Nathan Skolski

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


 

New course seeks to make the operating theatre safer and more efficient

UBC Okanagan student Hafsah Khan is immersed in an operating room at the Hospital for Special Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York where a spine surgery is currently underway; although she is not physically there. The fourth-year mechanical engineering student is wearing a virtual reality headset to observe the surgery as part of an innovative new clinical engineering course being offered by UBCO.

“Clinical engineering is a field few people have heard of but it’s one that is likely to impact them directly if ever they find themselves in an operating room,” explains Sabine Weyand, an instructor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. “Our goal as clinical engineers is to make an operation as safe and efficient as possible.”

Weyand compares surgery to a complex and well-choreographed dance with everything in its place and everyone with a role to play.

“Our job is to analyze every step of that dance, from the tools surgeons use to the lighting design to where people stand and how they interact,” she says. “It’s all dissected and analyzed to improve the mechanics of the procedure and, above all, patient care.”

During the course, three types of surgeries are viewed including a hip replacement, a robotically-assisted knee replacement and a transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion back surgery.

Weyand says local experts at the Interior Health Authority were key developing the course content and shaping the virtual reality labs.

“I wanted the experience to be as realistic as possible and to help students understand the real-world design challenges that they might encounter right here in the Okanagan,” she adds. “The clinical engineering course exposes students to clinical environments, a variety of diagnostic and treatment tools, as well as the complex human factors and regulatory requirements that accompany any surgical intervention.”

According to Khan, the reports are challenging because they require students to incorporate medical and anatomical vocabulary while understanding the procedure itself.

“It is definitely a big challenge, but fun to step outside of the traditional engineering lab environment and find ways to improve how these medical procedures are done.”

Interior Health also sees the value in providing UBC Okanagan engineering students with virtual reality experiences.

“These students, as future clinical engineers, need to have the latest information and technology at their fingertips,” says Aaron Miller, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Interior Health. “Virtual reality operating room observations are providing hands-on experiences to see how different healthcare providers work and provide direct patient care.”

He says that students that understand the needs of healthcare providers are better able to support healthcare teams and improve patient outcomes.

Meanwhile back in the lab, Khan adjusts her eyes after removing her virtual reality headset. She says the course has already made a lasting impression.

“After this course, I am way more interested in pursuing a career in biomedical engineering.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, 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.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan engineer says not all body types are taken into account

As technology advances in the things we use every day, it’s generally accepted they also become safer. But according to one UBC engineer, that may not be true for a large portion of the population.

New research from UBC’s Okanagan campus has developed an innovative model to map the impact of trauma on a pregnant woman and her uterus if she were involved in an accident—with the hopes of making everything from airbags to seatbelts safer for all.

“I became an engineer because I firmly believe we have an incredible ability to make the world a safer and better place,” says Hadi Mohammadi, an assistant professor at the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering and lead author on the study. “But unfortunately a large portion of the world around us is designed and built excluding a group representing 50 per cent of the population—women.”

Motor vehicles, explains Mohammadi, are a prime example. He says that things like seatbelts, airbags and even the vibrations of the suspension are designed with the male body in mind, largely ignoring the physiology differences between men and women or women who are pregnant.

Hadi Mohammadi is an assistant professor at UBC’s School of Engineering.

Hadi Mohammadi is an assistant professor at UBC’s School of Engineering.

“A pregnant woman’s body is under very unique stresses that absolutely must be taken into account when designing safety equipment—especially in something she’s going to be using every day, like a car or a bus,” says Mohammadi. “Our intention was to create a model of how different mechanical traumas, like those you’d see in a car accident, impact a woman’s uterus specifically.”

It’s an area that he says has very little research behind it.

“Medicine spends a lot of time seeking to keep fetuses healthy on the inside but we don’t know much on the impact of exterior traumas to maternal and fetal health,” he adds.

The model is the first of its kind to use CT-scan data—a tool to visualize the interior of the body in real-time—to map out and compare trauma on pregnant and non-pregnant abdomens. Mohammadi and his team were able to gauge the impact of different amounts of force and penetration into the abdominal area.

“We found that a pregnant women’s abdomen responds similarly to a non-pregnant abdomen during events involving less force, but the pregnant abdomen responds more rigidly when faced with greater impact,” he says. “This is an important factor in the risk of injury for both mother and fetus during a traumatic event like an airbag going off.”

Mohammadi hopes his model can help future engineers rethink how they design safety equipment and sees this kind of research as just the tip of the iceberg.

“While our research looked specifically at pregnant women, the reality is that humans come in all different shapes, sizes and with different abilities,” he says. “Thinking about the safety and other needs of everyone—no matter their height or weight—really needs to be part of engineering and design right from the beginning.”

The study was published last month in the International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, 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.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Brodie Sakakibara is an assistant professor with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan.

Greater efforts to improve lifestyle identified as a solution

A lack of physical activity, a poor diet and too much stress are taking their toll on the health of Canadians, says a new UBC study.

Researchers from UBC’s Faculty of Medicine caution that too many Canadians live with a number of health issues that impact their ability to lead healthy lifestyles.

Brodie Sakakibara is an assistant professor with the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management based at UBC Okanagan. He, along with colleagues Adebimpe Obembe and Janice Eng from UBC's department of physical therapy, recently published a study examining how common it is for Canadians to have multiple—and serious—health conditions.

“Inactivity, poor diet and more than optimal amounts of stress combined with an aging population are resulting in increasing numbers of Canadians with cardiometabolic conditions, and thus increasing their risk of poor health,” says Sakakibara.

Stroke, heart disease and diabetes are three of the most prevalent chronic diseases worldwide, he says and they have a substantial social and economic burden. They are cardiometabolic diseases—affecting the heart and blood vessels—mostly caused by lifestyle behaviours and are the leading causes of health resource use, hospitalizations, morbidity and mortality in Canada.

Cardiometabolic multimorbidity (CM) is having a diagnosis of at least two of those conditions. Using data from a 2016 Canadian Community Health Survey with 689,300 respondents, the researchers investigated CM and its connection to physical activity, diet and stress.

The study reports that the number of Canadians with CM or at risk of CM is high, and an increasing onset of cardiometabolic conditions is associated with higher chances of physical inactivity and stress.

“We found that people with all three diseases had four times the chance of reporting zero minutes of physical activity per week than people with none of the conditions. And similarly, they had four times the chance of reporting high levels of stress,” says Sakakibara. “These lifestyle behaviours are clearly associated with bad or even dangerous health outcomes.”

The issue, he adds, is that healthcare management for people with multiple chronic diseases is traditionally based on disease-specific strategies often independent of one another—a person with diabetes is treated for that chronic illness and not others. This leads to fragmented care with multiple care providers and systems.

“Often most patients with multiple chronic conditions develop complications that are clinically complex and become unique healthcare challenges. These complexities are often poorly understood, which means these patients have unmet health care needs,” says Eng.

While getting more active, lowering stress and eating well won’t cure all ailments, Sakakibara says it would certainly be a step in the right direction. The study suggests the time has come for greater efforts to prevent CM in individuals at high risk (i.e., those with one cardiometabolic condition), as well as efforts to help people with CM better manage their health and well-being.

“Lifestyle behaviour modification is an important strategy for the management and prevention of future heart or stroke events,” he says. “Physical activity several times a week, combined with a healthier diet, can manage risk and complications, while at the same time helping to lower stress.”

This study, partially funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Michael Smith Foundation, was published recently in BMC Public Health.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, 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.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Associate Professor of History Brigitte Le Normand is the academic director of UBCO's public humanities hub.

Researchers bring reasoning into scientific, often polarizing, issues

In an era when divisions in society seem more prevalent than ever, two UBC humanities professors are using the power of arts, history and philosophy to build bridges and address the world’s most pressing issues.

UBC is putting a spotlight on the human side of research through the creation of a public humanities hub on both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. Associate Professor Brigitte Le Normand, director of the Okanagan hub, says this initiative is designed to bring the university’s brightest thinkers from the humanities together to explore emerging public policy questions.

“We’re faced with a number of critical problems and we have a tendency to turn to scientists and engineers for the answer,” says Le Normand. “Technology certainly has a lot to contribute, but humanists can step in by asking how can we even frame the problems in the first place and how does that shape the solutions we develop.”

Le Normand, a history professor, says research from the Public Humanities Hub will be interdisciplinary, bridging connections in faculties across both campuses. While it supports UBC’s research culture it will also publicize and organize humanities research and amplify the work of humanists on the Okanagan campus.

Adding critical thinking and reasonable voices to those solutions is part of the humanities mandate, says Greg Garrard, a professor of environmental humanities at UBCO. There is a need for different voices when it comes to research and problem solving, he says. Sometimes adding a humanist voice to the conversation can help change hearts and minds on issues that can polarize society.

“We might turn to technology to solve our issues but it may be that technological solutions are not the best for addressing the problem,” says Garrard. “Perhaps the problem is bigger than that and you need to find an opening for other kinds of conversation. This is a great example of where humanists can step in and change the terms of the discussion.”

While there are specific pillars of interest the hub will focus on—medical ethics, the environment, digital humanities and public history—both Garrard and Le Normand cite several examples of everyday situations where humanities can play a significant role in scientific conversations and resolutions including medically assisted death, justice by social media and climate change.

“One of the biggest challenges of our day is the climate emergency,” she says. “It’s polarizing and that very polarization prevents us from addressing problems. If you can step around that inherent conflict, you can change the very terms of the conversation. Suddenly the doors open for a productive conversation that didn’t previously exist.”

Over the next year, the Okanagan public humanities hub will host a speaker series, inviting the public to learn from experts about a number of topics. There are also plans for a conference in July where the researchers will highlight some of the work taking place at UBC. More information about the hub can be found at: public-humanities.cms.ok.ubc.ca

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, 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.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet, whose research focusses on measuring kindness in schools, children and adolescents, practices what he preaches. Binfet poses with his new rescue dog Craig.

UBCO Associate Professor John-Tyler Binfet, whose research focusses on measuring kindness in schools, children and adolescents, practices what he preaches. Binfet poses with his new rescue dog Craig.

UBCO researcher seeks to understand the good things that people do

World Kindness Day takes place on November 13. For some, it’s a time to focus on and promote the power of positivity. For others, it’s a day to celebrate the thoughtful acts performed by friends, family, neighbours and strangers.

For UBC Okanagan researcher John-Tyler Binfet, a professor in the School of Education, recognizing and celebrating kindness happens throughout the year. For the last eight years, he has dedicated himself to researching how children and adolescents think about and enact kindness.

With World Kindness Day approaching, Binfet shares his research experiences and highlights the importance of nurturing pro-social behaviours in children and adolescents.

Binfet is currently working on a book for University of Toronto Press that will focus on the ways parents and educators can support traits like compassion and sympathy in children and adolescents. The book will be released in late 2020.

Why research kindness in schools?

Parents and educators typically have high expectations that children and adolescents are kind, but there is little research that shows how they are. The work I do sheds light on how children and adolescents define, demonstrate and receive kindness, especially within the context of schools.

I hope my work counterbalances the bullying literature and that it elevates the discussion of kindness.

What challenges did you face when you started your research?

Initially, there was no way to measure kindness in schools. So, the first foray into my research was to develop a scale. I worked with two UBC colleagues, Anne M. Gadermann, a specialist in the social determinants of health, and Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, an applied developmental psychologist. Together we developed the School Kindness Scale which asked students to what extent their school and the people in it are kind based on a five-point scale.

After more than 3,000 interviews with Okanagan-based kindergarten to grade nine students, what have you learned?

Not all kindness is the same. According to children and adolescents there are different types, which include:

  • Intentional, where you make a plan. For example, when you know a friend is sad and you decide to do something to cheer them up.
  • Random, where the act is spontaneously performed or reactionary, like picking up a dropped book for someone.
  • Quiet, where the thoughtful act doesn’t draw attention to the initiator. Like leaving change in the vending machine for the next student.

Being kind doesn’t necessarily come easily to all students, however, and there are some who need extra support to understand the concept. When asked, some students struggled with defining kindness and generating examples of what they could do to show it.

What was a highlight for you during your interviews?

I think one of my key takeaways was what I learned about how students see kindness in their teachers. When asked to describe a teacher being kind, overwhelmingly they will describe a teacher teaching—providing support to children to advance their learning. It wasn’t the big fieldtrips or guest speakers in the class that they identified, it was teachers showing they care about students through instruction.

How can we help children and adolescents cultivate kindness?

Ask yourself: ‘How am I kind? How do I show that I’m thoughtful, courteous or compassionate?’ Parents, educators and community members can all help children and adolescents develop strong social and emotional skills by modelling pro-social behaviour—basically, the type of behaviour they wish to see exhibited by others.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, 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.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca