Nathan Skolski

Email: nathanskolski@okmain.cms.ok.ubc.ca


 

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

Fluorescence lighting helps detect impurities in water

Shining a beam of light into potentially contaminated water samples may hold the key to real-time detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides in water.

UBC Okanagan researchers are testing the use of fluorescence to monitor water quality. The results, they say, show great promise.

When a beam of light is shone into the water, it excites the electrons in molecules of certain compounds and causes them to emit light. The characteristics of the emitted light are like a fingerprint and can be used to identify certain contaminants, explains Nicolas Peleato, an assistant professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering.

“The challenge with using this fluorescence approach is that they are typically source-specific; meaning we have to calibrate for a particular water source and anticipate what specific contaminants we want to look for,” says Peleato. “In our latest work, we have developed a data processing technique that expands the effectiveness from one water source to others.”

This means their new technique removes a lot of the guesswork at the beginning of the process. As Peleato points out, every water source has a slightly different composition of organic compounds, which can hide the contaminant signals, so calibrating for each source is crucial for detection accuracy.

Using machine learning algorithms, Peleato and his graduate student Ziyu Li have devised an approach that addresses the challenge of source-specific models through mapping their similarities.

According to Li, it isn’t quite a one-size-fits-all method but it is close.

“By establishing a process that identifies similar patterns between water sources, the fluorescence detection becomes a viable option for real-time, accurate detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides,” explains Li.

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

Water contaminated with hydrocarbons is known to be carcinogenic and can be dangerous, or toxic, to flora and fauna.

The researchers are now turning their attention to using this new approach to detect and monitor chemicals, such as the major toxic contaminants in oil sand tailings ponds that may impact surface water and groundwater.

“Building a comprehensive model that seamlessly transitions from one water source to another will speed up monitoring, and has the potential to be a game changer,” says Peleato.

This work was published in the journal Chemosphere, and funded in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

UBC researchers Nicolas Peleato and Li Ziyu examine the data after testing a water sample with a florescence spectrometer.

UBC researchers Nicolas Peleato and Li Ziyu examine the data after testing a water sample with a florescence spectrometer.

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

Fluorescence lighting helps detect impurities in water

Shining a beam of light into potentially contaminated water samples may hold the key to real-time detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides in water.

UBC Okanagan researchers are testing the use of fluorescence to monitor water quality. The results, they say, show great promise.

When a beam of light is shone into the water, it excites the electrons in molecules of certain compounds and causes them to emit light. The characteristics of the emitted light are like a fingerprint and can be used to identify certain contaminants, explains Nicolas Peleato, an assistant professor at UBCO’s School of Engineering.

“The challenge with using this fluorescence approach is that they are typically source-specific; meaning we have to calibrate for a particular water source and anticipate what specific contaminants we want to look for,” says Peleato. “In our latest work, we have developed a data processing technique that expands the effectiveness from one water source to others.”

This means their new technique removes a lot of the guesswork at the beginning of the process. As Peleato points out, every water source has a slightly different composition of organic compounds, which can hide the contaminant signals, so calibrating for each source is crucial for detection accuracy.

Using machine learning algorithms, Peleato and his graduate student Ziyu Li have devised an approach that addresses the challenge of source-specific models through mapping their similarities.

According to Li, it isn’t quite a one-size-fits-all method but it is close.

“By establishing a process that identifies similar patterns between water sources, the fluorescence detection becomes a viable option for real-time, accurate detection of hydrocarbons and pesticides,” explains Li.

During the testing process, the researchers look for unique shapes of fluorescence signals. Each unique shape indicates the presence of impurities and helps researchers determine what the impurity is and distinguish it from other compounds.

Water contaminated with hydrocarbons is known to be carcinogenic and can be dangerous, or toxic, to flora and fauna.

The researchers are now turning their attention to using this new approach to detect and monitor chemicals, such as the major toxic contaminants in oil sand tailings ponds that may impact surface water and groundwater.

“Building a comprehensive model that seamlessly transitions from one water source to another will speed up monitoring, and has the potential to be a game changer,” says Peleato.

This work was published in the journal Chemosphere, and funded in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

UBC researchers Nicolas Peleato and Li Ziyu examine the data after testing a water sample with a florescence spectrometer.

UBC researchers Nicolas Peleato and Li Ziyu examine the data after testing a water sample with a florescence spectrometer.

Two UBC Okanagan programs -- Geering Up Engineering Outreach and iSTAND -- recieved NSERC PromoScience funding to support hands-on learning experiences aimed at building the next generation of scientists and researchers.

Two UBC Okanagan programs -- Geering Up Engineering Outreach and iSTAND -- received NSERC PromoScience funding to support hands-on learning experiences aimed at building the next generation of scientists and researchers.

New funding promotes outreach to under-represented youth across the BC Interior

This year underrepresented and underserved youth in BC’s Interior will have increased access to science and engineering programming.

Last week the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) launched $12 million in PromoScience grants to support hands-on learning experiences aimed at building the next generation of scientists and research leaders.

The PromoScience program is designed to engage young Canadians and promote an understanding of science and engineering (including mathematics and technology).

At UBC Okanagan, funding will support two new opportunities to explore STEM. Adam Cornford, coordinator for Geering Up Engineering Outreach and Dr. Jennifer Jakobi, director of the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) program, both secured funding to enhance access to existing programs.

The pair say they are looking forward to providing these new initiatives to youth — especially young girls — Indigenous learners and teachers in local and remote communities across BC.

The funding at UBC Okanagan will support programs that were developed with local Indigenous communities to ensure culturally appropriate curriculum, integrating an Indigenous knowledge approach to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The NSERC PromoScience program funding will also be directed to girls-only programming and educator training. Girls-only programming is open to those who identify as transgendered, genderqueer and non-binary.

Cornford says the School of Engineering is excited about the expansion of the program.

“One of the things our staff is most looking forward to is connecting with elders and educators to implement land-based programming that incorporates the role of traditional knowledge into STEM education,” he says.

Dr. Jakobi and Cornford attribute the strength of their applications and programming to the ongoing collaborations with the Syilx People and the Okanagan Nation Alliance. Staff in both programs are looking forward to expanding these relationships and growing experiences for youth throughout BC.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to engage with Indigenous university students in learning hands-on STEM activities and support them to bring science experiences back home to youth in their community,” says Dr. Jakobi, professor in The School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

The expansion of both programs will happen this year, but the goal is to continue providing these programs far into the future, says School of Engineering Executive Associate Dean Rehan Sadiq.

Nearly four per cent of UBCO engineering students are Indigenous despite the fact that more than five per cent of the Canadian population self-identify as Indigenous,” explains Sadiq. “We are collaborating with our neighbouring Indigenous communities to highlight the exciting opportunities available in engineering. We are also thrilled to increase our total number of Indigenous faculty to four as of July 1.”

To learn more about iSTAND programs, visit: istand.ok.ubc.ca

To learn more about the Geering Up Engineering Outreach programs at UBC Okanagan, visit: geeringup.apsc.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researchers used computer modelling to simulate the movement of black bears and identify what attracts them to populated areas.

UBCO researchers used computer modelling to simulate the movement of black bears and identify what attracts them to populated areas.

Computer modelling shows reducing attractants most effective in keeping bears away

Conservationists have long warned of the dangers associated with bears becoming habituated to life in urban areas. Yet, it appears the message hasn’t gotten through to everyone.

News reports continue to cover seemingly similar situations — a foraging bear enters a neighbourhood, easily finds high-value food and refuses to leave. The story often ends with conservation officers being forced to euthanize the animal for public safety purposes.

Now, a new study by sustainability researchers in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science uses computer modelling to look at the best strategies to reduce human-bear conflict.

“It happens all the time, and unfortunately, humans are almost always at fault,” says study co-author Dr. Lael Parrott.

Looking to reduce the number of conflicts, Dr. Parrott and a team of researchers, including master's student Luke Crevier, built a computer model to simulate bears’ journeys within a specific urban area.

Their goal was to find the best way to keep bears out.

Using the resort municipality of Whistler as their area of inquiry, the team partnered with Margo Supplies, a wildlife management technology solutions company based in High River, Alberta. Using agent-based computer modelling, researchers were able to simulate the movement of black bears in and around Whistler, identifying the potential attractants luring them in.

“Our model allows us to drop in large amounts of data, including the landscape’s spatial characteristics, movement patterns collected from GPS tracking of real bears, and other important information to essentially create a virtual landscape,” says Crevier.

The problem, he adds, is that bears are attracted to what researchers call anthropogenic food — easily attainable food sources such as human garbage, berries or fruit.

“We were able to track the model bears as they moved through the landscape and interacted with different cells in the software that represented anthropogenic food, vegetation and human deterrents. The ability to input all of these proxies allowed us to better understand where they’re roaming, why, and test different strategies within the simulation to find the most effective way to keep them out.”

The study’s findings reinforced the team’s expectations that using attractant reduction and human deterrent strategies together was the most effective way to keep bears away. In cases where only one strategy could be applied, reducing attractants was the most effective.

“These results confirm that the most commonly used management strategies are indeed the most effective,” explains Crevier. “What was really interesting was how the model allowed us to identify attractants that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be considered — like human garbage or large amounts of berries on private land within city limits.”

A bear’s intelligence and memory are largely the reasons why reducing the availability of anthropogenic food is considered more effective than reactive management strategies that aim to deter bears, when used alone.

“Using deterrents like bear bangers may be effective temporarily in that the bear will get frightened and run away, but they won’t be gone for long,” explains Dr. Parrott. “They’ll remember being scared off, but their memories of the good meal will supersede their fear.”

Though Whistler was selected as the study location because of the large number of black bears venturing into town, Crevier says this same type of modelling can be used for communities across Canada experiencing similar issues.

“What’s cool about this model is it allows us to look at how different management strategies interact with each other, and this type of model can also be applied to better understand the movements of other large predators like cougars or wolves,” he adds.

Dr. Parrott stresses it is important to learn how to co-exist with wildlife in a way that’s safe for all — including the animals. While some people may not think twice about a neighbourhood bear being destroyed, the practice has far-reaching implications.

“We know that bears who tend to come into communities are often juvenile or female bears with cubs, because the large males already have all the ‘good spots’ and have established their territories,” she explains. “That’s cause for concern because it means the females are teaching their cubs techniques to access anthropogenic food. It also means these are the bears who are most often put down, so we’re selectively eliminating a particular part of their population.

The results of this study and similar agent-based models give conservationists another tool in the toolbox to help communities reduce the number of bears entering urban areas, ultimately reducing the number of bears destroyed, and putting the brakes on these problematic trends.”

This study, recently published in Ecological Modelling, was funded by an engage grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO’s Brendan Dyck is using his geology expertise about planet formation to help identify other planets that might support life. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

UBCO’s Brendan Dyck is using his geology expertise about planet formation to help identify other planets that might support life. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Findings will help better identify Earth-like planets that could sustain life

Astronomers have identified more than 4,000, and counting, confirmed exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than the sun — but only a fraction have the potential to sustain life.

Now, new research from UBC’s Okanagan campus is using the geology of early planet formation to help identify those that may be capable of supporting life.

“The discovery of any planet is pretty exciting, but almost everyone wants to know if there are smaller Earth-like planets with iron cores,” says Dr. Brendan Dyck, assistant professor of geology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and lead author on the study.

“We typically hope to find these planets in the so-called ‘goldilocks’ or habitable zone, where they are the right distance from their stars to support liquid water on their surfaces.”

Dr. Dyck says that while locating planets in the habitable zone is a great way to sort through the thousands of candidate planets, it’s not quite enough to say whether that planet is truly habitable.

“Just because a rocky planet can have liquid water doesn’t mean it does,” he explains. “Take a look right in our own solar system. Mars is also within the habitable zone and although it once supported liquid water, it has long since dried up.”

That, according to Dr. Dyck, is where geology and the formation of these rocky planets may play a key role in narrowing down the search. His research was recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Our findings show that if we know the amount of iron present in a planet’s mantle, we can predict how thick its crust will be and, in turn, whether liquid water and an atmosphere may be present,” he says. “It’s a more precise way of identifying potential new Earth-like worlds than relying on their position in the habitable zone alone.”

Dr. Dyck explains that within any given planetary system, the smaller rocky planets all have one thing in common — they all have the same proportion of iron as the star they orbit. What differentiates them, he says, is how much of that iron is contained in the mantle versus the core.

“As the planet forms, those with a larger core will form thinner crusts, whereas those with smaller cores form thicker iron-rich crusts like Mars.”

The thickness of the planetary crust will then dictate whether the planet can support plate tectonics and how much water and atmosphere may be present, key ingredients for life as we know it.

“While a planet’s orbit may lie within the habitable zone, its early formation history might ultimately render it inhabitable,” says Dr. Dyck. “The good news is that with a foundation in geology, we can work out whether a planet will support surface water before planning future space missions.”

Later this year, in a joint project with NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will launch. Dr. Dyck describes this as the golden opportunity to put his findings to good use.

“One of the goals of the JWST is to investigate the chemical properties of extra-solar planetary systems,” says Dr. Dyck. “It will be able to measure the amount of iron present in these alien worlds and give us a good idea of what their surfaces may look like and may even offer a hint as to whether they’re home to life.”

“We’re on the brink of making huge strides in better understanding the countless planets around us and in discovering how unique the Earth may or may not be. It may still be some time before we know whether any of these strange new worlds contain new life or even new civilizations, but it’s an exciting time to be part of that exploration.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Aerial view of UBC Okanagan

Projects will look at improving N95 masks, mental health and well-being

The BC Ministry of Health is investing in BC Interior research universities to understand the harmful effects of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on communities across the province.

The province has funded five collaborative research projects through the Interior University Research Coalition (IURC), a partnership between Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, the University of British Columbia, Okanagan (UBCO) in Kelowna and the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) in Prince George.

The projects being funded range from identifying the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to developing telehealth programs that will engage older adults outside urban centres. Other projects include a focus on improving the lifespan of N95 masks, as well as building a better understanding of whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health-care practitioners.

“This is a win-win-win situation for the province, for the universities, and for the communities we serve in terms of the impact this research will have on the health and quality of life for the people who live there,” says Will Garrett-Petts, associate vice-president, research and graduate studies at TRU.

He adds that the IURC has developed a model that can ensure responsible and innovative research.

“The work we’re doing is meaningful and is guided by the interests of the local and regional communities,” he says. “This is a wonderful model of collaboration, and one we are collectively celebrating.”

UBC Okanagan’s Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President for Research and Innovation Phil Barker agrees. He says his campus is especially excited to be working on an initiative that is highly collaborative and that spans campuses and institutions across the BC interior.

“We’re delighted that the BC Ministry of Health is investing in this initiative to help mitigate the effects of COVID-19 throughout our province,” explains Barker. “Our researchers have been able to mobilize quickly through the tri-university partnership and each of the selected projects will leverage our respective strengths to serve communities across BC.”

The BC Ministry of Health has provided the IURC with $150,000 to launch this initiative. The IURC was established in 2017 to advance the research and innovation capacity and commercialization potential of the BC Interior and create new opportunities for economic and social innovation. The inaugural funding is focused largely on COVID-19 issues that affect the BC Interior but the results from these projects will help support regional and provincial health care decision-making and provide real-world opportunities for students to gain experience in the complex, ever-changing realm of health care.

“When researchers from different institutions collaborate across disciplines, the research outcomes benefit from different perspectives and synergies that result from cross-institutional collaboration,” says Kathy Lewis, acting vice-president of research at UNBC. “These projects are fantastic examples of what’s possible when researchers from across the BC Interior come together and seek solutions to pressing public health concerns.”

About the projects

  • Shannon Freeman, associate professor in UNBC’s School of Nursing, has partnered with Piper Jackson, assistant professor of computer science at TRU, to develop a COVID-19 risk assessment tool that identifies homecare clients who are at greatest risk of contracting the virus.
  • Jian Liu and Abbas Milani of UBCO’s School of Engineering will be working with Hossein Kazemian of UNBC to improve the lifespan of nanofibres and activated carbon mats in N95 masks.
  • Brodie Sakakibara, assistant professor in UBCO’s Southern Medical Program and investigator in the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, is working with researchers at UBCO, UNBC and Interior Health to create a student-delivered Community Outreach Telehealth Program that will engage older adults from outside urban centres and establish best practices for providing health support during a pandemic.
  • TRU’s Bala Nikku has teamed up with Khalad Hasan from UBCO and Rahul Jain from UNBC to better understand whether new technologies are improving the resiliency of rural health care practitioners.
  • Nelly Oelke, associate professor in UBCO’s School of Nursing and scientific director of the Rural Coordination Centre of BC, will be collaborating with UBCO’s Donna Kurtz, UNBC’s Davina Banner-Lukaris and TRU’s Bonnie Fournier to expand ongoing research that explores the mental health impacts of climate change events. The new study will identify the effects of the pandemic on the mental health and well-being of people living in rural communities to help foster resilience.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

COVID-19 shouldn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

COVID-19 needn't be an excuse to skip Valentine's Day.

UBCO researcher offers advice on stress reduction, relationship maintenance

Unfortunately, love isn’t the only thing on people’s minds this Valentine’s Day season.

The spread of COVID-19 and its new variants, paired with public health orders, have forced some couples to reconsider their Valentine’s Day plans.

But is it really the roses, fancy chocolates and in-person dining experiences that show someone how much you care for them?

Dr. Jessica Lougheed, an assistant professor of psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, researches interpersonal emotion dynamics. As February 14 fast approaches, Lougheed  shares some tips for a virtual Valentine's Day:

Physical distancing due to COVID-19 has forced some people to change the way they spend time with their partners. Why is it emotionally difficult for humans to not have physical contact with loved ones?

There’s a growing body of research that shows humans have evolved to function optimally when we’re physically closer to the ones we love. For example, data has shown that our brains are better able to process potential threats and stressors in our environment if we have actual physical contact with someone we love—like hand-holding.

Obviously, many humans have been deprived of this physical contact due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean all is lost—it just means we need to find new ways of connecting to others and managing stress.

How is stress related to mood—and can it impact how we treat our partners?

Stress is closely related to mood. While people have different emotional responses to it, stress can increase one’s irritability and make them feel flatter emotional responses to both good and bad. It can also make people feel like they’re just having a more difficult time navigating the multiple dimensions of day-to-day life like chores, running a household, school, work, kids, friends—all of these things can seem more difficult without the physical support of your partner or close social contacts.

Staying connected, even virtually, helps share the burden of the emotional loads that we’re all carrying around right now. If we don’t take the time to resolve our stress, it can grow over time, and indeed negatively affect our interpersonal relationships. So my recommendation is to acknowledge stress and then find an outlet for it—it could be physical exercise, safely spending time outdoors or even having a good cry, which can really help end the stress response cycle.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching—what advice do you have for those who aren’t comfortable with celebrating in-person, but have a partner who wants to see them?

Being upfront and honest with your partner is by far the best thing you can do—and have the conversation early on, don’t leave it to the last minute. Everyone has a different personal comfort level with managing risks related to COVID-19. Perhaps it stems from living in a multi-generational household or working with someone who has a weakened immune system—no matter what the reasoning, it’s important to emphasize it’s not about not wanting to see your partner. It’s about public health orders and keeping the community safe.

All relationships require ongoing effort to maintain them. You don’t just find a partner and everything is wonderful. Instead, solid, healthy relationships are built on a foundation of honesty, love and care.

Can you have a meaningful Valentine’s Day while apart?

Absolutely! Plenty of businesses offer virtual Valentine’s Day events like wine tastings or art classes. There are all sorts of special activities couples can do together while being apart—it just may require some creative thinking.

I also want to note that it’s actually the little gestures over time that make the biggest impact. Think about sending your partner a message to let them know they’re on your mind or how much you appreciate them working together to solve a problem—showing you value the little, everyday actions are as important as the grand gestures in maintaining a healthy relationship.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Simulation session in the KGH emergency department. Note: in order to conserve PPE, the team pictured here is wearing PPE appropriate for simulation but not bedside patient care.

Training protocols support learning and build confidence for front-line staff

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and allied health professionals in BC and across the country ramped up patient simulation training to prepare for the impending health care crisis.

Research from the Southern Medical Program (SMP) based at UBC Okanagan is highlighting a new pandemic simulation guide as a critical resource for helping the provincial health care system stay up to date.

Patient simulation serves an integral tool to support and test a health care system’s emergency preparedness for multiple scenarios including a pandemic. However, ready access to equipment, space and resources varies greatly by community especially those situated in rural and remote settings.

As cases of COVID-19 started appearing across BC, Dr. Jared Baylis and the Interior Health simulation team fielded an urgent and heightened number of requests for simulation training as hospitals and communities grappled with how to safely treat an influx of sick and contagious patients.

“The stakes were high as health care teams looked to simulation to help effectively manage COVID-19 patients and ensure the safety of front-line staff,” says Baylis, an emergency medicine physician and simulation lead with the SMP and Interior Health (IH).

In response, Baylis and the IH simulation team worked rapidly to develop a standardized set of protocols that could support the safe delivery of simulation exercises regardless of the environment. In rural hospitals and clinics where space is often limited or unavailable, training must be conducted on the wards or in other clinical spaces such as operating rooms.

The COVID-19 Simulation Guide gives simulation educators, from novice to expert, the tools and resources to facilitate training that allow participants to feel safe, learn from the sessions and prepare to confidently handle COVID-19 cases within their unique clinical environments.

“We want to ensure exercises are productive, respect physical distance measures, and optimize the use of personal protective equipment,” adds Baylis. “Our hope is to build capacity for COVID-19 training across BC, particularly within rural areas that lack access to dedicated simulation resources.”

A recent study by fourth-year SMP student Hilary Drake highlighted the guide’s impact and broad use within the health care community in BC and beyond. The guide is available to download for free from the BC Simulation Network website.

“The guide has enabled health care professionals with little to no simulation experience conduct successful COVID-19 simulation sessions,” says Drake. “It has supported learning from across the continuum of care from emergency departments and intensive care units to long-term care facilities and primary care settings.”

The study was recently published in the Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The survey showed that 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment.

The survey showed that 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment.

Expanded access to specialized care and reduced travel key benefits for patients and caregivers

New research from the UBC Southern Medical Program (SMP) supports the use of telehealth in the care of Parkinson’s patients in rural communities, particularly within the Interior Health region.

The treatment of Parkinson’s disease is highly complex and relies heavily on a patient’s changes in their physical features over time, such as the rigidity of muscles and movement of limbs. As these characteristics can vary significantly between patients, personalized treatment plans must reflect individual circumstances and other lifestyle factors.

Fourth-year SMP student Dakota Peacock and lead author of the new study underscores the need for Parkinson’s patients to have access to quality health care regardless of the size and location of their home community.

Within the BC Interior’s vast and mountainous landscapes, lengthy travel times and hazardous road conditions, especially during the winter months, can provide additional barriers to patients and their caregivers. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in the need for virtual health care options to support patients remotely.

“The focus of our study was to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Parkinson’s patients within Interior Health region in accessing specialized care,” says Peacock. “We also sought to assess their potential willingness to use telehealth technologies in supporting their health and well-being.”

Dr. Daryl Wile, neurologist with the Okanagan Movement Disorder Clinic and study co-author, acknowledges the effectiveness of telehealth in Parkinson’s care is yet to be established. However, he believes certain aspects of physical exams are less critical in follow-up appointments and could be delivered remotely.

“To use telemedicine for people with Parkinson’s Disease we need to understand how we can adapt the tools we have to the many different types of symptoms they may be facing,” says Wile, clinical assistant professor with the SMP based at UBC Okanagan.

Based on the survey results, 80 per cent of respondents indicated a willingness to use telehealth for follow-up appointments as part of their Parkinson’s treatment. Key challenges reported including difficulty accessing specialized care closer to home and the financial and emotional toll of travel on caregivers or family members.

“It’s encouraging that we could potentially minimize some of the barriers and stressors for Parkinson’s patients in accessing care, but fully recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” adds Peacock.

The UBC study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Understanding how gut mucus packages microbiota could lead to new ways of disease detection 

Gut mucus. It may not be everyone’s favourite subject, but new research from UBC Okanagan has found it’s more complex and intimately linked to the body’s microbiota than previously thought.

Microbiota is a physiological force made up of microbes—mostly bacteria, fungi and viruses. While it often does good, like extracting energy from diet, warding off pathogens and promoting a healthy immune system, if it’s off-balance, it can also work against the body to promote illnesses like cancer, inflammation and obesity.

Working with colleagues at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, UBCO researchers recently published a study in Science examining this new-found relationship, why it matters, and how it may lead to less-invasive disease screening.

Kirk Bergstrom is an assistant professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and co-lead author of the study.

Let’s talk mucus. What are the misconceptions about it and how is it useful for our bodies?

I think people associate mucus with being sticky, gooey and kind of gross—but in the gut, it’s actually really important physiologically, and can protect from microbiota-driven diseases like cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about it, and that’s because it’s really complicated, decorated with thousands of sugar structures we call O-glycans that make up most of the molecule. It’s also hard to access so we could never get a lot of it to study.

Your study provides some new insight into how the mucus system works. Can you elaborate on this?

It was long-thought that mucus was continually produced along the entire length of the gut, especially in the colon, and that it stuck to the tissue to form a barrier to these microbes. It was thought to be immobile and have an overall similar chemical composition throughout.

Our study essentially showed the opposite. We found that the mucus does not attach to tissue, it attaches to the microbiota within the fecal mass, forming a seal around the community as it moves through the colon.  It’s also made up of two chemical sugar ‘flavours’—a dominant one is produced way up in the first part of the colon and the other, previously undiscovered kind, is formed in the lower colon.

What’s also really interesting is that the microbes themselves promote their own sealing by boosting production of the mucus in the first part of the colon. The sugars on this mucus then influence the types of microbes that thrive, the molecules they produce and where they position themselves in the gut.  All this, we believe, promotes their good functions, for example, by preventing unwanted inflammation.

How do your study results help advance knowledge in the field, and what impact could they have for the general public? 

Discovering this connection between mucus, its sugars, and microbes really changes how we view our microbial friends and how they live, move and behave in the gut. This has implications for microbial transmission—once they are packaged up, how does this influence where they ultimately go? How do pathogens escape this sealing and cause disease?

Another really exciting opportunity is that since the mucus system is attached to the fecal mass, this opens the door to easier non-invasive ways of accessing mucus, and that’s going to lead to a better understanding of its chemistry and biology. In line with this, we envision new opportunities for non-invasive biomarker discovery for chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer, since changes in the mucus sugars can be early warning signs for disease, we can potentially easily screen from these markers without the need for uncomfortable biopsies and endoscopies.

Where do you go from here? 

These were pre-clinical studies, meaning they were conducted using mouse models, which are essential biologic tools for health researchers. However, our next step is to take these results and replicate them in humans. Actually, our study already shows evidence that a similar mucus formation mechanism is present in humans, but we want to dig deeper to see if microbes influence this as we move forward.

We also want to begin using this new understanding and way of analyzing mucus in fecal samples to explore how things like diet, antibiotics, lifestyle or disease impact the structure and composition of the mucus.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

Bergstrom would like to thank his mentor Lijun Xia, and colleagues Xindi Shan, Wesley Zandberg, Deanna Gibson and Sepideh Pakpour for their contributions to this research.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca