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Queen's researcher questions hospital cleanliness

A microscope image of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

A Queen’s researcher has found that nearly 40 per cent of infection control practitioners do not believe their hospital is sufficiently clean.

The study, led by Queen’s researcher and professor Dick Zoutman, examined how the working relationship between Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) teams and Environmental Services (EVS) teams impacted antibiotic-resistant organism (AROs) rates. AROs, such as nosocomial methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, can be spread from a healthcare practitioner to a patient through something as simple as lifting the patient onto a bed.

“It is a source of concern for me that 40 per cent of infection control practitioners believed their hospital wasn’t clean enough for infection control needs,” says Dr. Zoutman. “I also think that it’s important to note that a good working relationship between IPAC and EVS results in reduced infections.”

Starting in 2011, lead infection control professionals in hospitals across Canada completed an online survey that assessed the working relationship between the IPAC and Environmental Services (EVS). The survey assessed cleaning collaborations, staff training, hospital cleanliness and ARO infection rates.

It is a source of concern for me that 40 per cent of infection control practitioners believed their hospital wasn’t clean enough for infection control needs.

The study had an extremely high response rate of 58.3 per cent and the results identify deficits in the adequacy of cleaning staff training and hospital cleanliness.

“Overall, this study shows that the environment of a hospital plays a huge role in healthcare and infection control,” says Dr. Zoutman."Cleaning is a very expensive part of a hospital budget – about three to five per cent - and we had no baseline research to analyze our approach to cleanliness."

A third of the IPAC respondents did not rate EVS cleaning staff as adequately trained to clean to standards. In one-fifth of hospitals, it was noted that IPAC and EVS did not frequently collaborate on cleaning practises.

“The message we can take away from this study is that hospital administration and provincial ministries of health need to pay more attention to hospital environmental services,” says Dr. Zoutman. “I don’t think the solution is to pour more resources into it, though. We need to apply some science to the art of cleaning a hospital by improving our processes and auditing these processes to make sure we are achieving the desired results.”

This study was published in April's issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

Researcher finds Canadian policing costs too high

Christian Leuprecht is a professor in the School of Policy Studies and the Department of Political Studies at Queen's.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

According to a study by Queen’s researcher Christian Leuprecht, if the cost of policing in Canada is to become more sustainable there must be a discussion surrounding the extent of police service and how these are delivered.

A debate about the extent and delivery of police services must take place immediately, according to a study by Queen’s researcher Christina Leuprecht.

“The current business model for police services in this country is unsustainable, especially considering there is no evidence that greater expenditure has either made the country any safer or improved the quality of service,” he says.

Dr. Leuprecht, a professor in the School of Policy Studies and Department of Political Studies at Queen’s, says Canada spent $12 billion, or nearly 1 per cent of gross domestic product, on policing in 2012. He recommends prioritizing police responsibilities to reduce that expenditure.

“The scope of policing has expanded greatly in recent decades,” says Dr. Leuprecht. “Order is integral to freedom. But in a liberal democracy that is premised on limited state intervention, we should be debating ‘what kind’ of policing instead of ‘how much.’”

The study features other ideas for containing the costs of police services for Canadians.

“We need to place a much higher emphasis on quality over quantity when it comes to policing,” says Dr. Leuprecht. “As well, we need to shift the emphasis of police work away from law enforcement and towards ‘peace officer.’”

Order is integral to freedom. But in a liberal democracy that is premised on limited state intervention, we should be debating ‘what kind’ of policing instead of ‘how much.’

In his study, Dr. Leuprecht makes a case for economies of scale and reducing overhead, for example through greater use of technology by police in Canada to cut costs. This includes sharing court records online instead of using paper and cutting down on administrative work by using electronic messaging techniques (such as email or text messaging) to send minor offence notices. 

However, Dr. Leuprecht suggests that with up to 90 per cent of police budgets spent on salaries, core and discretionary policing activities will have to be triaged to become more efficient, effective, productive, affordable and sustainable.

“In 2012, Canada spent $12 billion, or nearly 1 per cent of gross domestic product, on policing alone,” says Dr. Leuprecht. “The current business model for police services in this country is unsustainable, especially considering there is no evidence that greater expenditure has either made the country any safer or improved the quality of service.”

The study, The Blue Line of the Bottom Line of Police Services in Canada? Arresting Runaway Growth in Costs, was released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and can be found here

Queen's earns four new Canada Research Chairs

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Four Queen’s University professors have been named new Canada Research Chairs and one professor’s current chair position is being renewed. The five chairs are Canadian leaders in their respective research fields.

Developed in 2000, each year the CRC program invests up to $265 million to attract and retain some of the world's most accomplished and promising minds. Queen’s will receive $200,000 per year over seven years for each Tier 1 Chair and $100,000 per year over five years for each Tier 2 Chair.

“By attracting the most skilled and promising researchers, the CRC program facilitates cutting-edge research and advances Canada as a world leader in discovery and innovation,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research).  “Our success in garnering four new chairs and one renewal is demonstrative of  Queen’s leadership in research areas that address some of the most challenging and complex problems facing the world today – from human health and climate change to development of software intelligence.”

The university’s new chair appointments are Stephen Archer, Ahmed Hassan, Philip Jessop, Andy Take and Curtis Nickel has had his appointment renewed.

Stephen Archer (School of Medicine) has been named at Tier 1 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Chair in Mitochondrial Dynamics and Translational Medicine. His research examines pulmonary arterial hypertension and cancer and is working towards devising new treatments.

Philip Jessop (Chemistry) has been named the Tier 1 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Chair in Green Chemistry. His research is aimed at designing more efficient and greener materials, solvents and methods for chemical manufacturing to reduce the consumption of resources, the usage of energy and the production of damaging pollutants.

Andy Take (Civil Engineering) has been named the Tier 2 NSERC Chair in Geotechnical Engineering.  His research program aims to produce the knowledge, highly qualified graduates and practical tools to better understand and manage the risk posed by climate change on the soil slopes of Canada’s natural and built environment.

Ahmed Hassan (School of Computing) has been named the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Software Analytics. His research focuses on providing analytical approaches to support the development and operation of Ultra Large Scale Software systems like Blackberry and Facebook. Dr. Hassan, the NSERC BlackBerry Industrial Research Chair, continues his close collaboration with BlackBerry with a new $2 million investment by BlackBerry and NSERC. The two will also co-fund a long-term grant to support research projects at the Software Analysis and Intelligence Lab

Curtis Nickel (Urology) has been named the returning Tier 1 CIHR Chair in Urologic Pain and Inflammation. His research will continue to improve the categorization, diagnostics and understanding of associated psychosocial, neurologic and gastrointestinal dysfunction and develop evidence based management strategies for men and women suffering from interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome, chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome and benign prostatic hyperplasia.

For more information on Queen’s researchers’ CRC appointments, follow this link.

Improving science education one researcher at a time

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

A team of Queen’s and Harvard researchers has identified important gaps between education research and teaching practices that are impeding the adoption of novel teaching strategies in post-secondary science education. Research-based instructional strategies have been validated in many classrooms, including large enrollment first-year courses, but these highly interactive approaches have been slow to spread.

James Fraser (Physics) and the Queen’s University-Harvard University team are proposing ways that education research can better serve front-line teachers, as well as approaches faculty members can take that will provide better learning opportunities for their science students.

“About 60 per cent of students who enter college intending to major in a science-related field do not graduate with a science degree,” says Dr. Fraser. “The continued prevalence of the traditional lecture approach is surprising given the dramatic gains achieved by highly interactive approaches in improved conceptual understanding, and increased retention in enrollment.”

Working with Harvard University researcher Eric Mazur, Dr. Fraser explored particularly successful practices and ways to improve their dissemination. The researchers synthesized results from studies of instructional techniques from a wide range of North American schools.

The review identified three major barriers to improving education in the science fields: the challenges of validating teaching approaches in real classrooms (with many uncontrolled variables), a professor’s lack of specific and timely feedback about the learning environment of their students, and the time limitations of faculty who cannot put their teaching and research roles on hold to become education research experts.

“There are real barriers for a professor to adopt an interactive teaching approach.  Education research has tested methods of overcoming some of these obstacles so we need to better disseminate the successful results,” says Dr. Fraser. “But other obstacles remain and education research needs to do a better job at addressing these issues.”

The research looked at a number of schools including Harvard, Ohio State, Indiana University and Arizona State. Queen’s was not included in the study.

The paper was published in the journal Reports on Progress in Physics. In addition, Dr. Mazur has been named one of the plenary facilitators at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Annual Conference that will be held this year at Queen’s from June 17 to 20.

No props, one slide, three minutes

The 3 Minute Thesis competition heats will take place Thursday, March 28 at 2 pm in Walter Light Hall Auditorium and on Friday, March 28 starting at 9 am.
The final will take place on Wednesday, April 9 at 5 pm in Kinesiology 101.

By Hollie Knapp-Fisher, Communications Intern

Queen’s will host its annual 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) competition on March 27 and March 28 featuring over 20 graduate student participants.

3MT gives master’s and PhD students a chance to present their research to a panel of non-expert judges in three minutes using only one slide and no props. The competition takes place in two heats with the top students competing in a final panel on April 9.

“The real challenge is to effectively communicate with the audience without using too much technical jargon,” says first-time participant John Forster, a master’s student studying mining engineering. “Understanding the research culture is important and although it will be difficult to do in three minutes, I am looking forward to the challenge.”

Developed by the University of Queensland in 2008 to promote effective communication of research, Queen’s was the first Ontario university to host a 3MT Competition in 2012 and the first to host a provincial-wide event the following year. This event provides students, staff and faculty with a unique opportunity to learn about the significant research being undertaken by graduate students at Queen’s. 

PhD candidate Frank Secretain was a 3MT finalist in 2013.

“With students participating from different fields, this sort of competition should help to build up a better inter-disciplinary atmosphere amongst the graduate students at Queen’s,” says Kurosh Amoui-Kalareh, a master’s student in Religious Studies and a first-time 3MT participant.  “I would highly recommend taking advantage of an opportunity like this to impact even a small group of people.” 

While the event is a competition, 3MT also gives participants a platform to share what they have been working on during their time at Queen’s and expand their knowledge of the range of research happening on campus. 

“I really believe that research should not be separated into individual silos,” says Jasmin Ma, a master’s candidate in Kinesiology and Health Studies, who is competing in 3MT for the second time. “Our research is important to us and being able to share it with the public means a lot. It’s an opportunity to share our passion.”

Olympic medalist Clara Hughes visits Kingston to raise awareness of mental health issues


[Speakers with Clara Hughes]
Olympic medalist Clara Hughes poses for a photo with some of the other speakers at the BREAK The Stigma. JOIN The Conversation  event.

Money raised at BREAK The Stigma. JOIN The Conversation will be donated to a mental health research project led by Dr. Roumen Milev (Psychiatry, Psychology). The conference was organized by the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation and included several Queen's professors, students, as well as members of the Kingston community.


Evergreens restrict Arctic tundra responses to climate change

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

How climate change will affect the Arctic is a research question of increasing urgency.  New research out of Queen’s University indicates that current predictions of vegetation change that will occur as the Arctic warms could only be part of the story. There are other key players that have been overlooked.

Using experimental greenhouses located at the Daring Lake Research Station in the Northwest Territories, Tara Zamin (former PhD student, Biology), co-author Paul Grogan (Biology) and co-author Donie Bret-Harte (University of Alaska Fairbanks) demonstrated that climate change impacted the vegetation much differently than has been observed at other Arctic sites, leading to more conservative predictions for tundra change. They are the first scientists to carefully measure not only above but also belowground growth responses of individual plants, thereby allowing them to comprehensively assess how each Arctic species is being affected.

Paul Grogan and Tara Zamin research at the Daring Lake Research Station in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s the turtle and the hare of the Arctic tundra in the ongoing race to adapt to a changing climate. Deciduous shrubs are the hare, and have been rapidly increasing in more fertile arctic sites, leading to predictions that the tundra could become a birch or willow shrubland, which would feed back to increased warming. Evergreen shrubs are the turtle - slow, but well adapted to the infertile soils typical of Arctic tundra, and at our site are presently in the lead.”

 “Our results are  important because evergreens grow more slowly, are shorter, and produce litter that tends to restrict soil nutrient availability, all of which will tend to slow down the responsiveness of tundra ecosystems to climate change,” says Dr. Grogan.

As temperatures continue to rise in the Arctic, the warming will enhance soil nutrient availability. The study concludes that although deciduous shrubs are likely to become dominant in particularly fertile locations in the tundra, evergreens will dominate elsewhere.

“Over this century, we can expect substantial vegetation change across southern Canada and at lower latitudes more generally,” says Dr. Grogan. “As ecologists, our goal is to understand and predict what those changes might be.  Will evergreen trees like cedar fare better than deciduous species like maple?  The latter is an important species culturally and economically for Canada, and therefore the answers to such questions are critical to successfully adapting to the climate change that we have already committed ourselves to.”

The research was published in the Journal of Ecology.

Queen's researchers patent cutting-edge technology

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Queen’s University researchers Cathleen Crudden and Hugh Horton (Chemistry), along with students, postdoctoral fellows and other collaborators have developed a new process that allows organic compounds to bind to metal surfaces. This cutting-edge technology is now being patented and commercialized by PARTEQ and Green Centre Canada.

“Imagine pouring vegetable oil onto a metal surface and expecting it to stay,” says Dr. Horton. “We have created a bond through a chemical absorption process that would allow that to happen.”

The first example of the formation of organic monolayers (single molecule-thick coatings) on metals was published about 30 years ago and ignited huge interest in the scientific community. The technique forms the basis for a wide range of biosensing applications using modified metal surfaces.  However these coatings lack robustness and are sensitive even to exposure to air, greatly limiting their applications and making the technique expensive. 

Drs. Crudden and Horton are the first in the world to develop a viable alternative to this initial process.  In their strategy, the bond between the metal and the organic coating occurs through carbon instead of sulfur, which gives much greater strength and resistance to oxidation.

Common, every day uses of this technology could include applying organic coatings to automotive surfaces that would protect them from corrosion and decrease friction.  The use of these coatings to improve commercial biosensors for medical diagnostics is already underway.

The research was published in Nature Chemistry.

Olympic champion raises funds for local mental health initatives

[Clara Hughes Roumen Milev]
Money raised  through a talk by Clara Hughes is being donated to a mental health research project led by Queen’s professor Roumen Milev.

By Anne Craig, Queen’s University

Clara Hughes will be speaking at the Ambassador Hotel on Monday, March 24 at 7 pm.
Tickets are $12 for students and $20 for adults at the door.

When six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes visits Kingston March 24, she will be raising funds and awareness of mental health issues. Money raised at the event is being donated to a mental health research project led by Queen’s professor Roumen Milev (Psychiatry).

Major depression affects close to two million Canadians annually and is the leading cause of lost time from work. CAN-BIND (Canadian Biomarker Integration Network for Depression) is a joint initiative between researchers at eight universities. The goal is to identify the biological signatures of currently uncharacterized subtypes of major depressive disorder to provide an accurate and rapid diagnosis that can help determine treatment selection.

“Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk is important for two reasons,” says Dr. Milev. “She is doing very important work de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and she is also raising imperative funding to support mental health research.”

Ms. Hughes will be speaking at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre March 24 at 7 pm at the BREAK the stigma. JOIN the conversation event organized by the University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. Several Queen’s University researchers and students are speaking at the event, including:

  • Alex Martin, a third year psychology student. She is involved in the Jack Project and is the co-leader of Unleash the Noise Canada’s second annual student mental health summit.
  • Tom Edgerton,  a third year political studies student. He has been volunteering with the Jack Project for two years and has twice been the on-stage host of Unleash the Noise. This year he also worked alongside Ms. Martin as co-leader of the event.
  • Wendy Craig, a professor of psychology and one of Canada’s leading researchers in the field of mental health. Dr. Craig is the co-leader of the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNET), a knowledge mobilization network that focuses on reducing violence.
  • Saraosh Khalid-Khan, an associate professor of psychiatry and Director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Clinic in the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at Hotel Dieu Hospital.

Along with support from Clara’s Big Ride, CAN-BIND has received funding from the Ontario Brain Institute and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Joining Queen’s in the five year research project are University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Guelph, University of Ottawa, McGill University, University of Calgary and University of British Columbia.

Tickets are $12 for students and $20 for adults and available at the door.


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