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Research Prominence

Pedalling toward a cure for pancreatic cancer

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

The 7 Days in May fundraising event has returned to Queen’s University after raising $31,000 last year. All of the funds raised by the seven-day bike ride are donated to the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (NCIC CTG) at Queen’s University for its pancreatic cancer research.

Gord Townley (l) presents a 7 Days in May jersey to Chris O'Callaghan, NCIC Senior Investigator.

“The 7 Days in May fundraising ride is a wonderful tribute and we are very grateful to the 7 Days in May Foundation for raising awareness about pancreatic cancer and for the PA.6 trial in particular,” says incoming NCIC CTG Director Janet Dancey. “Their support of the NCIC CTG enables us to conduct research that we hope will ultimately help to improve the lives of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.”

Gord Townley founded the 7 Days in May Foundation in memory of his mother Lorraine Townley. After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December 2009, Ms. Townley became an advocate for others by participating in clinical trials before dying in November 2011.

“People don't know much about pancreatic cancer, but it has brutal survival statistics - below 5 per cent - and the statistics have not improved in 40 years,” says Mr. Townley. “7 Days in May is dedicated to finding a cure for this deadly disease and we partner with the NCIC CTG to help them find a way to improve the survival odds for those patients who are eligible for surgery.”

“I am so very grateful for the effort of 7 Days in May to support research into this deadly tumour,” says interim NCIC CTG Director Elizabeth Eisenhauer. “Much is yet to be done to improve the outcome of pancreatic cancer and it is heartening to have a dedicated volunteer organization such as 7 Days in May make this a priority.”

Jim Biagi, Chris O'Callaghan and NCIC incoming director Janet Dancey discuss the ride.

NCIC CTG is an academic clinical trials cooperative oncology group that conducts phase I-III trials testing anti-cancer and supportive therapies across Canada and internationally. It is one of the national programs and networks of the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute CCSRI, and is supported by the Canadian Cancer SocietyThe NCIC CTG’s Central Operations and Statistics Office is located at Queen’s University.

Combat soundtrack

Dr. Kip Pegley.

In early April the Canadian Opera Company (COC) opened its production of Hercules. The play — written in 500 BC and adapted by George Frideric Handel in 1745 — tells the story of a soldier’s struggles after returning home from war. Kip Pegley (School of Music) was invited to an advance performance of Hercules and gave a talk about war veterans, music and rehabilitation at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs as part of a symposium organized by the COC and the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto.

Dr. Pegley sat down with Rosie Hales, Communications Officer, to discuss her research into music as a rehabilitation technique for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how she hopes her research will help soldiers and veterans in the future.

Rosie Hales: Your research centres on music and veteran health. Why did you decide to choose this as a research focus?

Kip Pegley: I believe that the research we choose to undertake says a lot about us. For example, my father was a Korean War veteran and served in the Canadian Navy for 35 years. He was an emotionally reserved man; to learn more about him, I joined the Naval Reserves as a teenager. However, as I got older I realized that the best way to know him was through music – it was the one place he really opened up emotionally. Music was entwined with his sense of duty and his career in the Navy.

Since 2002, when Canada officially deployed our military to Afghanistan, I’ve been interested in learning more about what music means to this generation of soldiers. With so many soldiers returning with PTSD, I was also curious to seek out ways that music might help them while they are deployed as well as in post-deployment.

RH: How has the role of music for deployed soldiers changed since your father’s work in the Navy?

KP: When my father was deployed he was listening to big band and other music that was played over the radio with his fellow soldiers. Now, soldiers use different technologies, like iPods and CDs, to pump music through the tanks or listen in their bunks alone at night. For my father, music was more of a shared event but soldiers today have the option to make it a more personalized and individual experience.

RH: So, what kind of music do soldiers listen to when they’re going into war?

KP: The music soldiers blare in the tanks when they’re going into combat isn’t the music you might initially suspect: Popular culture today is saturated with “militainment,” a genre that conflates entertainment with war. Watching “militainment” movies or playing video games like Call of Duty or American Army might make us believe that soldiers listen to heavy metal and rap music to get them pumped up for combat. It might surprise some to know that a Canadian veteran I interviewed was going into combat in a tank with 10 other men singing along to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The female tank driver, meanwhile, listened to hymns her grandmother sang to her as a child through her iPod headphones. This same female tank driver used music as a way to bond with the women living in her barracks – she played the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and that got everyone up and moving. Music provided them a safe opportunity to sing, dance and lower their hyper vigilance for a little while.

RH: How can music help soldiers once they’re home from war, or if they’re suffering from PTSD?

KP: Music gets people, veterans or not, talking. Music therapy can be anything from a group singing country songs to a drumming circle. Music is an important portal for veterans to access a range of feelings-- ̶love and loss, fear and guilt. Sometimes they can sing what they cannot  ̶ and would not ever ̶̶ say.

My upcoming research will involve studying how neural feedback can help war veterans cope with their PTSD. In neurofeedback, the subject puts on a headset and listens to music with electrodes wired up to their brain. When they are listening to the music, they may start thinking and their brainwaves might become more stressed. When this happens, the music stops and they hear a “click” sound which refocuses them by resetting their brain. 

It's my hope that one day music will play an important role in traumatic rehabilitation and help get soldiers - and all traumatized individuals - back on their feet. 

Personalizing cancer treatment with 'big data'

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

David Skillicorn (School of Computing) has been awarded a Big Data, Big Impact Grant from the Cancer Institute of New South Wales and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Australia to help personalize cancer treatment for children.

The grant, in its second year, will support Dr. Skillicorn and 10 other researchers for work on their project entitled Generating Actionable Knowledge from Complex Genomic Data for Personalized Clinical Decisions. The project will involve a large scale analysis of detailed data about childhood cancer patients suffering mainly from leukemia.

The project will challenge the previously defined categories that are currently used to determine cancer treatment for the patient.

“After a cancer diagnosis and some tests, patients would typically be categorized based on the risk and variance of their disease,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The category would then determine the treatment program. There were always a few patients who didn’t seem to fit their category; they would do well against the odds, or poorly when they shouldn’t have.”

Current technology, called “high-throughput devices,” collects tens of thousands of marker values for each patient. Patients are then clustered and their eventual treatment is based on their cluster. Dr. Skillicorn’s research could result in a redefinition of these clusters.

“Patients don’t form clusters,” says Dr. Skillicorn. “The disease almost always looks different from one patient to another. We believe there must be some bottleneck that causes the wide variety of patient configurations to appear as a much smaller set of disease categories.”

Queen's professor unveils revolutionary foldable smartphone

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Queen’s professor Roel Vertegaal and student Antonio Gomes have unveiled PaperFold, a ground-breaking smartphone technology.

The shape-changing, touch sensitive smartphone allows the user to open up to three thin-film electrophoretic displays to provide extra screen real estate when needed.

Displays are detachable so users can fold the device into a number of shapes that can range from an ultra-notebook, to a map and back to a smartphone shape.

“In PaperFold, each display tile can act independently or as part of a single system,” says Dr. Vertegaal, a professor in the School of Computing and Director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s. “Advantages to this technology include better support for performing tasks that would usually have required multiple devices, like a phone and a tablet PC or ultra-notebook in one.”

The technology was released at the ACM CHI 2014 conference in Toronto – widely regarded as the most important conference on interaction techniques for new technologies.

PaperFold demonstrates how form could equal function in malleable mobile devices. 
                                                                                                            - Roel Vertegaal

PaperFold automatically recognizes its shape and changes its graphics to provide different functionality for each shape.

  • For example, a user could search for a building in New York City on Google Maps in three ways.
  • By flattening the three displays, the user changes can view a Google map across all displays.
  • Manipulating the device into a globe-like shape opens a 3D Google Earth view.
  • Folding the device into the shape of a 3D building on the map will pick up available 3D SketchUp models of buildings on that location and turn the device into an architectural model that can be printed in 3D.

Inspiration for PaperFold came from its namesake: paper. Typically, mobile devices require scrolling or zooming in order to see different parts of a document whereas paper can be folded, detached or combined allowing it to be accessed in multiple documents.

“The development of electronic paper computers that can adopt similar qualities to paper has been a research goal for our team,” says Dr. Vertegaal. “The PaperFold smartphone adopts the folding techniques that make paper so versatile, and employs them to change electronic views and display real estate on the fly. PaperFold demonstrates how form could equal function in malleable mobile devices.”

A video of PaperFold is available at the Human Media Lab's Youtube channel and high resolution photos of the new technology can be found on the Human Media Lab's website.

Researcher's career work improves kidney stone treatment

Dr. Glenville Jones. 

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

After spending much of his career conducting extensive research on vitamin D metabolism, Queen’s researcher Dr. Glenville Jones has been featured in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) “celebrating the impact of health research” series.

The CIHR write-up focuses on the impact of Dr. Jones’ research on the idiopathic infantile hypercalcemia (IIH) – a rare disease that causes the build-up of calcium in the kidneys and eventually leads to kidney stones in the patient.

Along with two German pediatric nephrologists, Dr. Jones showed that one of the main causes of IIH is a genetic mutation of the enzyme CYP24A1 that prevents the breakdown of vitamin D. Since this discovery, there is now an increased ability to diagnose, manage and treat hypercalcemia in children and adults.

“Most hypercalcemia patients eventually develop kidney stones, and everyone knows that the passing of kidney stones is one of the most painful experiences a human can suffer,” says Dr. Jones, a biochemistry professor in the School of Medicine. “A few IIH patients will go on to suffer from permanent kidney damage so it’s important that research in this area continues to develop.”

The write-up in the CIHR-IMHA special publication is a wonderful recognition of the impact of our basic science work on a clinically-relevant problem.
- Dr. Glenville Jones

CIHR’s special publication was created as a way to celebrate the value and impact of research in areas such as musculoskeletal health, arthritis, skin diseases and oral health conditions, as well as to demonstrate how important funding is to healthcare.

Dr. Jones acknowledges the benefits CIHR’s special publication will have on his research.

“The write-up in the CIHR-IMHA special publication is a wonderful recognition of the impact of our basic science work on a clinically-relevant problem,” says Dr. Jones. “In the past, knowledge and publicity of our work has helped spawn the Idiopathic Infantile Hypercalcemia-Europe-Canada-Collaboration which works with IIH patients around the world to investigate their illness and establish new treatment protocols.”

Dr. Jones' research is acknowledged as a part of CIHR's entire "celebrating the impact of health research" series, with an article titled "When too much is definitely too much: genetic mutation prevents vitamin D breakdown."

 

Targeting drugs to reduce side effects

Dr. Donald Maurice, Director of the Cardiac, Circulatory and Respiratory Research Program at Queen's.

By Rosie Hales, Communications Officer

Consider ice cream – the base of which is frozen cream. Ingredients are then added to make different flavours. All these flavours are distinctly different but are created from the same foundation.

The same goes for actions of phosphodiesterases or PDEs – enzymes that are key targets for drugs that combat various cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Although PDEs carry out only one reaction in cells, they inactivate small signaling molecules. As humans, we can create about 120 different “flavours” of PDEs, using the 26 different PDE genes in our genome.

After conducting a review of the drugs that act by targeting individual PDE “flavours”, Donald Maurice, Director of the Cardiac, Circulatory and Respiratory Research Program at Queen’s, and his international co-authors have learned that many of the drugs’ side effects can be avoided.

When PDEs are inhibited, there is an increase in the rhythmic beating of the heart and blood pressure is often reduced. Common PDE-inhibiting drugs include caffeine and Viagra.

It's important to understand drug successes, but comprehensive critical reviews give researchers the chance to understand the basis of failures and make improvements.
- Dr. Donald Maurice

The research review aimed to study previous research on PDE’s in order to position past results in the context of the recently discovered “flavours” of PDEs, which can be targeted individually by cardiovascular drugs.

“Few PDE drugs currently available have the selectivity needed to target the individual PDE ”flavours” that contribute to human diseases,” says Dr. Maurice, also a professor in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences. “Yes, it’s important to understand drug successes, but comprehensive critical reviews give researchers the chance to understand the basis of failures and make improvements.”

While PDE-inhibitors have been used in the past to treat cardiovascular illnesses, this review outlines recent advances from the laboratories of the authors that have led to an increased interest in the design of PDE-acting drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and diabetes.

The review also found that drugs that target specific locations within a cell are more likely to be successful.

“If you can regulate individual events happening in individual locations of the cell then you can leave the normal functions of the cell unaffected while challenging the abnormal ones,” says Dr. Maurice.

Dr. Maurice’s review was published in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. His research program is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Funding strengthens leading-edge research

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Four Queen’s researchers whose projects range from endometrial health to solar energy to animal biology have received over $500,000 in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

The fund helps institutions attract and retain Canada’s top researchers.

Anne Croy.

“The CFI, through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund, has provided us with an excellent mechanism for attracting and retaining top-flight researchers,” says Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss. “As a result of this competition, four Queen’s researchers will receive the funding required to develop their innovative infrastructure to enrich the Queen’s research environment and advance leading-edge research.”

The following researchers have received funding:

Praveen Jain (Electrical and Computer Engineering), $400,000 – Dr. Jain’s research focuses on creating a smart microgrid, a green energy generating unit that is the future of the entire power grid network. The funding will allow Dr. Jain to build an experimental setup that accurately depicts smart microgrid dynamics, technical issues and behaviour.

Anne Croy and Chandrakant Tayade (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), $100,000 – The goals of this research project are to improve the basic understanding of the dynamic biology of the reproductive-aged uterus and apply this information to the protection and health of women and their offspring. The funding will allow the researchers to develop a new core lab.

Frances Bonier (Biology), $80,000 – With an eye on conservation, Dr. Bonier is working to understand the influence of environmental challenges on traits related to survival and reproduction in the songbird population. The funding will be used to purchase high-tech field, lab and computing equipment that will assist in her field studies.

For more information visit the John R. Evans Leader Fund website.

Researcher finds gaps in care for high-risk cancer patients

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

A Queen’s professor has found that chemotherapy before or after surgery for high-risk bladder cancer is not commonly used in routine clinical practice despite the fact that it is shown to improve long-term survival by five per cent.

Christopher Booth (Queen’s Department of Oncology and Kingston General Hospital) is now using those findings to better understand the barriers to using chemotherapy, with the goal of implementing a plan to improve treatment rates.

Christopher Booth.

“Results from our study demonstrate that chemotherapy given after surgery improves patient survival—probably on the same order of magnitude as chemotherapy before surgery,” says Dr. Booth. “Patients having surgery for bladder cancer should have chemotherapy, either before or after surgery. Efforts are needed to improve uptake of this treatment, which appears to be vastly underutilized.”

To investigate, Dr. Booth, a member of the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s University, examined treatment records of all 2,944 patients who had surgery for high-risk bladder cancer in Ontario between 1994 and 2008.

Use of chemotherapy before surgery remained stable (an average of 4 per cent of patients) over the study period despite international guidelines recommending its use. Despite more limited evidence supporting its use, chemotherapy after surgery increased over time: 16 per cent of patients between 1994 and 1998, 18 per cent between 1999 and 2003, and 22 per cent between 2004 and 2008. Study results showed that use of chemotherapy after surgery improved long-term survival by five per cent.

“The reasons for underutilization of chemotherapy in high-risk bladder cancer are not well understood. This problem is not unique to Ontario and has been identified by researchers in the United States and Europe,” says Dr. Booth. “It likely relates to a complex interaction between physician knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes and patient preferences.

“More work is needed to understand what is driving this gap in care so that interventions to improve treatment delivery may be implemented in Ontario and beyond.”

The findings are published online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Event shines spotlight on Royal Society scholars

The Royal Society Seminar is being held Saturday, April 12 at the University Club, 168 Stuart Street starting at 10 am.

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Four Queen’s professors recently elected to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) will soon have the chance to share their research with RSC fellows from across the country. Gauvin Bailey (Art History), Praveen Jain (Computer and Electrical Engineering), Carlos Prado (Philosophy) and David Lillicrap (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) were among seven Queen’s professors named fellows of the RSC last November.

“The Royal Society of Canada is important to me as someone who has just moved back to Canada after living abroad for most of my adult life because it is a way for me to meet colleagues across Canada who are doing amazing things,” says Dr. Bailey. “My appointment as fellow also comes at an opportune time for my own research as I am turning my attention toward Canadian patrimony in a book I am writing on the art and architecture of the French Atlantic Empire--it will include a great deal of material about pre-Conquest Quebec and the French missions to the Great Lakes peoples.”

(L to R) Dr. Graham Bell, President of the Royal Society of Canada, Dr. David Lillicrap, Principal Daniel Woolf, Dr. Gauvin Bailey, Dr. Carlos Prado, and Dr. John Meisel, Past President of the RSC gathered in early February at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.

The topics for the day include:

Dr. Bailey – The Art and Architecture of a Paper Empire: Utopianism and Intransigence in the French Atlantic World

Dr. Jain – Power Electronics for a Sustainable Society

Dr. Prado – Personalizing Religious Faith

Dr. Lillicrap – Hemophilia: A Disease of Royals and Dogs.

“For an academic to receive fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada is a heart-warming accolade and somehow always comes as a delightful, unexpected surprise,” says Pierre Du Prey, co-chair of the event and a professor in the Department of Art History.

The Royal Society of Canada was established by an Act of Parliament in 1882 as Canada’s national academy. The organization helps promote Canadian research and scholarly accomplishment, and advises governments, non-governmental organizations and Canadians on matters of public interest.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is being held Saturday, April 12 at the University Club (168 Stuart St.) starting at 10 am.

Queen’s is also scheduled to host the Royal Society of Canada’s annual general meeting in 2016.

Heart health: Is Aspirin helpful or harmful?

By Anne Craig, Communications Officer

Queen’s University and Kingston General Hospital researchers are part of a groundbreaking international study that has shown that starting – or continuing – to take Aspirin before non-cardiac surgery as a way to protect the heart after surgery is ineffective and, in some cases, harmful.

Because surgery puts patients at increased risk of heart attack, doctors often continue to administer low doses of Aspirin before and after non-cardiac procedures. But new data from the Peri-Operative Ischemic Evaluation Study (POISE-2), published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that administering Aspirin provided no benefit in reducing the risk of heart-related complications after surgery.

Researchers Debbie Dumerton-Shore, Joel Parlow, Jessica McCourt and Rene Allard are part of a ground breaking study investigating the use of Aspirin to protect the heart after surgery. Photo courtesy Matthew Manor

“In fact, Aspirin was shown to increase the risk of serious bleeding after surgery, in some cases,” says Joel Parlow, Head of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at both Queen’s and KGH and the hospital’s POISE-2 Site Principal Investigator. “This is important news for the medical community and for patients with risk factors for heart disease who are set to undergo non-cardiac surgery.” 

With over 10,000 patients from 23 countries and 135 centres, the study is the largest clinical trial to evaluate major cardiovascular complications in non-cardiac surgeries. More than 400 patients were enlisted from KGH, making it the fourth-largest recruiting site in the world, after Hamilton Health Sciences Centre and The Cleveland Clinic.

The POISE-2 study was designed and led by Principal Investigator P. J. Devereaux (McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute).

 “KGH was able to be a vital contributor to this important study due to the dedication of our excellent research nurses Debbie Dumerton-Shore, Jessica McCourt and Beth Orr, and my co-investigator René Allard. Our research team works side-by-side with patients, surgeons, nurses and with the input of the other members of the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine,” says Dr. Parlow.

View the article online here.

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