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Research Prominence

The power of computers

A Queen’s alumnus develops an innovative platform that harnesses idle computer power to aid groundbreaking research.

Dan Desjardins
Queen's alumnus Daniel Desjardins, an assistant professor (Physics and Space Science) at the Royal Military College of Canada, and his team at Kings Distributed Systems (KDS), have collaborated with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation and Queen’s faculty members to develop a distributed computing model.

The expectation surrounding what our computer devices can do for us has grown exponentially in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic is the most recent example of how we are testing the limits of our computer speeds, as we juggle Skype and Zoom calls from home, while managing emails, searching websites and writing documents. A fast and reliable computing platform is especially important to Queen’s researchers, who need to be able to analyze data in a timely, cost-efficient way. 

Daniel Desjardins, a Queen’s alumnus (Physics PhD) and assistant professor (Physics and Space Science) at the Royal Military College of Canada, and his team at Kings Distributed Systems (KDS), have collaborated with Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation and Queen’s faculty members to develop a distributed computing model to aide these efforts. KDS has built a secure platform to help researchers and decision-makers with a variety of projects, including the critical analysis and policy making surrounding COVID-19.

Evolving Distributed Computing

Although the concept of distributed computing has been around since the 1960s, Dr. Desjardins’s team adapted the technology to use cutting edge web technology in a modern setting.

“Whenever our special screensaver is running, we can harness the computer's idle computing power, even if no one is logged in” says Dr. Desjardins. “Our web-based platform is the most powerful, secure, portable, easy to use, and future-proof platform on the market. It is also faster and cheaper than commercial cloud.”

Kings Distributed Systems was created in 2017, and its development and growth has been fostered by the Queen’s Partnership and Innovation team and the Queen’s Centre for Advanced Computing.

“The university trialed our technology at the Centre for Advanced Computing and on a cluster of computers on campus,” says Dr. Desjardins.  “Our platform allowed a Queen's researcher in physics to deploy a large computational workload and spread it automatically across 40 on-campus computers that were otherwise sitting idle. Those computers, connected by our platform, were able to work together to complete the job in minutes instead of days.”

KDS works with a host of clients, in both non-profit and for-profit sectors. KDS has even developed an educational hybrid computing platform, called the Distributed Compute Labs, which spreads computations over the many idle computers found in schools, homes, and businesses instead of in commercial cloud data centers. It provides this technology at no cost to universities and high schools across Canada.

Dr. Desjardins’s companies maintain a close connection to Queen’s.  

“Over the last three years we've hired 13 students, co-sponsored seven student conferences and hackathons, participated in their business accelerator programs, and, together, have applied for and been awarded over $5.2M in government funding for joint projects” he says.

KDS has also received mentorship and connections for resources through Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) and receptors such as the Eastern Ontario Leadership Council and the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce.

Applications to Policy-Making

Recently, Kings Distributed Systems and research partners at Queen’s and elsewhere received funding through the Government of Canada’s Digital Supercluster initiative to lead a project called The Looking Glass: Protecting Canadians in a Return to Community. The team is building a database that uses predictive modelling to help decision-makers determine the impact that a proposed policy will have on public health and the economy. With partners and contributors from a range of institutions and industry across Canada, this diverse collaboration will develop Looking Glass into a powerful tool to forecast not only COVID-19 infection rates from actions such as re-opening schools, but also other critical public health issues like vaccination campaigns and managing tick-borne diseases.

Edge Computing

The collaborations between KDS and Queen’s continue to grow. Queen’s was recently awarded a large NSERC Alliance award with KDS as the industry partner and Hossam Hassanein (School of Computing) as the lead Principal Investigator. Dr. Hassanein, his team, and KDS are embarking on a four-year, $3-million project that will look into the concept of “edge computing,” technology where data is processed by the device itself or by a local computer or server, rather than being transmitted to a data centre, making it accessible to everyone. This emerging technology could be applied to many applications, like smart homes, transportation and city applications, thus magnifying Canada's impact in the IT and smart services sectors.

“The proposed research will democratize edge computing by exploiting unused heterogeneous computing resources and recycled resources of existing infrastructures to create distributed edge computing clusters,” says Dr. Hassanein. “With our industry partner KDS, we will make edge computing accessible to all rather than restricted to the control of cloud service providers and network operators. This will open an entirely new market for Canadian businesses and local governments, who will be able to act as edge providers themselves.”

During the project Dr. Hassanein’s team will train a diverse group of more than 20 talented, highly-qualified personnel who will go on to help further advance Canada's edge computing technologies and help maintain Canada's leadership in Information and computer technology.

Speaking of the future, Dr. Desjardins says he already has his sights set on new ventures.

“We want to share this technology with 10 more Canadian universities and high schools over the next six months," he says. "On the enterprise, we are scaling out to more verticals and on-boarding more large clients who want to reduce their expenditure on commercial cloud. In the long run, our vision is for our technology to become the web standard for distributed and edge computing.”

Researcher garners prestigious Fulbright Fellowship

Queen’s University researcher Heather Castleden awarded a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa to engage with Native Hawaiians about their leadership in renewable energy projects

Queen’s University associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Reconciling Relationships for Health, Environments, and Communities, Heather Castleden will be conducting a 4-month research program at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa after being named a Fulbright Fellow. 

Dr. Heather Castleden
Dr. Heather Castleden

The mandate of Fulbright Canada is to enhance mutual understanding between the people of Canada and the United States by providing support to outstanding individuals. The winners of this prestigious honour conduct research, lecture or enrol in formal academic programs in the other country. 

Dr. Castleden is bringing her A SHARED Future (Achieving Strength, Health, and Autonomy through Renewable Energy Development for the Future) program to the islands in an effort to expand the program’s international reach and scope. A Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded program that brings forward stories of healing and reconciliation in an innovative context, a SHARED Future builds intersectoral partnerships between communities through with renewable energy projects. 

The research program is comprised of nine thematically linked projects across Canada and has built a network of over 75 Indigenous and Settler scholars, government, non-governmental organizations, industry, and community-based team members from across the globe. Through this, the program aims to bring forward stories of healing, reconciliation, and autonomy through intersectoral energy projects. 

“Hawaii is a leader in renewable energy in the United States and around the world,” says Dr. Castleden (Geography and Planning). “The islands’ State has made a bid to transition off fossil fuels and to a 40 per cent reduction in energy usage by 2030; it supports a 100 per cent renewable energy economy by the year 2045.” 

“I am hoping to learn, through sharing stories with Native Hawaiian leaders, activists, and community members, to what extent their knowledge systems in the context of independent and/or intersectoral partnerships for renewable energy are leading towards more ‘healthful environments’ and how these stories might align with or be distinct from with we are learning here in Canada because there is a pressing need to healing our relations with each other, as well as the land, air, and water around us.” 

Dr. Castleden’s approach to research is community-based and participatory, which requires time and flexibility to develop meaningful relationships before research begins. The COVID-19 pandemic may produce some new and unexpected challenges for the team as they work to reach out and connect with the public but, she says she is confident they will still be able to explore the role that renewable energy might play in Native Hawaiian autonomy, self-determination, health and well-being. 

“We will also be sharing the research findings from A SHARED Future with Native Hawaiian leaders, renewable energy champions, and community members, as well as with faculty and students at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa,” Dr. Castleden adds. 

She says she hopes the time spent in Hawaii through the Fulbright Fellowship will result in important cross-continental communication and solidarity-building transforming into a large-scale international program of research involving many of A SHARED Future’s  international advisors: Elders, Indigenous health scholars, energy transition scholars, and Knowledge-Keepers from the US, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Sweden as well as Canada.  

Health researchers receive funding from CIHR

Faculty of Health Sciences researchers receive funding from CIHR
Researchers receiving funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) include, clockwise from top left: Nader Ghasemlou; Annette Hay; Mohammed Auais; Charles Graham; Andrew Craig; and Lynne-Marie Postovit.

Seven members of the Faculty of Health Sciences have been awarded with a total of $5.76 million in funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), Canada’s federal agency for funding health research. The CIHR Project Grants are designed to support researchers at any career stage build and conduct health-related research and knowledge translation projects. All seven grants have been awarded to successful applicants of the CIHR Spring 2020 Project Grant competition, the results of which can be viewed at the CIHR’s website

The successful researchers are: Mohammed Auais, Andrew Craig, Nader Ghasemlou, Charles Graham, Annette Hay, Martin Paré, and Lynne-Marie Postovit.  

Dr. Auais is a registered physical therapist and assistant professor with the School of Rehabilitation Therapy. His research is focused on improving health outcomes for community-dwelling older adults who have suffered from hip fractures. As the number of hip fractures continues to grow, post-hip fracture care shifts from hospitals to community health services. Dr. Auais has been funded to test a novel rehabilitation program called Stronger at Home in a six-year clinical trial. The new program consists of a user-friendly patient toolkit and a new model of care that includes personalized, at-home physiotherapy, and evaluation of its impact and cost-effectiveness up to 12 months after discharge from the hospital.  

Dr. Craig is associate head research in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences and a principal investigator at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute. His funded research program aims to improve responses of ovarian cancer to both chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Ovarian cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canadian women, and advances in ovarian cancer therapies are needed. Dr. Craig’s research will use advanced genetic and pharmacological tools to identify new combinations of therapies that improve therapy responses in ovarian cancer patients and identify fundamental mechanisms of tumour biology.  

Dr. Ghasemlou is an assistant professor in the departments of Anesthesiology and Biomedical & Molecular Sciences, and director of Queen’s Translational Research in Pain. His research is focused on better understanding neuro-immune interactions in post-operative pain. His recent work has found that immune cells in the skin produce specific signaling mediators that activate sensory neurons to cause pain. Additionally, he has determined that by blocking the receptors of these proteins, pain can be substantially reduced. Dr. Ghasemlou’s proposal will examine how these cells communicate with pain-sensing neurons, and to how this can be used to prevent and treat pain.  

Dr. Graham is a professor with the Department of Biomedical & Molecular Sciences. His research is focused on the role of innate immune memory in the response to immunotherapy of bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, and the immunotherapy used to treat bladder cancer involves the administration of bacteria, which cause the patients’ immune system to fight the cancer cells. Unfortunately, up to half of patients do not respond fully and the cancer returns. Dr. Graham and his team of co-investigators are conducting research that aims to better understand how this immunotherapy works and why some patients don’t respond well. This work would lead to the development of new bladder cancer treatment methods. 

Dr. Hay is a hematologist and associate professor with the Department of Medicine, and a senior investigator with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. Dr. Hay is studying the treatment of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), an incurable blood malignancy, and aims to compare the effectiveness of two Ibrutinib dose strategies. Ibrutinib, while used to treat CLL, often results in negative consequences such as major bleeding and heart rhythm abnormalities. Recent work on dose reduction strategies confirmed that at lower doses these consequences are diminished, while the activity of ibrutinib can be fully maintained. This project will evaluate a lower dose (3-2-1 Strategy) against full dose of Ibrutinib, with the goal of reducing patients’ side effects and treatment costs.  

Dr. Paré is a professor with the Department of Biomedical & Molecular Sciences. His research aims to gain a comprehensive understanding of the effects of drugs used in mental disorders to modify cognitive function. Dr. Paré’s project will evaluate task performance and memory to investigate how drugs used in the treatment of ADHD can impact their function. Findings from this study will help to better understand the neural mechanisms that are dysfunctional in mental disorders and become impaired in aging.  

Dr. Postovit is a professor and head of the Department of Biomedical & Molecular Sciences. Her research interests involve improving treatment options for cancers whose observable characteristics commonly revert to more generalized conditions or structures. These cancers no longer look like the tissue from which they arise, but rather look more like tissue in an embryo, and as a result have a very poor prognosis. Dr. Postovit’s CIHR-funded study will determine the extent to which this phenomenon is promoted by the loss of components of the SWI/SNF protein complex. In addition, it will determine how to target and kill cancers which undergo this process.

The obesity paradox: Obese patients fare better than others after heart surgery

The Conversation: For patients recovering from heart surgery, being overweight or moderately obese appears to be an advantage over being underweight or even having a normal BMI.
Patients who were overweight and obese had lower mortality rates following cardiac surgery than those with BMIs in the normal or underweight range. (Shutterstock)


The World Health Organization has declared obesity to be a global epidemic that “threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries.” However, is obesity always bad when it comes to health?

Certainly, obesity is a significant risk factor for the development of many chronic conditions, including heart disease. However, research has shown that in a number of situations, being overweight may actually be of benefit. This phenomenon has been called the “obesity paradox.”

Our group from the departments of public health sciences and anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at Queen’s University investigated the relationship between body mass index (BMI, a commonly used ratio of weight to height) and outcomes after heart surgery. We analyzed a large database of health records of almost 80,000 patients having open coronary bypass surgery in Ontario over a 13-year period using data from ICES, a not-for-profit research institute in Ontario. We tracked five-year survival rates as well as complications occurring during the year after surgery.

We found that patients in the overweight and moderately obese categories made up two-thirds of all cardiac surgery patients. However, these patients actually had lower death rates and complications than patients in the normal weight, underweight and morbidly obese categories.

The highest risk of complications was seen at the extremes of BMI, meaning patients in the underweight and the morbidly obese categories. Such a relationship has also been found in other patient groups with different medical conditions or procedures.


Bar graph showing mortality rates for BMI ranging from underweight through morbidly obese. The underweight category has significantly higher mortality that the others, while the overweight and obese categories have the lowest.
Mortality rates following cardiac surgery by BMI. (Ana Johnson), Author provided

Economies of scale

In addition to the difference in complication rates, there are economic implications for these findings. We analyzed the financial costs of coronary bypass surgery and the medical care during the year following surgery in a group of over 53,000 patients over a 10-year period.

Not surprisingly, due to the disproportionate number of patients in these categories having heart surgery, overweight and obese patients accounted for the overall majority of health-care costs, a total of $1.4 billion (in 2014 Canadian dollars), compared to $788 million for the other BMI categories combined. However, the average cost of care per patient in the overweight and obese categories was substantially lower than in the normal weight, underweight and morbidly obese categories.

Weighing in on weight gain

This does not necessarily mean that weight gain should be recommended to reduce these risks. The scientific literature is consistent that obesity and lack of fitness are associated with cardiovascular disease, as well as many other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

However, once the need for surgery is determined, having excess body fat may provide increased energy reserves during a period of stress and healing that are not available to lower-weight patients. This advantage is lost in the case of extreme obesity, where the common presence of other related diseases and reduced mobility after surgery likely contribute to the increased complication rate.

The perils of frailty

On the other hand, we found that being underweight is associated with increased mortality in hospital patients and increased health costs. In fact, low BMI is more detrimental to the recovery from heart surgery than even extreme obesity. This may reflect the negative effects of frailty, which has been shown to adversely affect recovery from surgery.

A woman's feet standing on a scale that reads about 51 kilograms.
The higher mortality rates of heart surgery patients in the lowest BMI category may reflect the negative effects of frailty, which has been shown to adversely affect recovery from surgery. (Pixabay)


In addition to reduced body fat, patients in the underweight category typically have reduced muscle mass, which limits function and mobility even before surgery. That leaves them with little in reserve to resist the stress of major surgery and the prolonged recovery period afterwards.

Even when taking advanced age and other diseases into account, low BMI was independently associated with death and other complications after heart surgery. This suggests that patients who are frail might do better after surgery if — time permitting — they were offered an exercise and nutrition program before surgery.

What is normal anyway?

It’s also important to look at the BMI category that was considered to be the standard for comparison: patients in the so-called “normal” weight category. This is generally considered the optimal BMI and the target for most fitness strategies. However, in our study and others, patients in the normal weight category had worse outcomes than patients in the overweight and moderately obese categories.

Importantly, these results do not mean that fattening up the population in the normal weight band should become a public health goal.

First, as mentioned, patients who are overweight have a far higher risk of developing heart disease in the first place, and an ounce (or gram) of prevention is a much more effective health strategy than a pound (or kilogram) of cure. Improving the fitness of the population is one of the most important public health strategies for reducing heart disease and the need for heart surgery in the first place.

Second, it may well be that what is an optimal BMI in other situations should not be considered optimal for recovery from surgery, and so it would make sense to define a “normal” BMI according to the specific situation. In this sense, the obesity paradox might not be a paradox at all.

This article was also co-authored by Dr. Brian Milne, professor emeritus, anesthesiology and perioperative medicine, Queen’s University.The Conversation


Ana Johnson, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, Queen's University and Joel Parlow, Professor, Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Health Canada green lights ventilator project

The Mechanical Ventilator Milano project, with a Canadian team led by Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald, reaches critical milestone with Health Canada approval

The Canadian members of the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) consortium, including Queen’s University researcher and Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald, have announced Health Canada has given Vexos Inc. authorization for the MVM ventilator to be manufactured in Canada. 

This paves the way for Vexos to manufacture and supply 10,000 ventilators as part of a national effort to treat patients most severely affected by the COVID-19 virus. 

“We are very pleased to receive authorization from Health Canada that will enable manufacturing to begin by Vexos for our order from the federal government for 10,000 ventilators,” says Dr. McDonald. “It has been wonderful to be part of this important humanitarian process where such a dedicated international group, including people from Queen's and the McDonald Institute who have contributed substantially to our team’s efforts and generous donors who have supported us at a critical time in the project.” 

The team of Canadian physicists and engineers played a significant role in the international initiative led by Professor Cristiano Galbiati to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients. Their efforts, led in Canada by Dr. McDonald, harnessed the broad talents of the team, many of whom would normally be spending their time working on experiments to solve the mysteries of dark matter. 

The project gained public attention in early April after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted the project as one of the key examples of how Canadian researchers were working together to provide effective and creative solutions to supply shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The team received continuing participation from the lab directors and teams at: 

  • The McDonald Institute - The Canadian hub for astroparticle physics research, uniting researchers, theorists, and technical experts across the country with a central organization based at Queen’s University. 
  • Canadian Nuclear Laboratories - A world leader in developing peaceful and innovative applications from nuclear technology through its expertise in physics, metallurgy, chemistry, biology, safety and engineering. 
  • SNOLAB - A leading underground science facility focused on discovery research in sub-atomic physics, largely neutrino and dark matter physics, but also other interdisciplinary fields using high sensitivity radioisotope assay.   
  • TRIUMF - Canada's national particle accelerator centre. It is one of Canada's premier multidisciplinary big-science laboratories, and is a leading subatomic physics research center internationally.   

“Canada appears to be in the early stages of the predicted second wave of COVID-19 and there is concern this second wave could be more severe,” says Dr. McDonald. “The pandemic has highlighted the need for a stockpile that could become important during a future outbreak, to be deployed where most needed.” 

Learn more about the project on the Research at Queen’s website. 

Free Virtual Event: Financing Canada’s climate-smart economy

The Institute for Sustainable Finance launched the Capital Mobilization Plan for a Canadian Low Carbon Economy on Tuesday, Sept. 29, featuring landmark research to provide a concrete, data-driven capital blueprint for Canada’s low carbon transition. The plan highlights that cooperation between the public sector, private sector, and financial system is critical to securing investments needed to meet Canada’s 2030 climate targets.

“What gets financed, gets built,” says Ryan Riordan, co-author of the report and associate professor at the Smith School of Business. “This is the heart of the financial sector’s role in helping Canada achieve a more competitive, climate-smart economy.”

Responding to a foundational recommendation from Canada’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, the report represents the first critical effort to close the knowledge gap around the scale of Canada’s low carbon investment opportunity.

“Public and private investors need a solid grasp of that investment horizon. That’s the starting place: a sound and rigorous analysis that shows how and where capital needs to flow,” says Dr. Riordan, who will be participating in a special online discussion on the topic on Wednesday, Sept. 30 from 12-1 p.m.

Hosted by Canadian Club Toronto, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Finance, the event will be moderated by Shawn McCarthy, former global energy reporter for The Globe & Mail.Along with Dr. Riordan the expert panel features: Martha Hall Findlay, Chief Sustainability Officer, Suncor Energy Inc.; Craig Stewart, Vice President, Federal Affairs, Insurance Bureau of Canada; Carlyle Coutinho, President, Enwave North America. The Institute for Sustainable Finance will present key findings from its report as well.

Sponsored by Queen's University, the event is free to all attendees. Visit the Canadian Club of Toronto website to register.

Digital technologies will help build resilient communities after the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in increased adoption of communication and network technologies. (Shutterstock)

Amid the horrific public health and economic fallout from a fast-moving pandemic, a more positive phenomenon is playing out: COVID-19 has provided opportunities to businesses, universities and communities to become hothouses of innovation.

Around the world, digital technologies are driving high-impact interventions. Community and public health leaders are handling time-sensitive tasks and meeting pressing needs with technologies that are affordable and inclusive, and don’t require much technical knowledge.

Our research reveals the outsized impact of inexpensive, readily available digital technologies. In the midst of a maelstrom, these technologies — among them social media, mobile apps, analytics and cloud computing — help communities cope with the pandemic and learn crucial lessons.

To gauge how this potential is playing out, our research team looked at how communities incorporate readily available digital technologies in their responses to disasters.

Community potential

As a starting point, we used a model of crisis management developed in 1988 by organizational theorist Ian Mitroff. The model has five phases:

  • signal detection to identify warning signs
  • probing and prevention to actively search and reduce risk factors
  • damage containment to limit its spread
  • recovery to normal operations
  • learning to glean actionable insights to apply to the next incident

Although this model was developed for organizations dealing with crises, it is applicable to communities under duress and has been used to analyze organizational responses to the current pandemic.

Our research showed that readily available digital technologies can be deployed effectively during each phase of a crisis.

Phase 1: Signal detection

Being able to identify potential threats from rivers of data is no easy task. Readily available digital technologies such as social media and mobile apps are useful for signal detection. They offer connectivity any time and anywhere, and allow for rapid sharing and transmission of information.

New Zealand, for example, has been exploring an early warning system for landslides based on both internet-of-things sensors and digital transmission through social media channels such as Twitter.

Phase 2: Prevention and preparation

Readily available digital technologies such as cloud computing and analytics enable remote and decentralized activities to support training and simulations that heighten community preparedness. The federal government, for example, has developed the COVID Alert app for mobile devices that will tell users whether they have been near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous two weeks.

Phase 3: Containment

Although crises cannot always be averted, they can be contained. Big data analytics can isolate hot spots and “superspreaders,” limiting exposure of larger populations to the virus. Taiwan implemented active surveillance and screening systems to quickly react to COVID-19 cases and implement measures to control its spread.

A Taiwanese postal worker holding a thermometer.
A woman checks temperatures at the entrance to a post office in Taipei, Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Phase 4: Recovery

Social capital, personal and community networks and shared post-crisis communication are essential factors for the recovery process. Readily available digital technologies can help a community get back on its feet by enabling people to share experiences and resource information.

For example, residents of Fort McMurray, Alta., have experienced the pandemic, flooding and the threat of wildfires. As part of the response, the provincial government offers northern Alberta residents virtual addiction treatment support via Zoom videoconferencing.

During recovery, it is also important to foster equity to avoid a privileged set of community members receiving preferential services. To address this need, anti-hoarding apps for personal protective equipment and apps that promote volunteerism can prove useful.

Phase 5: Learning

It is usually difficult for communities to gather knowledge on recovery and renewal from multiple sources. Readily available digital technologies can be used to provide local and remote computing power, enable information retrieval and analysis and disseminate emergent knowledge. The global learning platform launched by UNICEF and Microsoft helps youth affected by COVID-19.

A sixth phase

Our research suggests a sixth phase of crisis management: community resilience, which is the sustained ability of communities to withstand, adapt to and recover from adversity. Communities must develop the capacity to absorb the impact of pandemics and other disasters.

When face-to-face interactions are limited — like in a pandemic — readily available digital technologies can enable community participation through social media groups, virtual meeting software and cloud- and mobile-driven engagement and decision-making platforms.

Technologies that provide transparent information services such as analytics-based dashboards and real-time updates can create a sense of equity and caring. Apps and portals can connect vulnerable populations to critical care, resources and infrastructure services.

For example, the government of Karnataka, India, partnered with local vendors and hyper-local food delivery services for home delivery of groceries and other essential materials for households quarantined because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Readily available digital technologies help remote communities develop a sense of belonging, sharing and self-efficacy while incrementally building shared knowledge over multiple crises.

Moving forward

The 2003 SARS epidemic taught us valuable lessons about the use of technology during a pandemic. At the time, readily available digital technologies were largely overlooked, because bigger and more expensive solutions were the focus.

In responding to the present circumstances, it is time we explore the benefit of common technologies. The federal government’s recent announcement of funding to support the use of digital solutions in community responses to COVID-19 is a promising step.

Investing in resilient infrastructure is also important, since communities depend on public digital infrastructure for access to the internet and other telecommunication networks. This infrastructure must be affordable, sustainable and inclusive.

But we should not lose sight of the need to support communities in developing their own resiliency — to help them envision their own solutions using readily available digital technologies.The Conversation


Yolande E. Chan, Associate Dean (Research & PhD/MSc Programs) and E. Marie Shantz Professor of Information Technology Management, Smith School of Business at Queen's University; Arman Sadreddin, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University, and Suchit Ahuja, Assistant Professor, Business Technology Management, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advisory Selection Committee for the Vice Principal (Research)

Principal Patrick Deane has convened and will chair a committee to advise him on the appointment of a permanent replacement to fill the position of Vice Principal (Research). The committee includes representation from faculties across the university in recognition of the importance of the role of research in all academic disciplines.

The committee members are:

  • Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice Chancellor (Chair)
  • Mark Green, Provost and Vice Principal (Academic)
  • Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice Principal, Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion
  • Sandra den Otter, Vice Provost (International)
  • Fahim Quadir, Vice Provost and Dean, School of Graduate Studies
  • Barbara Crow, Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science
  • Amber Simpson, Associate Professor, Computing and Biomedical & Molecular Sciences
  • Jane Philpott, Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Steven Smith, Vice Dean Research, Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Heather Aldersey, Associate Professor, Rehabilitation Therapy
  • Amy Wu, Assistant Professor, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Joshua Marshall, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Josh Karton, Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Research, Faculty of Law
  • Lindsay Morcom, Associate Professor, Education
  • Julian Barling, Professor, Smith School of Business
  • Charles Sumbler, Executive Director, Research Operations and Strategy, Office of the Vice Principal (Research)
  • Heather Cole, Senior Advisor and Executive Director, Office of the Principal (Recording Secretary)

Canadian health research leaders earn fellowship honours

Queen’s researchers Janet Dancey, Marcia Finlayson, and Graeme Smith have been inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) Fellowship
Queen’s researchers Janet Dancey, Marcia Finlayson, and Graeme Smith have been inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) Fellowship, one of the highest honours for health sciences researchers in Canada.

Queen’s University researchers Janet Dancey, Marcia Finlayson, and Graeme Smith have been inducted into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) Fellowship, one of Canada’s premier academic honours.

Three of Canada’s top-ranked health and biomedical scientists, the new fellows are working to make a positive impact on the urgent health concerns of Canadians. They join the ranks of other Queen’s CAHS Fellows, including Michael Green, Robert Ross, Anne Croy, Susan Cole, Roger Deeley, Stephen Archer, Jacalyn Duffin, John Rudan, Chris Simpson, Elizabeth Eisenhauer, and others.

“Election to the CAHS is one of the highest honours for health sciences researchers in Canada,” says Dr. Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Research). “The contributions of Drs. Dancey, Finlayson, and Smith have  widespread impact both in Canada and internationally, and as a community of scholars, the Academy will benefit greatly from their experience and expertise.”

Dr. Dancey (Oncology) is an international leader in cancer clinical trials of experimental therapeutics, particularly trials of targeted therapies with biomarkers, as well as novel trials for rare cancer patients. As director of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), Canada’s largest cancer trial network located at Queen’s, she has worked to advance its research strategy and expand its portfolio of trials evaluating targeted agents, immunotherapy and the application of genomics. As a professor in the Department of Oncology at Queen’s University, she has special expertise encompassing new anti-cancer drug development, linking drug and biomarker development, and associated clinical trials methodology.

Dr. Finlayson (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) is an occupational therapist and internationally recognized multiple sclerosis rehabilitation researcher. The overarching goal of her work is to improve care and quality of life outcomes for people with multiple sclerosis, particularly as they age. Through the use of mixed methods, interdisciplinary collaboration, and engagement with national and international MS organizations, Finlayson has drawn attention to the day-to-day impact of living with MS and identified effective strategies that enable people affected by this disease to exert choice and control over their everyday lives. Dr. Finlayson is Vice-Dean of Health Sciences and Director of the School of Rehabilitation Therapy at Queen’s University.

Dr. Smith (Obstetrics and Gynaecology) is an internationally recognized clinician scientist and head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Queen’s University. Dr. Smith established the Academic Council at the Society for Obstetricians & Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) to oversee educational activities ranging from medical students to residents to practicing clinicians. He has demonstrated a career long commitment to trainee research education ranging from his own basic science graduate trainees, establishing the Royal College Clinician Investigator Program at Queen’s University, running the Introduction to Research course for all first year residents and establishing mentorship recognition programs in the SOGC and his department.

The CAHS is one of Canada’s national academies, along with the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Engineering. These academies inform government and the public on issues critical to health care and health improvement.

For more information on the CAHS, visit the website.

Making sense of COVID-19 tests and terminology

Drawing of a medical professional administering a COVID-19 test

During the COVID-19 pandemic, words and phrases that have typically been limited to epidemiologists and public health professionals have entered the public sphere. Although we’ve rapidly accepted epidemiology-based news, the public hasn’t been given the chance to fully absorb what all these terms really mean.

As with all disease tests, a false positive result on a COVID-19 test can cause undue stress on individuals as they try to navigate their diagnosis, take days off work and isolate from family. One high-profile example was Ohio Governor Mike DeWine whose false positive result led him to cancel a meeting with President Donald Trump.

False negative test results are even more dangerous, as people may think it is safe and appropriate for them to engage in social activities. Of course, factors such as the type of test, whether the individual had symptoms before being tested and the timing of the test can also impact how well the test predicts whether someone is infected.

Sensitivity and specificity are two extremely important scientific concepts for understanding the results of COVID-19 tests.

In the epidemiological context, sensitivity is the proportion of true positives that are correctly identified. If 100 people have a disease, and the test identifies 90 of these people as having the disease, the sensitivity of the test is 90 per cent.

A lab technician handles a specimen that has tested positive for COVID-19
A lab technician handles a specimen that has tested positive for COVID-19. (Unsplash/Prasesh Shiwakoti)

Specificity is the ability of a test to correctly identify those without the disease. If 100 people don’t have the disease, and the test correctly identifies 90 people as disease-free, the test has a specificity of 90 per cent.

This simple table helps outline how sensitivity and specificity are calculated when the prevalence — the percentage of the population that actually has the disease — is 25 per cent (totals in bold):

Table showing number of positive and negative tests in rows, and number or disease cases (total 25,000) and disease-free cases (total 75,000) in columns, along with the sensitivity of 80 per cent and the specificity of 90 per cent.
Sensitivity and specificity at 25 per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


A test sensitivity of 80 per cent can seem great for a newly released test (like for the made-up case numbers I reported above).

Predictive value

But these numbers don’t convey the whole message. The usefulness of a test in a population is not determined by its sensitivity and specificity. When we use sensitivity and specificity, we are figuring out how well a test works when we already know which people do, and don’t, have the disease.

But the true value of a test in a real-world setting comes from its ability to correctly predict who is infected and who is not. This makes sense because in a real-world setting, we don’t know who truly has the disease — we rely on the test itself to tell us. We use the positive predictive value and negative predictive value of a test to summarize that test’s predictive ability.

A health-care worker prepares a swab at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic. (Unsplash/Mufid Majnun)

To drive the point home, think about this: in a population in which no one has the disease, even a test that is terrible at detecting anyone with the disease will appear to work great. It will “correctly” identify most people as not having the disease. This has more to do with how many people have the disease in a population (prevalence) rather than how well the test works.

Using the same numbers as above, we can estimate the positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV), but this time we focus on the row totals (in bold).

The PPV is calculated as the number of true positives divided by the total number of people identified as positive by the test.

Table showing number of positive and negative tests in rows, and columns with numbers of disease cases, disease-free cases, totals and PPV of 73 per cent and NPV of 93 per cent.
Positive and negative predictive value at 25 per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


The PPV is interpreted as the probability that someone that has tested positive actually has the disease. The NPV is the probability that someone that tested negative does not have the disease. Although sensitivity and specificity do not change as the proportion of diseased individuals changes in a population, the PPV and NPV are heavily dependent on the prevalence.

Let’s see what happens when we redraw our disease table when the population prevalence sits at one per cent instead of 25 per cent (much closer to the true prevalence of COVID-19 in Canada).

Table showing numbers of positive and negative test results in rows, and disease cases, disease-free cases and totals in columns, along with values for sensitivity (80 per cent), specificity (90 per cent), PPV (seven per cent) and NPV (99.8 per cent)
Sensitivity, specificity, PPV and NPV at one per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


So, when the disease has low prevalence, the PPV of the test can be very low. This means that the probability that someone that tested positive actually has COVID-19 is low. Of course, depending on the sensitivity, specificity and the prevalence in the population, the reverse can be true as well: someone that tested negative might not truly be disease-free.

False positive and false negative tests in real life

What does this mean as mass testing begins for COVID-19? At the very least it means the public should have clear information about the implications of false positives. All individuals should be aware of the possibility of a false positive or false negative test, especially as we move to a heavier reliance on testing this fall to inform our actions and decisions. As we can see using some simple tables and math above, the PPV and NPV can be limiting even in the face of a “good” test with high sensitivity and specificity.

Without adequate understanding of the science behind testing and why false positives and false negatives happen, we might drive the public to further mistrust — and even question the usefulness — of public health and testing. Knowledge is power in this pandemic.The Conversation


Priyanka Gogna, PhD Candidate, Epidemiology, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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