first budget. While disappointed with the magnitude of investment, the research community rationalized that much more substantive changes to science funding would require more time, and hoped for an evidence-based process.

To this end, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan commissioned a review of federally funded research led by David Naylor and a panel of university administrators and distinguished researchers, including Nobel laureate Arthur McDonald.

The report was delivered in late 2016. But the official release was delayed until early April 2017, after the government presented its second federal budget with no new funds for Canada’s three federal research agencies, commonly referred to as the tricouncil: Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Picking winners instead of basic research

In fact, there was no mention of these funding agencies or the importance of fundamental research in the 2017 federal budget, despite a major focus on innovation, which inevitably builds on fundamental discoveries.

Instead, Ottawa continued the trend of previous governments to support directed funding for specialized themes, including $6 million for stem-cell research, $81 million for space exploration, $10 million for quantum computing and $35 million to support international collaborations. This approach amounts to picking winners, and ignores the value of broad support for the science ecosystem.

To this day, there has been limited endorsement of the Naylor report recommendations by the Canadian government. Some suggest the science minister and the Naylor report failed to make a compelling case that a major reinvestment of $485 million dollars annually — less than 0.1 per cent of GDP — is needed to restore funding for fundamental research to 2005 levels.

Duncan was slow to endorse the report and appeared to question whether funding recommendations should be left to elected officials — surprising since she herself commissioned the report, and it provides the basis for evidence-based decisions on how to bolster Canadian science funding and delivery.

Research funding dire

Research funding in Canada has remained relatively flat. (Handout)
Research funding in Canada has remained relatively flat. (Handout)

Instead, a grassroots effort among Canadian researchers led to the organization of town hall meetings across Canada where researchers weighed in on their concerns. These forums revealed how dire the funding situation is for researchers, especially for those in early and mid-career positions who are attempting to build or sustain their research program.

The meetings also demonstrated that the research community strongly supports implementation of all recommendations in the Naylor report. “Support the Report” became a mantra taken up by many Canadian scientists on social media and in meetings with government officials. We collectively met with most federal MPs and ministers and often found ourselves educating them on the Naylor report — even those within the Liberal government.

Since then, there has been no evidence that the science minister or the prime minister will provide the budget support needed to enact the report’s recommendations.

Now at the midpoint of its mandate, the Trudeau government is attempting to traverse an ever-widening gap between the government’s messaging on science and its actions. Due to inaction, they have effectively reduced available funding for federal research in open competitions where the research topics are not constrained or dependent on industry partnerships.

Serious implications

Why should the public be concerned? The loss of investigator-initiated grants means that we are currently limiting the support for new fundamental discoveries that cannot be predicted by well-intentioned government or granting council executives.

Further, these discoveries are often not translated into new treatments or devices immediately. The late Tony Pawson, who made seminal discoveries during his biomedical research career in Canada, had an important message for all governments when accepting the prestigious Kyoto Prize in Japan in 2008: “Governments increasingly want to see immediate returns on the research that they support, but it is worth viewing basic science as a long-term investment that will yield completely unexpected dividends for humanity in the future.”

This was certainly a failing of the Harper government, and still largely applies to the science policy of the Trudeau government, despite the warm platitudes of how they value science.

Action needed now

It is time for the Canadian government to move past boutique programs and photo-ops. Without new investment in unfettered research funding to the tricouncil agencies, we will see generations of highly skilled scientists leave Canada or choose another career.

This will further the steady decline in Canada’s reputation for world-class research. It also has the unintended consequence of stemming the flow of new discoveries that feed into the innovation sector.

Recently, several positive steps on the science portfolio have included appointment of Canada’s chief science adviser to the government and a Canada Research Coordinating Committee. These are promising developments, but without a major increase in federal funding, the research ecosystem will remain on life support.

The ConversationIt is now 2017, a time for evidence-based decisions in science policy. It is time for the Canadian government to demonstrate they are moving ahead with all recommendations from the Naylor report to return balance and support Canadian science in all its wonderful diversity.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five leading researchers recognized by Queen’s

2017 Prizes for Excellence in Research are Queen’s highest internal research award

The recipients of the 2017 Prize for Excellence in Research are committed to building connections. Whether it be between organic compounds and metals or scholars and Indigenous communities, each scholar has established themselves as leaders in their fields, working to connect their studies to the world at large. Spanning disciplines across the university, the 2017 PER recipients are Sam McKegney (English), Liying Cheng (Education), Cathleen Crudden (Chemistry), Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering), and Denis O’Donnell (Medicine).

Awarded annually in five areas (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, and health sciences), the awards have been the signature internal research prize since 1980, and represent an important investment by Queen’s in recognizing research and scholarship. Recipients are some of the top scholars in their fields, and they are each awarded a prize of $5,000 as well as the chance to give a public lecture on their research in the spring. More information on the public lectures will be made available in early 2018.

“I would like to extend my sincerest congratulations to this year’s Prize for Excellence in Research recipients,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “This prize is a testament to the level of research excellence found at the university, and a true mark of excellence for these scholars.  Each researcher has made a significant, long-standing impact in their field. I look forward to watching them receive their prize at fall Convocation and to hearing their public lectures in the spring.”

Sam McKegneySam McKegney (English) is an associate professor whose research has greatly impacted considerations of the ethical roles of settler scholars in Indigenous Studies. He has written many articles on environmental kinship, Indigenous prison writing, and the Truth and Reconciliation process. Dr. McKegney’s 2014 book Masculindians explored the connections between constructions of racial and gender identities by interviewing North American Indigenous artists, and received an honourable mention for The Canadian Women’s and Gender Studies Association’s Outstanding Scholarship Award.

Liying ChengLiying Cheng (Education) has helped to redefine language assessment practices around the globe. A professor in the Faculty of Education and Director of the Assessment and Evaluation Group, Dr. Cheng’s research into how effective assessment practices can lead to enhanced language teaching and learning outcomes for second language students has influenced education policy, curriculum, pedagogy, and language assessment practices. She is highly respected in the international education community for her research into “washback,” or the impact of language assessment practices on language learning and teaching.

Cathleen CruddenCathleen Crudden (Chemistry) is the Canada Research Chair in Metal Organic Chemistry and an internationally-recognized scholar whose discovery of how the bonding of organic compounds to metals in well-defined monolayers has garnered global attention from many different fields. She is an expert in synthetic organic chemistry, and has demonstrated bond formation reactions that were thought to be impossible by other scholars. Dr. Crudden has made immense strides in her field, and she now maintains extensive international collaborations with many researchers.

Pascale ChampagneAs the Canada Research Chair in Bioresource Engineering and Director of the Beaty Water Research Centre, Pascale Champagne (Civil Engineering) is an internationally-recognized researcher with an innovative and diverse research program in the fields of environmental engineering and bioresource management. Her research program focuses on topics of critical importance in Canada and internationally, and pillars in achieving sustainable development, including low energy and low impact eco-engineered systems for the treatment of wastewater, as well as using renewable resources in the creation of novel routes for the production of bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts. Many of her projects are in collaboration with private industries, government/regulatory agencies, and municipalities. 

Denis O'DonnellDenis O’Donnell (Medicine) is a world-class respiratory physiologist specializing in the mechanisms of breathlessness and exercise limitation in patients with chronic lung disorders. His research in this field has been so influential that the respiratory community has named the critical lung hyperinflation point corresponding to an abrupt increase in intolerable breathlessness in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) the “O’Donnell Threshold.” He served as Chair of best practices guidelines for COPD management in Canada, has published extensively in top respiratory journals and has served on numerous international scientific panels and journal editorial boards.

Queen’s researchers are renowned for their success in garnering research accolades, and the university ranks second nationally for external faculty research awards and honours, according to Maclean’s. Queen’s is also a member of the U15 group of Canadian research-intensive universities, and our faculty and students are advancing research programs that have real world impact and are addressing global challenges.

A focus on Indigenous research collaboration

Queen’s Adjunct Professor Alex McComber (DSc’16) delivers a lecture about Indigenous research collaboration. (University Communications)

Several recommendations within the Queen’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force final report challenged researchers across the university to ensure they are engaging Indigenous communities in culturally appropriate and respectful ways.

To help share the perspectives of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and build competency at Queen’s, the School of Graduate Studies, the Aboriginal Council of Queen’s University (ACQU), and Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre hosted a three-hour session about “Research Collaboration with Indigenous Communities”. More than 80 faculty and students attended the workshop, which included a keynote address and panel presentations by masters student Jon Aarssen; PhD candidate Natasha Stirrett; Heather Castleden, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relations for Health, Environments, and Communities; and Marlene Brant Castellano, Co-Chair of Aboriginal Council of Queen’s University. The event concluded with a talking circle which included all participants.

“This event is one way our School is responding to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report at Queen’s, a number of which speak to how we engage in research with Indigenous communities,” said Marta Straznicky, Associate Dean in the School of Graduate Studies and one of the event organizers. “The strong attendance at this workshop is a testament to the need for this type of information.”

This presentation was the realization of months of effort by the School of Graduate Studies to better educate its students on how to engage Indigenous communities in research – being ever mindful of the adage “nothing about us without us”. The workshop idea originated this summer, when the School of Graduate Studies and the ACQU established a Committee on Indigenous Research Collaboration. The committee includes representation from the ACQU, the School of Graduate Studies, Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre, and other faculty members and students.

The workshop represents phase one of a longer-term plan to help broaden access by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities and organizations to the research resources of the university, appropriate to community needs and priorities. The School is also seeking to promote and develop the skills and intercultural competencies of graduate students and faculty for community-engaged research with, and by, Indigenous Peoples. Moving forward, The School of Graduate Studies will aim to provide students and faculty with the knowledge to build strong, mutually respectful, and durable research collaborations between Queen’s University and Indigenous communities, added Dr. Straznicky.

As an example of a successful research collaboration, Queen’s Adjunct Professor Alex McComber (DSc’16) gave a keynote address about a project within the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Territory aimed at supporting health promotion and diabetes prevention in local schools. This major and long-term effort united the local community and Montréal-based researchers. Dr. McComber said the approach of those original researchers, who incorporated community feedback and Indigenous ways of knowing into their work, resulted in a balanced relationship and served as a positive model for this type of research.

“Sometimes students come in with an idea, and when we hear the idea we think, ‘Well, that’s interesting but the way that they’re talking about it is never going to work,’ so we sit with the student and talk with them,” he said, reflecting on researchers approaching the Kahnawà:ke community leaders. “I remember the last time we told a student this she almost started to cry, thinking her idea was no good, and I said ‘No, the idea is awesome! But we need to help you understand [community participatory research]’. When she came back around, she understood what we were wanting her to learn, and how she could contribute back to the community.”

Dr. McComber noted, in the past, researchers would fly into Indigenous communities, gather information, and leave without contacting the community again; the next time the information would be seen was when a report was published. He suggested aspiring researchers should instead make the goal of their work to create new knowledge in collaboration with Indigenous communities and to build relationships that bring about understanding on both sides.

“As up and coming researchers…you have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth,” Dr. McComber said in closing. “Come in with respect, and be open to being challenged and doing things differently.”

The session was part of an annual two-day Indigenous Research Symposium organized by the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre. In addition to the Friday workshop, the symposium explored the themes of this year’s Queen’s Read title, The Break, from an Indigenous perspective.

Queen's researcher recognized for major contributions to global cancer research

Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been awarded for exceptional leadership in cancer research.

"Elizabeth Eisenhauer"
Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been recognized by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance with its award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

The Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) has recognized Professor Emerita Elizabeth Eisenhauer with its award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research for her preeminent work in the field of cancer clinical trials, cancer treatment and drug delivery, and cancer research strategy and development.  

Dr. Eisenhauer, renowned for her research in ovarian cancer, malignant melanoma, and malignant brain tumours, is one of only six recipients who will be formally presented with CCRA awards at the organization’s biennial scientific conference next week.

“I feel very honoured to have received this recognition from the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance,” says Dr. Eisenhauer. “CCRA has brought together research funding agencies from across the country to develop common strategies and shared investments designed to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer – work that I have long supported.”

Improving cancer treatment
In 1990, Dr. Eisenhauer discovered a method for administering a commonly-used cancer drug Taxol that not only sustained the drug’s efficacy longer, but also reduced its toxic side effects in patients. Her discovery led to a new global standard of care for Taxol use in the treatment of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, non-small cell lung cancer amongst others.

In 1982, Dr. Eisenhauer was instrumental in creating the Investigational New Drug (IND) Program for the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), based at Queen’s University. Under her directorship, the IND program offered an opportunity for clinical investigators and patients to obtain new cancer drugs and contribute to their evaluation and development. During her tenure, which ended in 2012, Dr. Eisenhauer presided over 200 phase I-III clinical trials involving more than 5,500 patients and more than 100 new cancer-fighting drugs. Many of these drugs led to new international standards of cancer treatments.

From 2006 to 2017, Dr. Eisenhauer also assumed several other national leadership positions, including roles as president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada; expert lead, Research at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer; and co-chair of the CCRA. Most recently, she served as head of oncology at Queen’s before her retirement in June 2017.

“Dr. Eisenhauer’s ground-breaking research contributions have fundamentally changed how scientists develop, test, and administer new treatments for cancer,” says John Fisher, Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s. “Her efforts to advance potential treatments safely and effectively through clinical trials have led to new standards of care and increased quality of life for cancer patients around the world. On behalf of Queen’s, I want to offer my congratulations for this well-deserved recognition, and commend Dr. Eisenhauer for her exceptional leadership in the fight against cancer.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Eisenhauer says there has been excitement around emerging immune treatments and molecular-targeted medicines for cancer, but she stresses that it would be a mistake to focus solely on a few treatment areas.

“Reducing the burden of cancer will require research and implementation of important findings in all areas, including prevention, early detection, treatment, survivorship, and palliative care,” says Dr. Eisenhauer. “There is a tendency to assume that there are simple answers to cancer, which leads to a lot of funding being directed into a single area of research. However, there have never been simple solutions, so a multi-pronged approach will be the only sufficient way to reduce the impact of this disease.”

The CCRA conference runs from Nov. 5-7 in Vancouver.


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