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Research Prominence

Researcher honoured with international fellowship

[Randy Ellis]
Dr. Randy Ellis holds the Queen's Research Chair in Computer-Assisted Surgery and recently received a lifetime achievement award for his work.

For his significant contributions to the development of computer-assisted surgical technology, Randy Ellis from the Queen’s School of Computing has been named the 2015 Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The IEEE Grade of Fellow is the highest grade of membership in the institute and is recognized as a prestigious honour and important career achievement. Dr. Ellis joins four other current researchers from Queen’s in receiving this honour. The IEEE currently has 400,000 members across 160 countries and is a leading authority on fields ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics.

“I’m honoured to have been elected as a fellow of the IEEE and to join world-class researchers in my field ,” says Dr. Ellis, who is also appointed as a professor in the departments of Biomedical And Molecular Sciences, Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Surgery. “I’m looking forward to continuing my research and I hope to be able to expand and pioneer new techniques in the field of computer-assisted surgery.”

As a result of Dr. Ellis’ research, a ground-breaking surgery took place at Kingston General Hospital (KGH) in 1997 when the world’s first total knee replacement with computer-assisted guidance was performed.

More recently, Dr Ellis, who also holds the Queen’s Research Chair in Computer-Assisted Surgery, received the Maurice E. Müller Award – a lifetime achievement award from the International Society for Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery.

“On behalf of the School of Computing, I’d like to extend my congratulations to Dr. Ellis on this distinct honour,” says Selim Akl, Director, Queen’s School of Computing. “Computing and the field of computer-assisted surgery are lucky to have a researcher who is ready to push the boundaries and pioneer so many significant advances.”

Dr. Ellis joined Queen’s shortly after obtaining his PhD in robotics in 1987 and took the lead in developing a computer-assisted surgical suite at KGH, which is now recognized as one of the world’s leading facilities for imaged-guided orthopedic research.

For more information on the IEEE or the IEEE Fellow Program, please visit www.ieee.org.

Principal’s Advisory Committee – Vice-Principal (Research)

Steven Liss’ term as Vice-Principal (Research) will end on Aug. 31, 2015. Dr. Liss has indicated that he would consider a further term as vice-principal should it be the wish of the university community. Principal Daniel Woolf is pleased to announce the membership of the committee that he has asked to advise him on the reappointment of Dr. Liss as vice-principal (research).

Members are:

  • Irène Bujara, University Advisor on Equity
  • Diane Davies, University Research Services
  • Roger Deeley, Queen’s Cancer Research Institute
  • Stephen Elliott, Dean, Faculty of Education
  • Michael Greenspan, Head, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Dinah Jansen, Vice-President (Graduate), SGPS
  • Warren Mabee, Geography/School of Policy Studies
  • Patrick Martin, School of Computing
  • David Pattenden, Board of Trustees
  • Allison Williams, President, AMS
  • Rosie LaLande, Executive Assistant to the Principal (recording secretary)
  • Daniel Woolf, Principal (chair)

Members of the university community are invited to submit their views on this reappointment and on the present state and future prospects of the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research) to the principal via Rosie LaLande. Respondents are asked to state whether or not they wish to have their letters shown, in confidence, to members of the advisory committee. Letters should be submitted by Dec. 12, 2014.

Using social media to improve foot care

Kevin Woo Footcare
Dr. Kevin Woo’s team, which includes Idevania Costa, left, a PhD candidate, and Lucy Mgonja, an MSc candidate, right, are using social media with the hope of improving foot care among diabetics. (Supplied photo)

It was seeing the Canadian Association of Wound Care’s support groups for patients with diabetes that inspired the idea for Kevin Woo’s Online Foot Care research project.

“The program was for patients based in Ontario. The geography of diabetes is such that many patients live in isolated parts of Canada, and I saw a potential to build a support program that would be accessible to all through a social media platform,” says Dr. Woo, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing.

With diabetes on the rise, Dr. Woo is interested in one of the disease’s major complications: foot issues. Nerve damage resulting from diabetes leaves patients with no sensation in their feet, making them increasingly susceptible to injury, ulcers and even amputation.

“Education about foot care is extremely important for these patients; it can prevent further complication,” explains Dr. Woo.

What he has found so far, however, is that traditional education efforts have been ineffective, resulting in minimal changes to patient behaviour. The solution that he envisions is to capitalize on social media.

A recipient of the Early Research Award from the Ministry of Research and Innovation, Dr. Woo and his research team will develop an online platform, which will function as a virtual support group. The program will engage patients who have had success with self-management to be peer counsellors who can offer education and support to other patients in a safe, supervised online setting.

With an aim to build a sense of empowerment and decrease depression, Dr. Woo’s research team will monitor the use of the online community, and measure the impact of the program through changes to patient behaviour.

“The delivery of health care through an online platform is a completely new concept,” says Dr. Woo. “Our goal is to have patients develop their own short-term and long-term goals, to learn tangible skills for self-management, and to be motivated to follow through.”

Principal Woolf signs international research statement

  • [group]
    Several groups representing universities from around the world gathered in the Netherlands to sign an agreement promoting social sciences and humanities research.
  • [signing]
    The document, which recognizes the fundamental role social sciences and humanities research play in the global community, is officially signed.
  • [group photo]
    Representatives of the various networks of research-intensive universities gather for a photo following the official signing.

[Queen's in the World]
Queen's in the World

Daniel Woolf, Queen's Principal and Vice-Chancellor, recently signed a statement on behalf of the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities that promotes research in social sciences and humanities.

“Promoting research in the social sciences and humanities is a crucial step in developing solutions to problems facing not only Canada, but the world at large,” says Principal Woolf, who also serves as the vice-chair of U15, a group of 15 Canadian universities that aims to bolster research in Canada. “The social sciences and humanities contribute to better cross-cultural understanding, whether this be through history, law, economics, literature, sociology or any other related discipline.

The U15 along with the League of European Research Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of East Asian Research Universities, the Group of Eight (Australia), the RU11 Japan, the Russell Group (UK) have all committed themselves to championing the fundamental role that social sciences and humanities research plays in the global community.

International connections flow from research

[Queen's in the World]
Queen's in the World

Throughout his three-decade academic career, Andrew Pollard (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) has worked to establish networks that support international collaborations. Those efforts and his research contributions in the field of fluid dynamics have earned him a fellowship in the American Physical Society.

“The fluid dynamics research community in Canada is small. I have long held the view that reaching out to others around the world is the best way to keep the community and my research vibrant,” says Dr. Pollard, Queen’s Research Chair in Fluid Dynamics and Multi-scale Phenomena.

[Andrew Pollard]
Andrew Pollard (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) has received a fellowship from the American Physical Society. 

To foster those international collaborations, Dr. Pollard has hosted international conferences at Queen’s and elsewhere and visited laboratories around the world during his sabbaticals. He has also reached out to colleagues at other universities, which resulted in annual meetings of fluid dynamics researchers.

Making international connections offers additional benefits beyond advancing his research, according to Dr. Pollard.

“Our students get to see their work is just as good if not better than their peers around the world,” he explains. “And I have found that our graduate students go on to work at other universities often based on the contacts they have made while conducting research here at Queen’s.”

Dr. Pollard’s international work dates back to his graduate school days when he embarked on a PhD in England. During his doctoral work, he used both computers and experiments to understand turbulence and fluid mechanics problems. This synergistic approach has been a hallmark of Dr. Pollard’s research career ever since, which the American Physical Society fellowship celebrates.

“I take two approaches to the subject matter. As an engineer, I am focused on the application side, and I have been recognized as a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for that work,” he says. “It’s really icing on the cake to receive the fellowship from the American Physical Society honoring my theoretical research into the intricacies of the flow physics of fluid dynamics and especially turbulence.”

Dr. Pollard accepted the fellowship at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics on Nov. 23 in San Francisco. 

Reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease

Queen’s University researcher Christopher Bowie (Psychology) is one of the lead investigators of a new $10 million project funded by the Chagnon Family and Ontario Brain Institute to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. Co-led by his colleagues Drs. Benoit Mulsant and Tarek Rajji at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, where Dr. Bowie has a research appointment, the study is the largest ever funded focusing on Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team will study whether combining brain stimulation treatments delays or prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Bowie is combining his cognitive remediation treatment with a process to stimulate the firing of neurons in the prefrontal cortex called transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS).

Queen's researcher Christopher Bowie is working on a method to prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

“This type of remediation enhances the area of the brain responsible for planning, organization and multi-tasking,” says Dr. Bowie. “Right now there is no effective treatments to slow down or prevent Alzheimer’s disease, which is often associated with early deterioration of function in the temporal lobes. Our novel approach is to enhance the connectivity in frontal lobes to improve their functioning. We think this will compensate for deterioration in other brain regions and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Two groups of people known to be at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease will be included in the study: 250 older adults with clinical depression who have been successfully treated with antidepressants, and 125 people with mild cognitive impairment.

The treatments currently available for Alzheimer’s dementia are usually initiated when the patient is diagnosed, at which point the brain is already damaged. By using tDCS to enhance the effects of cognitive remediation, the goal is to improve cognition and then prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia by stimulating neurons in the regions of the brain critical for critical executive functioning skills such as problem solving.

“The project, which has initial funding for five years, will be a success if we can demonstrate a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease or stop cognitive decline in people who do develop Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Bowie. “With a diverse team of experts studying genetic, blood-based, and other biomarkers, the study will also provide a wealth of data about risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”

For more information on the study, read the announcement on the CAMH website.

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.

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