Posts tagged ‘Canadian Science’

Could Probiotics Be the Next Big Thing in Parenting?

New University of British Columbia research found that receiving antibiotic treatments early in life can increase susceptibility to specific diseases later on.

Most bacteria living in the gut play a positive role in promoting a healthy immune system, but antibiotic treatments often do not discriminate between good and bad bacteria. The study published today in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology helps scientists understand how different antibiotics affect good bacteria.
“This is the first step to understanding which bacteria are absolutely necessary to develop a healthy immune system later in life,” says Kelly McNagny, a professor in the Dept. of Medical Genetics who led the research along with UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay.

The researchers tested the impact of two antibiotics, vancomycin and streptomycin, on newborn mice. They found that streptomycin increased susceptibility to a disease known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis later in life, but vancomycin had no effect. The difference in each antibiotic’s long-term effects can be attributed to how they changed the bacterial ecosystem in the gut. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is an allergic disease found in people with occupations such as farming, sausage-making, and cleaning hot tubs.

The researchers stress that infants should be treated with antibiotics when needed, but they hope these results will help pinpoint which bacteria make us less susceptible to disease. This could open up the possibility of boosting helpful bacteria through the use of probiotics.

“Probiotics could be the next big trend in parenting because once you know which bacteria prevent disease, you can make sure that children get inoculated with those bacteria,” says McNagny.

Thanks to the University of British Columbia for contributing this story.

August 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

Canada Ranks Sixth in Global Science Impact

A recent publication by Thomson Reuters analyzed over three thousand researchers that ranked among the top 1% in their field for the most citations in a given year. This method of analysis is believed to produce a list of scientists who have the biggest global impact on science.

While American researchers come in first in terms of their global scientific impact, occupying over 76% of the list, Canadian scientists proudly represent 6% of the top names in science worldwide.  Although this may seem like a small number, it should be remembered that Canadians only represent approximately 0.5% of the global population. Therefore, Canada is more than towing its weight in terms of scientific excellence.

So who are Canada’s most cited scientists? According to the list, the top 3 names are:

  1. Salim Yusuf, a cardiologist and director of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute
  2. Marco Marra, director of the Genome Sciences Centre and a professor of medical genetics at the University of British Columbia
  3. Steven Jones, Head of Bioinformatics and Associate Director, Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency

However, as an article in the Globe and Mail points out, Canadians shouldn’t let these numbers get to their heads. A deeper analysis of the Reuter’s study reveals that:

  • Canada is lagging behind in its number of top scientists per capita
  • None of Canada’s research chairs have made the list
  • Only 10% of the Canadians that made the list are women

The take home message? Canada is well positioned to produce excellent science that will have a huge global impact for many years to come. Nonetheless, more opportunities for Canadian scientists to network amongst global peers will likely have a positive influence on Canadian researcher’s global footprint. Furthermore, more investment is needed to encourage a larger percentage of our population to pursue a career in science and a sincere effort should be made to give female scientists the support they need to make inroads into the top echelon of highly cited researchers.

July 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Queen’s University Lands Millions of Dollars in Research Grants

Fifty-eight Queen’s researchers have been awarded a total of $11.7 million in research grants from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for 2014. The funding will help advance research projects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Support from NSERC and other partners is vital to facilitating new discoveries and innovations at Queen’s,” says Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research). “In a competitive funding environment, the fact that so many of our faculty members, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers have received these awards is a testament to the high quality of research happening on campus.”


Read more…

June 26, 2014 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

Biological Scientists Beware: Your Sex May Influence the Validity of Your Research!

The following study out of McGill, which was recently published in Nature Methods will surely blow your mind. Not only that, but it will likely cause you to doubt the validity of every research paper that you’ve ever read. Are you ready for it?

According to McGill scientists, laboratory mice react differently depending on the gender of the person conducting the research. In other words, if a female scientist is present near the mouse, the murine stress response will vary from its reaction to a male presence in the room. Yes…you heard that right. The experimental mouse discriminates against scientists based on their sex!

OK, so maybe it isn’t exactly sex discrimination. In a nutshell, the team found that mice exhibit a different stress response when exposed to pheromones secreted by the male armpit, (whether they are exposed to the actual person or his t-shirt), which was not exhibited when exposed to the female armpit.

Since a HUGE body of science is affected by the stress response, this means that controlling for sample handling will now need to include the gender of the person conducting the experiment as well. If you are a male scientist, don’t even think about using controls from mice handled by female scientists. The baseline levels of whatever gene/protein you are studying may be differentially expressed simply because the mouse was exposed to your female colleague.

Imagine the impact of these findings. Have you ever tried to repeat an experiment published in a paper and found that it just cannot be done? Perhaps your inability to reproduce the result is less a function of your experimental technique or the original author’s competence and more likely related to the fact that you are a woman and the original authors, (or those conducting the experiment), were men!

What if you work together with a colleague of the opposite sex? How can you control for experimental conditions if part of the conditions include the sex of the researcher?

And what about reporting? Will it now become mandatory in the materials and methods section of every paper to disclose the gender of the researcher involved in any animal experimentation?

The impact of this is huge and the possibilities are endless. I have always argued that the biological sciences are the most fair when it comes to equality between male and female scientists. Could this equality lead to inferior science? What a thought!

My mind is definitely blown! What about yours?

April 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm Leave a comment

Big Funding is No April Fool’s Joke

Over one hundred research labs were pleasantly surprised yesterday (April 1st) when they learned of the Canadian government’s plan to hand out more than $89 Million in research grants for Canadian Research Chairs across the country. In addition, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), simultaneously announced that it was handing out over $3.6 Million in funding to help equip these labs with state of the art equipment and infrastructure.

As usual, the province of Ontario walked away with the largest chunk of funds, with $33.9 Million going to 39 labs across the province. Twenty two million was awarded to Quebec, followed by $15 Million to Alberta and $13 Million to British Columbia. Saskatchewan received the least amount of grant funding, with $500,000 going to Erika Dyck a History of Medicine professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

The full list of grants funded can be downloaded from the Canada Research Chair website.

April 2, 2014 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

Canadian researcher discovers 2 new genes linked to intellectual disability

Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have discovered two new genes linked to intellectual disability, according to two research studies published concurrently this month in the journals Human Genetics and Human Molecular Genetics.

“Both studies give clues to the different pathways involved in normal neurodevelopment,” says CAMH Senior Scientist Dr. John Vincent, who heads the MiND (Molecular Neuropsychiatry and Development) Laboratory in the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute at CAMH. “We are building up a body of knowledge that is informing us which kinds of genes are important to, and involved in, intellectual disabilities.”

In the first study, Dr. Vincent and his team used microarray genotyping to map the genes of a large Pakistani family which had intermarriage. Five members of the youngest generation were affected with mild to moderate intellectual disability. Dr. Vincent identified a truncation in the FBXO31 gene, which plays a role in the way that proteins are processed during development of neurons, particularly in the cerebellar cortex.

In the second study, using the same techniques, Dr. Vincent and his team analyzed the genes of two families with intermarriage, one Austrian and one Pakistani, and identified a disruption in the METTL23 gene linked to mild recessive intellectual disability. The METTL23 gene is involved in methylation—a process important to brain development and function.

About one per cent of children worldwide are affected by non-syndromic (i.e., the absence of any other clinical features) intellectual disability, a condition characterized by an impaired capacity to learn and process new or complex information, leading to decreased cognitive functioning and social adjustment. Although trauma, infection and external damage to the unborn fetus can lead to an intellectual disability, genetic defects are a principal cause.

These studies were part of an ongoing study of affected families in Pakistan, where the cultural tradition of large families and consanguineous (inter-) marriages among first cousins increases the likelihood of inherited intellectual disability in offspring.

“Although it is easier to find and track genes in consanguineous families, these genes are certainly not limited to them,” Dr. Vincent points out. A recent study estimated that 13 per cent of intellectual disability cases among individuals of European descent are caused when an individual inherits two recessive genes, meaning that results of this study are very relevant to populations such as Canada.

This type of autosomal recessive gene mutation haas traditionally been more difficult to trace, resulting in a paucity of research in this area. Parents of affected children show no symptoms, and the child must inherit one defective copy of the gene from each parent, so that only one in four offspring are likely to be affected. Smaller families, therefore, show a decreased frequency and are less amenable to this kind of study.

Dr. Vincent is currently engaged in a study that will screen Canadian populations of autism and intellectual disability for autosomal recessive gene mutations. Results will be available later this year.

A total of 42 genes linked to non-syndromic recessive forms of intellectual disability have now been identified; estimates suggest that up to 2,500 genes might be linked with intellectual disability, the majority being recessive.

Thanks to CAMH for contributing this story.

March 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm Leave a comment

Solving a longstanding mystery in cell division

The paradox of a cell that shuts down its DNA repair processes during cell division has been solved, according to research published in Science on March 20, 2014. The problem had eluded science for six decades.

“We now know why a crucial DNA-repair process shuts down just when the cell starts to divide into two daughter cells,” says Dr. Daniel Durocher, a Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

Throughout most of a cell’s life, corrective mechanisms are nearly always acting to repair DNA strand breaks quickly and accurately. “DNA repair helps thwart cancer and keep the cell in top shape – it is usually all in a day’s work within each cell,” Dr. Durocher adds.

Paradoxically, the exception is at the very moment when chromosomes are most vulnerable, when they physically separate into two cells at cell division (mitosis).

Read more…

March 25, 2014 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

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