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Commemoration versus contagion

PhD candidate in the Department of History, Matthew Barrett will present his research on the attitudes of the Canadian public towards suicides in the military over the past 100 years. 

In May 1918, Lt.-Col. Sam Sharpe jumped to his death from a window in a Montreal hospital after serving eleven months on the Western Front during the First World War. His death was treated as a combat fatality and the Toronto Globe noted that it was as if he had died on the “field of honour.”

Matthew Barrett, a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Queen’s, notes that had Lt.-Col. Sharpe’s death taken place today, he likely wouldn’t have been included in the casualties number as his death took place in Canada, away from the front.

This observation, amongst others, is discussed in a paper that Mr. Barrett and his supervisor Allan English will present at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research Forum next week.

Lt. -Col. Sam Sharpe
 Lt.-Col. Sam Sharpe

“There are two main perspectives when it comes to how suicide in the military is treated. The first is one discussed by Sen. Roméo Dallaire: if we do not appropriately commemorate the individuals who take their own lives in the military then the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health will continue to exist,” says Mr. Barrett. “Another view is one expressed by Gen. Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, who disagrees and says that if Canada acknowledges suicides as casualties of an entire mission then it may add honour to the act of suicide and cause a contagion effect.”

Mr. Barrett hopes his research on the attitudes of the Canadian public towards suicides in the military over the past 100 years will assist stakeholders in prioritizing their de-stigmatization efforts, as military suicides outnumber combat deaths during the recent Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

“The recent experience of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan has placed greater focus on issues of mental health in the military. This emphasis on mental health care reflects the public’s focus on the Canadian soldier as a heroic national symbol,” says Mr. Barrett. “When Maj. Michelle Mendes took her own life in Afghanistan in 2009 officials did not make a clear distinction between death by suicide and killed in action. Her body was repatriated to Canada along the Highway of Heroes.”

Maj. Michelle Mendes
Maj. Michelle Mendes

It’s possible that a commemoration approach to military suicides might risk the start of a contagion effect, but it’s also vital to recognize that focusing solely on this idea of contagion and copycat suicides excludes an opportunity for commemoration, notes Mr. Barrett.

“A long-held view about military suicide in Canada is one that stigmatizes the act of suicide, but not necessarily the victims,” says Mr. Barrett. “Ideally, this research may help inform stakeholders of the type of stigma reduction strategies needed.”

Mr. Barrett and Dr. English’s paper, “Absolutely incapable of ‘Carrying on’ – Attitudes of the Canadian Public towards Suicides in the Canadian Military - 1914-2014” will be presented at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research Forum 2014 next week in Toronto.

For more information on Forum 2014, follow this link.

A gut reaction

Queen’s University biologist Virginia Walker and Queen’s SARC Awarded Postdoctoral Fellow Pranab Das have shown nanosilver, which is often added to water purification units, can upset your gut. The discovery is important as people are being exposed to nanoparticles every day.

Nanosilver is also used in biomedical applications, toys, sunscreen, cosmetics, clothing and other items.

Virginia Walker (l) and Pranab Das have shown nanosilver could be causing issues with your gut.

“We were surprised to see significant upset of the human gut community at the lowest concentration of nanosilver in this study,” says Dr. Das. “To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has looked at this. It is important as we are more and more exposed to nanoparticles in our everyday lives through different routes such as inhalation, direct contact or ingestion.”

To conduct the research, Drs. Walker and Das utilized another Queen’s discovery, rePOOPulate, created by Elaine Petrof (Medicine). rePOOPulate is a synthetic stool substitute, which Dr. Petrof designed to treat C. difficile infections. In this instance, rather than being used as therapy, the synthetic stool was used to examine the impact of nanoparticles on the human gut.

The research showed that the addition of nanosilver reduced metabolic activity in the synthetic stool sample, perturbed fatty acids and significantly changed the population of bacteria. This information can help lead to an understanding of how nanoparticles could impact our “gut ecosystem.”

“There is no doubt that the nanosilver shifted the bacterial community, but the impact of nanosilver ingestion on our long-term health is currently unknown,” Dr. Walker says. “This is another area of research we need to explore.”

The findings by Drs. Das and Walker, Julie AK McDonald (Kingston General Hospital), Dr. Petrof (KGH)  and Emma Allen-Vercoe (University of Guelph) were published in the Journal of Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology.

'Aquatic osteoporosis' jellifying lakes

A handful of Holopedium capsules which are replacing the water flea Daphnia due to declining calcium levels in many lakes.

A plague of “aquatic osteoporosis” is spreading throughout many North American soft-water lakes due to declining calcium levels in the water and hindering the survival of some organisms, says new research from Queen’s University.

Researchers from Queen’s, working with colleagues from York University and the University of Cambridge, as well as other collaborators, have identified a biological shift in many temperate, soft-water lakes in response to declining calcium levels after prolonged periods of acid rain and timber harvesting. The reduced calcium availability is hindering the survival of aquatic organisms with high calcium requirements and promoting the growth of nutrient-poor, jelly-clad animals.

In the study, researchers looked at the microscopic organisms (~1 mm) Daphnia and Holopedium – the latter whose size is greatly increased by its jelly capsule.

“Calcium is an essential nutrient for many lake-dwelling organisms, but concentrations have fallen so low in many lakes that keystone species can no longer survive,” says Adam Jeziorski, one of the lead authors of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology at Queen’s.

The research team found that when calcium levels are low, the water flea Daphnia, which has high calcium requirements, becomes less abundant.  Importantly, this keystone species is being replaced by its jelly-clad competitor, Holopedium.

“Conditions now favour animals better adapted to lower calcium levels, and these changes can have significant ecological and environmental repercussions,” says Dr. Jeziorski.

[Holopedium]
A close-up image of a Holopedium, whose size is greatly increased by its jelly capsule.

Tiny fossils from lake sediments were studied to determine the pre-impact conditions of the lakes as the calcium decline began before monitoring programs were in place. Using this technique, the team was able to examine the environmental trends from the past approximately 150 years.

“Lake sediments act like a history book of past changes in a lake, recording what happened before the problem was identified,” says John Smol (Biology), Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change. “Jelly-clad invertebrates have been increasing in an alarming number of lakes. This is likely a long-term effect of acid rain on forest soils, logging and forest regrowth.”

The increase in jelly-clad invertebrates can have important implications for lake biology, altering food webs, but can also clog water intakes.

“Many lakes we investigated have passed critical thresholds,” says Dr. Smol. “We have been reduced to the role of spectator as these changes continue to unfold. Once again we see there are many unexpected consequences of our actions, most of which are negative.”

This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and a number of high-resolution images of the organisms and techniques used in this study can be found on the Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory website.

New tools for schools

Queen’s University professor Wendy Craig, and York University professor Debra Pepler, co-scientific directors of the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), are unveiling a new toolkit for educators in conjunction with Bullying Awareness Week, Nov. 17-23.

Drs. Craig and Pepler and PREVNet worked with the Ministry of Education to create the new resource, Facts and Tools for Schools, which includes over 100 pages of information to support ongoing bullying prevention at Ontario schools. The tools are designed to provide evidence-based strategies to recognize, assess, prevent, intervene and develop a bully prevention policy in Ontario schools.

“We want educators to implement these tools in school settings to support work already ongoing,” says Dr. Craig. “We need to come together to address bullying and tools like this one developed by PREVNet is another important step.”

One highlight of the resource is a fact sheet defining bullying. It outlines what is bullying is, what the various forms of bullying are, the difference between bullying, aggression and teasing, and how educators can identify these three areas. There is also an emphasis on a whole school approach to promoting healthy relationships.

The theme of this year’s awareness week is Stand Up To Bullying.

“This is an important document and this is an important week to keep the discussion about bullying alive,” says Dr.Craig. “The week can act as a springboard to further the conversation about bullying. What is really important is what happens the week after Bullying Awareness Week and the months that follow. What we are doing is working but there is always room for improvement.”

To read more about Fact and Tools for Schools visit the website.

Merit for medical school building

The Queen's School of Medicine building at 15 Arch St.

The new building that is home to the Queen’s School of Medicine has won an Award of Merit at the 2014 Livable City Design Awards.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects in Toronto and local firm Shoalts and Zaback Architects and built by local construction firm M.Sullivan and Son Limited, the $77-million facility opened in fall 2011, in time for the Class of 2015’s first classes at Queen’s.

"Queen's is honored to receive this award from the City and proud to have our facility recognized with others in helping to celebrate Kingston's long tradition of architectural excellence and creative urban management," says John Witjes, Associate Vice-Principal (Facilities).

Full of natural light and buzzing with activity at all times of day, the building features two spaces equipped with the latest acoustic and audiovisual technologies where full lectures or small group learning sessions can take place. There are also 30 small rooms throughout the building designed for small group study sessions.

The new Queen’s School of Medicine building comes complete with a simulation clinic and simulation hospital and operating rooms for students to develop their practical skills. A floor in the building is dedicated to foundational sciences like anatomy, pharmacology, toxicology and the Anatomy Museum.

“The way that Shoalts and Zaback Architects, who are local architects, worked with Diamond Schmitt Architects of Toronto was very important because they are local and so they wanted the New Medical Building to be as spectacular as they could make it within the budget,” says Yvonne Holland, Director of Campus Planning at Queen’s. “I think from a project management perspective, nothing short of Herculean effort was exercised here to make this happen.”

The 2014 Livable City Awards recognize Kingston projects completed between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2013. Projects were evaluated based on: significance to the city, significance to their community, innovation, context, execution, green design and accessibility.

To learn more about the Livable City Design Awards, follow this link. The press release from the City of Kingston is available here.

Impressive incunabula

Queen’s Library has mounted Incunabula: An Exhibit of 15th Century Printing. The exhibit features material from the Library collection and two works owned by Principal Daniel Woolf, whose research interests include the global history of historical writing. Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer, sat down with Principal Woolf to discuss his incunabula and the other books in his collection. 

  • [Incunabula]
    Featured in the exhibit is a leaf from the Nuremberg Chronicle printed by Hartmann Schedel in 1493, on loan from the private collection of Principal Daniel Woolf.
  • [Incunabula]
    Students, staff and faculty attended the opening of Incunabula: An Exhibit of 15th Century Printing, on Monday, Nov.10.
  • [Incunabula]
    Some of the pieces in the exhibit feature "marginalia," or notes from readers found in the margins of the texts.
  • [Incunabula]
    Incunabula: An Exhibit of 15th Century Printing is on display at the W.D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library through Dec. 1.

MK: What is the significance of the works you have loaned to the Library for the exhibit?

DW: One of them is a whole book, a chronicle that came out in 1481 of which the Library in fact owns a slightly earlier edition printed elsewhere. It’s interesting to compare the two. The other is a leaf from the famous Nuremberg Chronicle that came out in 1493.

The full book, which is missing one or two leaves, was written by Carthusian monk Werner Rolevinck. It’s distinctive as being only the second book since printing was invented to be written by a then-living author. Up to that point, the first books printed were the classics and works such as the Bible.

The Nuremberg Chronicle was the giant history of the world published in 1493 by Hartmann Schedel. That’s not the book’s actual title, but it was called that because Schedel was based in Nuremberg.

MK: Your rare book collection includes many titles besides the incunabula. Can you tell me more about your collection and how you acquire the books?

DW: I have a fair number of books from the 16th century and a lot from the 17th and 18th centuries. Occasionally I stray over into the 19th century.

When I first started out, I was going into antiquarian books shops. That is a relatively slow process if you are looking for particular titles. Over the last few years, it has become much easier to buy unusual books through vendor sites like abebooks.com. But now I am increasingly going directly to individual booksellers who are now well aware of my interests. If they get something interesting, they will dangle it in front of me.

MK: Do you collect rare books as a hobby or for research purposes?

DW: Both. There is a theme to the works I collect. They are all works of history or antiquarian scholarship or antiquarian topography written between the 16th to 18th centuries. I will have at one point used other copies of almost all of them in my research over the last 30 years.

MK: Are there any good stories behind some of the books you own?

DW: Some of them have had very interesting “provenance” in past ownership. One is a copy of an early 17th century printing of an Elizabethan English translation of an early 16th century history of Italy by Francesco Guicciardini. The book itself is a very interesting and important work and it’s a nice early edition. But what gives it added value is the book plate, which indicates it belonged to Victorian poet Matthew Arnold.

Others are interesting because they have all sorts of notes. I have one book in which somebody has interleaved the actual book with lots of other leaves, on which they have added their own notes or “grangerizing” interesting things they found relevant to the book. That process, known as “extra-illustrating,” was very popular in the 18th century.

MK: Why should people visit the exhibit at the Library?

DW: The exhibit is fabulous because these aren’t just old books. They’re among the rarest in the world and they appeared right at the dawn of printing. Just consider how many people have owned those books in their 500 year history. When some of these were printed, Columbus had not yet sailed. They are here now and they will be here 200 or 300 years from now — they are survivors.

Considering it was a new technology, the quality of the printing and the paper was remarkable. The quality of the printing is so much superior to most later printing. If you have seen some 19th century books in the Library, often the pages are not in good shape because they were printed on pulp paper that was treated with an acid, which has made the pages brittle over time. Most of these incunabula were printed on a paper based on rags. It’s much tougher. The books are beautiful works of art.

Incunabula: An Exhibit of 15th Century Printing continues at the W.D. Jordan Special Collections and Music Library (Douglas Library) through Dec. 1.

New hope for prostate cancer patients

Queen’s University pathologist David Berman plays a critical, if little-seen, role in a patient’s journey from medical consultation to disease diagnosis.

“I’m the one who looks at the patient’s tissues under a microscope and determines, this is benign, this is malignant,” he says. “And if it’s malignant, I help answer important questions such as: does it need treatment and, if so, what kind? Or can this be left alone?”

As a clinician-scientist at the Kingston General Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Berman knows how difficult those decisions can be, especially in his research area of prostate cancer, where at least half of all diagnosed cases are harmless and don’t require treatment. And biopsies – surgical procedures that remove small samples of tumor tissue for analysis – aren’t always effective in distinguishing the harmful cancers from other, relatively harmless types.

David Berman works in his lab with Atsunari Kawashima and undergraduate student Nathan How.

“If we could find the biomarkers, or molecular clues, that would tell us which cancers are harmful, we could look for those features in blood or urine tests, and skip biopsies altogether,” he explains. “Blood or urine tests would be faster, less expensive, and less invasive, and ensure that those with the more harmful cancers get their diagnosis and treatment sooner.”

His research is focused on doing just that. A recent recruit to the Queen’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and KGH from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Dr. Berman is leading a team of scientists across Canada who are studying a large number of genes that will form the foundation of new tests for prostate cancer. The group will study prostate cancer samples from two patient groups in Kingston and Montreal, looking for specific molecular features, such as the modification, gain or loss of particular genes.

The goal of this work, funded by Movember and Prostate Cancer Canada, is to develop new and better tests that help clarify decision-making for men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer, and improve their quality of life.

“There are some features for these tests that look really promising,” he says. “We’re hoping to identify tests that will tell us at the time of biopsy whether the patient’s cancer is harmful.”

He’s happy with his progress so far, in part because of some distinct advantages in his research environment in Canada, he says. The first is Cancer Care Ontario’s patient registry, a computerized database that provides researchers with a wealth of scientific data about cancer diagnosis, treatment and outcomes for all Ontario cancer patients. “It’s an advantage of Canada’s single-payer health care system,” he says. “Johns Hopkins didn’t have anything like this.”

He also credits the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, literally next door, in the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute. “Having the clinical trials group on site means we can take research to the next level by doing a patient trial.”

Dr. Berman was one of 14 researchers across Canada jointly awarded a five-year, $5 million Movember Team Grant from Prostate Cancer Canada. The team, called PRONTO, is focusing on rapid development of novel diagnostic markers for early prostate cancer.

This story is the third in a series on the KGH Research Institute and the clinician-scientists recruited to work in the centre. 

SSHRC supports students and postdocs

Ninety-six Queen’s University graduate students and post-doctoral trainees have received more than $3.45 million in scholarships and fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

“These scholarships and fellowships provide crucial support to our master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral trainees as they develop their research skills and push the envelope on discovery. These promising new researchers are addressing important and relevant issues often leading to progressive solutions with considerable cultural, social and economic benefit,” says Brenda Brouwer, Vice-Provost and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “Queen’s success in this SSHRC competition underscores the tremendous talent and potential of our students and trainees as the researchers and leaders of tomorrow.”

The list of Queen’s recipients includes:  

  • 44 Joseph Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s Program winners
  • 21 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships Program—Doctoral Scholarship winners
  • 27 SSHRC Doctoral Fellowships Program winners
  • 4 SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellows

The Queen’s recipients are conducting research on a variety of topics including bullying, artifact conservation, child welfare, social anxiety, religious accommodation, virtual violence, eating alone and performing arts education.

Awarded by SSHRC, the fellowships and scholarships will support the development of tomorrow’s research leaders at postsecondary institutions across the country. Nearly 2,500 masters, doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships and scholarships will contribute to building the knowledge and talent essential for Canada in the 21st century’s culture of innovation.

“By investing in new and talented leaders through SSHRC scholarships and fellowships, Canada is well prepared to meet important future challenge areas,” says Brent Herbert-Copley, Vice-President, Research Programs, SSHRC. “SSHRC-funded research enhances understanding of social, cultural, technological and economic issues that are critical to developing the next generation of leaders and to building a better future for Canada and the world.”

Visit the SSHRC website for more information.

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

Cutting-edge cancer trial announced

Queen’s University announced today that the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (NCIC CTG) has developed and will lead an international clinical trial of a new class of cancer drug aimed at curing non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in patients who have had surgery and chemotherapy for disease confined to the lung. The academic-led trial will impact lung cancer patients following standard treatment.  Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in North America and is the leading cancer killer in both men and women.

NCIC CTG director Janet Dancey speaks about the international clinical trial of a new class of cancer drug aimed at curing non-small cell lung cancer in patients who have had surgery and chemotherapy for disease confined to the lung.

NSCLC accounts for 80-85 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

The new drug, MEDI4736 (AstraZeneca), is one of a new class of pharmaceuticals that helps the body’s immune system recognize and attack cancer. Drugs in this class have already been approved for use in patients with malignant melanoma.

“This trial will test a new drug from an emerging class of agents that doesn’t directly kill cancer cells but instead improves our own immune system’s ability  to fight and kill the cancer cells,”  says trial leader Glen Goss, an oncologist and clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital. “This is a new way of fighting cancer and therefore we are moving these drugs into the earliest stage of lung cancer treatment to meet a major unmet need.”

The trial is being conducted internationally, with collaboration from the Intergroupe Francophone de Cancerologie Thoracique (France), the National Cancer Institute, Naples (Italy),   the Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group &  National Health and Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Centre (Australia), the Spanish Lung Cancer Group, the Dutch Society for Pulmonology and Tuberculosis (NVALT), the Central and East European Oncology Group, the Korean Cancer Study Group and the National Cancer Centre Singapore.

“This is one of the most significant research funding announcements in the history of Queen’s,” says Principal Daniel Woolf. “It is very exciting, not only to know that this potentially life-saving research is happening right here in our midst, but also because it is allowing us to collaborate and build important relationships with researchers all over the world.”

“This trial is being completed internationally and includes academic physicians around the world,” says NCIC CTG director Janet Dancey. “This is the first trial in the world to test this new drug in the setting of early lung cancer treatment. We are always very grateful for ongoing support from the Canadian Cancer Society and Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute - without them, we would not be able to lead such critical cancer trials."

The trial will be open to 1,100 patients in Canada and around the world. Patients wishing to join the trial should speak to their oncologists about their treatment options. Approximately 25 institutions from across Canada will participate. Information about participation will also be available on clinicaltrials.gov and cancerview.ca

Practice makes perfect in cancer surgery

In a new, in-depth research project, Queen’s professors Rob Siemens (Urology) and Christopher Booth (Cancer Care and Epidemiology) investigated what affect higher volume hospitals and surgeons had on the outcomes of patients undergoing a radical cystectomy for bladder cancer in Ontario.

Queen's professor Robert Sieman has uncovered higher volume leads to better outcomes in bladder surgery.

Using data provided by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) the investigators studied 2,802 patients who underwent the procedure between 1994 and 2008 in Ontario and found that higher volume hospital and surgeons were associated with less post-operative complications and better overall survival.

 “These results are intriguing and will undoubtedly lead to some controversy in their interpretation,” says Dr. Siemens. “We wondered if the processes and interactions that lead to better outcomes for patients treated by higher volume providers can be studied and identified, perhaps leading to improved outcomes for all if adopted by lower volume hospitals and surgeons.”

The recent study explored a number of different aspects of bladder cancer care to better understand how quality surgical care is delivered for patients with advanced bladder cancer. The explanations for this volume-outcome relationship still remain mostly unidentified which could be a research project in the future.

“This research has only been able to illuminate a small fraction of the factors that explain the improved outcomes of higher volume providers,” says Dr. Siemens. “Some would interpret this as a call to more aggressively support a policy of centralizing care at higher volume hospitals for complex medical/surgical diseases.”

The research was recently published in Urology.

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