Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

School of Social Work Director John Graham says that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.

School of Social Work Director John Graham says that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.

Forgotten population becomes more so during time of crises and disease

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers is looking at strategies that could help the homeless during a pandemic.

John Graham, director of UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work, says while many populations have been targeted with guidelines to keep them safe, homeless people have been mostly overlooked.

While this research project began a few years ago, Graham says his team quickly turned their attention to the impact of COVID-19. His team looked at peer-reviewed publications, dating back to 1984, that examined how homeless populations were impacted by other highly contagious or communicable illnesses such as tuberculous, H1NI and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

“Those experiencing homelessness do not fare well in terms of general health and this risk rises during public health outbreaks,” says Graham. “Research findings have shown that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.”

Before this research, Graham, who is principal investigator of the Kelowna Homelessness Research Initiative, says no one really knew how pandemics historically impacted services for the homeless sector.

“It’s important to remember that when public health officials make recommendations and response to a community they don’t necessarily take into account all populations,” he says. “Some of the methods of response are not easily transferable to the homeless populations — that’s partially because of their transient nature. But it is not unusual for homeless individuals to have a number of underlying illnesses, which could leave them more susceptible to virus obtainment, transmission and mortality.”

Postdoctoral researcher Jordan Babando says they looked at a range of journal articles from across the world and identified six key themes that particularly affect the homeless: education and outreach, structure of services provided, screening and contact tracing, transmission and prevention strategies, shelter protocols and finally treatment, adherence and vaccination.

“Those experiencing homelessness often live in low‐capacity shelters or transient locations that likely have no access to hygienic resources. This places them at increased risk of obtaining and spreading viruses in comparison to the general population,” says Babando.

Shelter overcrowding, poor ventilation and an accumulation of clients with predispositions to infection increase the risk factors for virus and also complicate detection and tracing procedure, he explains.

“These concerns provide extraordinary considerations for developing and implementing pandemic and outbreak response planning and protocols,” says Babando. “Trying to get the homeless population to come into the clinic for a vaccine and adhere to stay at home or social distancing regulations is difficult.”

The goal of this research paper, says Graham, is to help public health agencies and homelessness sectors formulate a pandemic response to homeless populations.

“We need to move the needle as quickly as possible when it comes to our homeless situation,” he says. “COVID-19 is extraordinarily significant for all of us, but most especially our vulnerable people. We hope these findings will contribute further to the dialogue help to end homelessness.”

The paper, published recently in Health and Social Care, was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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

Analyzing parental and then subsequent teen use of cannabis can provide important information in terms of intervention. Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@exxteban?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Esteban Lopez</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>.

Analyzing parental and then subsequent teen use of cannabis can provide important information in terms of intervention. Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash.

UBCO research shows understanding teen use helps develop effective prevention programs

Turns out the old adage, “monkey see, monkey do,” does ring true — even when it comes to cannabis use. However, when cannabis use involves youth, it’s see, think, then do, says a team of UBC Okanagan researchers.

The team found that kids who grow up in homes where parents consume cannabis will more than likely use it themselves. Parental influence on the use of cannabis is important to study as it can help with the development of effective prevention programs, explains Maya Pilin, a doctoral psychology student in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

“Adolescence is a critical period in which drug and alcohol experimentation takes place and when cannabis use is often initiated,” says Pilin. “Parents are perhaps the most influential socializing agent for children and early adolescents.”

Pilin says it has long been assumed that parental use of cannabis contributes to higher levels of adolescent use. However, while there has been research about parental use of alcohol and whether their children drink, there is less known about pathways to cannabis use.

“What we found mirrors closely what has been found in past research with alcohol use — that parental use influences adolescents’ use as well,” she says.

For their research, the team used data from a survey of almost 700 students in Grades 7 to 9, which is when previous studies demonstrate that cannabis use increases dramatically. Each year, the students were asked over a three-year period, if one or both of their parents used cannabis, if so, how frequently and whether they also use it. As the students aged, their cannabis use began and increased.

This data was collected before cannabis was decriminalized in Canada in 2017.

“We wanted to try and explain, how parental use, while their kids were in Grade 7, would be associated with their kids’ use by ninth grade,” says Dr. Sarah Dow-Fleisner, a researcher with the School of Social Work. “We hypothesized that early parental use would impact how teens think about cannabis use, in particular whether parental use early in adolescence would be associated with more positive expectations and perceptions of cannabis use by Grade 8, and whether that would lead to an increased chance of using cannabis by Grade 9. What we thought is exactly what we found.”

UBCO Psychology Professor Dr. Marvin Krank funded the research and collected the data for the study in collaboration with Okanagan valley school districts.

“This work is an important extension of previous studies about how parents influence their children’s cannabis use in subtle ways,” he says. “Children of parents who use cannabis have more associations and positive thoughts that quickly come to mind in response to cues associated with cannabis use. Such quick and automatic thinking influences their choices often without their awareness.”

Analyzing parental and then subsequent teen use of cannabis can provide important information in terms of intervention. Effective interventions need to consider the way youth think about cannabis use and how that has been shaped by parents, says Pilin.

Understanding the reasons for early cannabis use is essential to developing effective prevention programs in these formative years, explains Dr. Dow-Fleisner, as early use of cannabis is associated with harmful effects on mental and social developmental outcomes. It also increases the chance of experimentation with other drugs and greatly increases the risk of being diagnosed with a substance-use disorder in adulthood.

“What is important is that we do see across the literature that parent use and experiences with cannabis in early adolescence are linked with cannabis use later in adolescence, and part of this relationship has to do with the way teens think about cannabis,” she adds. “It helps us think about ways to intervene and prevent cannabis use — our interventions must address how youth think about substance use based on their familial and personal experiences.”

The research, funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was published recently in Addictive Behaviors.

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

Virtual ceremony celebrates social and technological innovation

It is award season, and not just in the entertainment industry.

Last Thursday at a special virtual ceremony, UBC Okanagan researchers were honoured for their innovative and groundbreaking work.

At the ceremony, Dr. Phil Barker, UBCO’s vice-principal and associate vice-president of research and innovation, announced the campus’s four researchers of the year. The awards recognize those who have made a significant contribution to research in the areas of natural sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities, and health. A graduate student is also honoured annually at this event.

The research highlighted — from wireless technology to psychedelic-drug assisted therapy to diabetes research and tackling social inequalities — demonstrates the breadth of impact UBCO researchers are having locally, nationally and internationally, says Dr. Barker.

“This is one of my favourite times of the year, when I have the pleasure of acknowledging some of our star researchers and highlighting their contributions,” he says. “UBC’s Okanagan campus is one of the most rapidly expanding campuses in Canada and we continue to attract top-notch scholars and researchers.”

Natural Sciences and Engineering Researcher of the year: Dr. Julian Cheng

This year, Dr. Julian Cheng was named the natural sciences and engineering researcher of the year. Dr. Cheng is an expert in digital communications and signal processing.

He has many patents and has recently invented an indoor optical wireless location technique that improves receiver accuracy and will allow precise control of robot movement. His research also includes an intra-body communication device using wireless technology that will benefit health-care systems.

Health Research of the Year: Dr. Jonathan Little

When it comes to health research, Dr. Jonathan Little has been investigating improved treatments and possible prevention of Type 2 diabetes.

Much of his work revolves around the impact of healthy eating and exercise to stave off metabolic disease. He works with several partner organizations to improve the lives of people living with chronic illness and disease. Dr. Little also leads the Airborne Disease Transmission Research Cluster, a cross-campus research team that aims to lessen the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne illnesses.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research of the Year: Dr. Eric Li

Dr. Eric Li, the winner of the social sciences and humanities award, is an expert on social trends and a champion for the underdog.

His research focuses on interdisciplinary collaborations with non-profit organizations and local government to improve social inequities. His overreaching goal is to improve the lives of everyday people around the world. Through his community-based research, he has made an impact on food insecurity, poverty, urban densification and rural community building in our region.

Graduate Student Research of the Year: Michelle St. Pierre

Doctoral student Michelle St. Pierre has been honoured for her work in substance use and mental health, with a focus on cannabis and psychedelic use and harm reduction.

She has made significant research breakthroughs in how people cope with pain and pain sensitivity. As a founder of the UBC Okanagan chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, St. Pierre has received international media attention for her research on cannabinoid-based analgesics and is a national expert on cannabis policy.

“The purpose of these awards is to highlight and honour the research excellence that makes UBC a top 40 global university,” adds Dr. Barker. “I am impressed with the calibre of all our researchers and am very proud of this year’s recipients. I look forward to their future successes.”

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

UBC Okanagan’s 2021 student researcher of the year Michelle St. Pierre.

UBC Okanagan’s 2021 student researcher of the year Michelle St. Pierre.

Psychology student motivated by novel treatments to reduce violence and pain

Michelle St. Pierre has been named UBC Okanagan’s student researcher of the year. A student in psychology studying under Dr. Zach Walsh in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, St. Pierre completed an honours thesis and her master’s at the Okanagan campus before beginning her doctoral work.

Her research has made international headlines and, as the founder of UBC Okanagan’s chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, St. Pierre is hoping to change the conversation when it comes to the therapeutic use of what are considered illicit drugs.

Lately, her research has focused on the use of psychedelic drugs. She explains how they have an important and legitimate role to play when it comes to curbing intimate partner violence and helping other people deal with pain management.

For decades, psychedelic drugs have been vilified in the media and by society. But your current research explores the potential of psychedelic therapies. Will research like yours change the tide of misconception?

It’s been amazing to see how public perception of psychedelics has evolved in the short time since I began researching them in 2015 as an undergraduate student. Our research was some of the first to show that, unlike other substances such as alcohol, psychedelic use was associated with a lower prevalence of domestic violence. This finding went against the war on drugs propaganda, which vilifies psychedelics and classifies them as harmful substances with little to no medical benefit.

Fast forward six years and societal acceptance of psychedelics seem to be outpacing research. It’s an exciting time to begin a research career with the landscape becoming more accepting. I plan on continuing to challenge the assumptions we have by conducting rigorous research on the legitimate effects of psychedelic use in humans.

Your earlier research examined the use of cannabis and the relationship with acute pain. What were your findings?

Yes, my master’s thesis examined pain tolerance in people who frequently use cannabis compared to those who don’t. Unlike with opioid medications, my study didn’t see an increase in pain sensitivity among those regularly using cannabis. This is good news for folks who are already using cannabis to treat their pain.

These findings ended up generating more questions for me around the mechanism of the pain-relieving effects of cannabis. I designed a study to build on these results, but it was put on hold due to COVID-19. I’m looking forward to exploring the relationship between cannabis and pain in the coming years.

Psychedelic drugs are considered non-addictive. Is that why they might be considered helpful for treating individuals with chronic conditions?

Psychedelics have an extremely low risk of toxicity and a sort-of built-in anti-addiction mechanism due to the rapid tolerance that humans develop from repeated dosing of what we call “classic psychedelics” including magic mushrooms, acid and ayahuasca.

In contrast to widely used prescription medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, the therapeutic effects of psychedelics appear to manifest from very few doses used in conjunction with talk therapy. Prior research has largely focused on a few doses over several weeks.

Additionally, our lab is conducting one of the largest “micro-dosing” studies to date, which uses a sub-perceptual dose of psychedelics. But even with this near-daily dosing, we don’t see similar physical dependence as we might with something like an opioid.

Regardless of scientific research, there are still barriers and access issues when it comes to the use of psychedelics for therapy. Can you see this changing in the near future?

Absolutely — it’s happening right in front of my eyes! Due to the illegal status of psychedelics for the last 30-plus years, these therapies have been more accessible to people with privilege. I feel that one of the most critical issues moving forward is ensuring that psychedelic-assisted therapy is accessible for all people. The use of psychedelics for healing has its origins in Indigenous knowledge. As psychedelic-assisted therapies proliferate we can’t lose sight of where these remedies come from.

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

Atrial fibrillation is the most commonly diagnosed arrhythmia in the world. Despite that, many women do not understand the pre-diagnosis symptoms and tend to ignore them.

Atrial fibrillation is the most commonly diagnosed arrhythmia in the world. Despite that, many women do not understand the pre-diagnosis symptoms and tend to ignore them.

Ignoring medical symptoms can lead to stroke, dementia, early death

A UBC Okanagan researcher is urging people to learn and then heed the symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AF). Especially women.

Dr. Ryan Wilson, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Nursing, says AF is the most commonly diagnosed arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) in the world. Despite that, he says many people do not understand the pre-diagnosis symptoms and tend to ignore them.

In fact, 77 per cent of the women in his most recent study had experienced symptoms for more than a year before receiving a diagnosis.

While working in a hospital emergency department (ED), Dr. Wilson noted that many patients came in with AF symptoms that included, but were not limited to, shortness of breath, feeling of butterflies (fluttering) in the chest, dizziness or general fatigue. Many women also experienced gastrointestinal distress or diarrhea. When diagnosed they admitted complete surprise — even though they had been experiencing the symptoms for a considerable time.

One in four strokes are AF related, he says. However, when people with AF suffer a stroke, their outcomes are generally worse than people who have suffered a stroke for other reasons.

“I would see so many patients in the ED who had just suffered a stroke but they had never been diagnosed with AF. I wanted to get a sense of their experience before diagnoses: what did they do before they were diagnosed, how they made their decisions, how they perceived their symptoms and ultimately, how they responded.”

Even though his study group was small, what he learned was distressing.

“Ten women, in comparison to only three men, experienced symptoms greater than one year,” says Dr. Wilson. “What’s really alarming is they also had more significant severity and frequency of their symptoms than men—yet they experience the longest amount of time between onset of symptoms and diagnosis.”

What really troubles Dr. Wilson are the reasons a diagnosis is delayed in women.

Many doubted their symptoms were serious, he says. They discounted them because they were tired, stressed, thought they related to other existing medical conditions, or even something they had eaten. Most women also had caregiving responsibilities that took precedence over their own health, and they chose to self-manage their symptoms by sitting, lying down, or breathing deeply until they stopped.

What’s more alarming, however, is that if women mentioned their symptoms to their family doctor, many said they simply felt dismissed.

“There was a lot more anger among several of the women because they had been told nothing was wrong by their health-care provider,” says Dr. Wilson. “To be repeatedly told there is nothing wrong, and then later find yourself in the emergency room with AF, was incredibly frustrating for these women. More needs to be done to support gender-sensitive ways to promote an early diagnosis regardless of gender.”

Dr. Wilson reports that none of the men in his study were upset about their interactions with their health-care providers, mostly because they were immediately sent for diagnostic tests.

“But a delay in diagnosis is not just in this study,” he cautions. “Women generally wait longer than men for diagnosis with many ailments. Sadly, with AF and other critical illnesses, the longer a person waits, the shorter time there is to receive treatments. Statistically, women end up with a worse quality of life.”

Dr. Wilson, who is currently working on specific strategies to help people manage AF, admits the condition is often hard to diagnose because some of the symptoms are vague. Ideally, he would like people to be as knowledgeable about AF as they are about the symptoms and risks of stroke and heart attacks. As the population is living longer, the number of people with AF continues to increase. In fact, about 15 per cent of people over the age of 80 will be diagnosed with the condition.

“People know what to do for other cardiovascular diseases, it’s not the same with AF,” he adds. “And while the timeline may not be as essential as a stroke for diagnosis and care, there is still a substantial risk of life-limiting effects such as stroke, heart failure and dementia. Reason enough, I hope, for people to seek out that diagnosis.”

Dr. Wilson’s study was recently published in the Western Journal of Nursing Research.

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

New UBCO research shows that over time, attempts to deceive others may become self-deception.

New UBCO research shows that over time, attempts to deceive others may become self-deception.

Eventually it becomes hard to distinguish between fact or fiction

The telling of lies might be just a bad habit for some, but a UBC Okanagan researcher says that over time lies will infiltrate a person’s memory for the truth.

Dr. Leanne ten Brinke is an assistant professor of psychology at UBCO and director of the Truth and Trust Lab in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She recently published research on how telling lies, and receiving feedback that the lie was believable, can impact people’s memory for the truth.

Her study, published in Memory, involved participants who were asked to file an insurance claim regarding a theft from an office. Some of the 140 participants were asked to lie and increase the number of items they claimed were stolen. Others told the truth. During a follow-up interview two weeks later, those who had lied could remember how many items had been stolen, but most liars had trouble remembering which items were actually taken and which they had fraudulently claimed stolen.

“The same as truth tellers, the liars correctly reported that four items were stolen,” Dr. ten Brinke says. “But when asked to list what was missing, most of the liars incorporated at least one of the items they lied about into their memory. The fictional piece became part of their memory.”

Dr. ten Brinke has spent much of her career researching liars and the art of deception. She admits the type of lie told in this research might be particularly vulnerable to distortions of memory because the lie only alters the presence or absence of an item — not quite the same as confabulating an entire story or deception.

In other words, the perceived and relative characteristics of the truthful and deceptive details are very similar, potentially accounting for the high number of dishonest participants who made a mistake — falsely remembering that one of the items they lied about had been stolen when it had not.

Over time, attempts to deceive others may become self-deception, she says. And it evolves as to how someone remembers a particular event. Lies, therefore, become part of your memory for the truth.

“Once the false detail is incorporated into memory, sharing that information no longer fits the definition of deception — because you’re not intentionally misleading anyone. You think it’s the truth, even though it’s not an accurate depiction of past events,” she says. “At some point, you knew it was a lie but now it’s been incorporated into your memory and you believe it to be true.”

Dr. ten Brinke describes deception as the art of “pulling the wool over someone’s eyes” and some people become quite skilled at the telling of lies. Sometimes, it’s a case of having time to practice. She says the more time a person has to practice the lie, the better they become at convincing others that it is true.

In other cases, self-deception may aid the liar. They can convincedly tell the lie because to them the distorted memory is perceived to be truthful.

“We would like to do future research to see how self-deception might improve your ability to dupe others,” Dr. ten Brinke adds. “There may be a perceived genuineness of that recollection. Where fiction has indeed become fact in your memory.”

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

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

New research has determined the global population for people living in high-altitude, like this village in Namche Bazaar, Nepal is more than 500 million. (photo courtesy of Alex Hansen)

Knowing how many people live and thrive at high altitude key for researchers

New findings detailing the world’s first-of-its-kind estimate of how many people live in high-altitude regions, will provide insight into future research of human physiology.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC Okanagan's School of Health and Exercise Sciences, has released updated population estimates of how many people in the world live at a high altitude.

Historically the estimated number of people living at these elevations has varied widely. That’s partially, he explains, because the definition of “high altitude” does not have a fixed cut-off.

Using novel techniques, Dr. Tremblay’s publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirms there are about 81.6 million people who live 2,500 metres above sea level. From a physiological perspective, researchers typically use 2,500 metres as an altitude benchmark for their work.

Dr. Trembly says an important part of his study was presenting population data at 500-metre intervals. And while he says the 81 million is a staggering number, it is also important to note that by going to 1,500 metres that number jumps to more than 500 million.

“To understand the impact of life at high altitude on human physiology, adaption, health and disease, it is imperative to know how many people live at high altitude and where they live,” says Dr. Tremblay.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Dr. Joshua Tremblay conducts research at the Everest Pyramid Laboratory which is at an altitude of about 5,050 metres.

Earlier research relied on calculating percentages of inconsistent population data and specific country-level data that has been unavailable. To address this, Dr. Tremblay combined geo-referenced population and elevation data to create global and country-level estimates of humans living at high altitude.

"The majority of high-altitude research is based upon lowlanders from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic countries who ascend to high altitude to conduct their research,” says Dr. Tremblay. “Yet, there are populations who have successfully lived at high altitudes for thousands of years and who are facing increasing pressures.”

Living at high altitude presents major stressors to human physiology, he explains. For example, low air pressure at high altitude makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter a person’s vascular systems.

“When low-landers travel to high altitudes our bodies develop inefficient physiological responses, which we know as altitude sickness,” he says. “However, the people we studied have acquired the ability to thrive at extremely high altitudes. Their experiences can inform the diagnosis and treatment of disease for all humans, while also helping us understand how to enhance the health and well-being of high-altitude populations.”

With only a fraction of the world’s high-altitude residents being studied, the understanding of the location and size of populations is a critical step towards understanding the differences arising from life at high altitude.

Dr. Tremblay notes it’s not just a case of understanding how these populations have survived for generations, but also how they thrive living in such extreme conditions. Especially as climate change continues to impact, not only the air they breathe, but every aspect of their daily lives.

“We tend to think of climate change as a problem for low-altitude, coastal populations, but melting snow, glaciers and extreme weather events limit water and agriculture resources,” he explains. “High-altitude residents are on the frontlines of climate change. We need to expand this vital research so we can understand the effects of climate change and unavoidable low levels of oxygen on high-altitude populations.”

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

A new study suggests the type of fat consumed during breastfeeding could differentially impact an infant's intestinal microbial communities, immune development and disease risk.

A new study suggests the type of fat consumed during breastfeeding could differentially impact an infant's intestinal microbial communities, immune development and disease risk.

Findings show types of fats matter when it comes to gut well-being

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers has determined that the type of fats a mother consumes while breastfeeding can have long-term implications on her infant’s gut health.

Dr. Deanna Gibson, a biochemistry researcher, along with Dr. Sanjoy Ghosh, who studies the biochemical aspects of dietary fats, teamed up with chemistry and molecular biology researcher Dr. Wesley Zandberg. The team, who conducts research in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, explored the role of feeding dietary fat to gestating rodents to determine the generational effects of fat exposure on their offspring.

“The goal was to investigate how maternal dietary habits can impact an offspring’s gut microbial communities and their associated sugar molecule patterns which can be important in immune responses to infectious disease,” says Dr. Gibson, who studies gut health and immunity as well as causes of acute or chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease.

Their study suggests that the type of fat consumed during breastfeeding could differentially impact an infant's intestinal microbial communities, immune development and disease risk.

The three main classes of fatty acids include saturated (SFA), found in meats and dairy products, monounsaturated fats (MUFA), found in plant-based liquid oils, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), found in some nuts, fish and shellfish. PUFAs are further characterized as either n-3 PUFAs or n-6 PUFAs, based on the number and positions of double bonds in the acyl chain.

Previous research has determined both n-3 PUFAs and n-6 PUFAs can have a negative impact on intestinal infections such as Enteropathogenic E. coli, Clostridium difficile, salmonella and gastrointestinal illnesses from eating poorly prepared or undercooked food or drinking contaminated water. In contrast, diets rich in MUFAs and SFAs have been shown to be largely protective against these infections.

Dr. Gibson’s latest research states the beneficial properties of milk fat, or saturated fats, during the pre-and postnatal period might improve protection against infectious intestinal disease during adulthood particularly when a source of n-3 PUFAs are combined with saturated fats.

“Our findings challenge current dietary recommendations and reveal that maternal intake of fat has transgenerational impacts on their offspring’s susceptibility to intestinal infection, likely enabled through microbe-immune interactions,” says Dr. Gibson.

Global consumption of unsaturated fatty acids has increased significantly between 1990 and 2010, she adds, while people are consuming lower amounts of saturated fats during pregnancy because of recommendations to reduce saturated fat intake.

“Although it has been known for decades that high-fat diets can directly alter inflammatory responses, recent studies have only just begun to appreciate how fatty acid classes may have discrete effects on inflammation, and can shift host responses to an infection,” says Dr. Gibson.

Dietary fatty acids can impact inflammatory processes including defensive inflammatory responses following an intestinal infection. This can affect the severity of disease, making dietary fatty acids an important consideration in predicting disease risk, Dr. Gibson explains.

Researchers believe it’s a combination of dietary fat-host interactions with the intestinal bacteriome that can determine the severity of these infections. The intestinal bacteriome, Dr. Gibson explains, is established during infancy and plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation and providing a barrier against colonization with potential pathogens.

And Dr. Ghosh notes this latest research suggests current health guidelines should be reevaluated.

“Currently, Canadian dietary guidelines recommend nursing mothers replace foods rich in SFA with dietary PUFAs, with an emphasis on consuming n-6 and n-3 PUFAs,” Dr. Ghosh says. “Given that PUFAs worsened disease outcomes in postnatal diet studies, in our views, these recommendations should be reconsidered.”

While breast milk protein and carbohydrate concentrations remain relatively inert, fatty acid contents vary considerably and are influenced by maternal fat intake.

“Overall, we conclude that maternal consumption of various dietary fat types alters the establishment of their child’s bacteriome and can have lasting consequences on their ability to respond to infection during adulthood,” says Dr. Gibson. “At the same time, we show that maternal diets rich in SFA, provide a host-microbe relationship in their offspring that protects against disease.”

It’s important to understand that the intestinal bacteriome is established during infancy because it plays a critical role in aiding immune system maturation which can provide a barrier to potential pathogens, explains Dr. Zandberg. He also notes a healthy bacteriome is dependent on early-life nutrition.

“Sugars decorate important proteins in the gut,” says Dr. Zandberg. “Their patterns are altered in the offspring due to the dietary choices of the mother during gestation and lactation. The change in patterns is associated with changes in the ability of the infant to fight off infectious disease in our model.”

The research, published recently in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and awarded to Drs. Gibson and Ghosh as well as other organizations including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Dairy Farmers of Canada, and a scholarship to the study’s first author Candice Quin from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

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

Occupants in a vehicle, especially pregnant women, are subjected to relatively large forces suddenly and over a short period when a vehicle accelerates over a speedbump

Occupants in a vehicle, especially pregnant women, are subjected to relatively large forces suddenly and over a short period when a vehicle accelerates over a speedbump

The slower the better while driving over them, says researcher

Slow down. Baby on board.

So says UBC Okanagan researcher and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Hadi Mohammadi. His new research, conducted in collaboration with Sharif University of Technology, determines that accelerating over speed bumps poses a danger for pregnant women and their fetuses.

“There is lots of research about the importance of movement for women during pregnancy,” explains Mohammadi, who teaches in the School of Engineering. “Our latest research looked specifically at the impacts of sudden acceleration on a pregnant woman.”

Using new modelling based on data from crash tests and fundamental dynamic behaviours of a pregnant woman, Mohammadi and his co-authors found that accelerating over speedbumps raises concern. If driven over quickly, they caution this can lead to minor injuries to the fetal brain, cause an abnormal fetal heart rate, abdominal pain, uterine contraction, increasing uterine activity and further complications.

Occupants in a vehicle, especially pregnant women, are subjected to relatively large forces suddenly and over a short period when a vehicle accelerates over a speedbump, he explains.

Mohammadi is particularly interested in vibrations, and in this case their impact on human organs. This recent study looked at the effect of these vibrations on a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy.

Their investigation included many factors such as the speed of the car as it goes over the speedbump, the size of the speedbump as it can cause a drag on the uterus as it goes up and then down, and the fact that all this movement puts pressure on the amniotic fluid that is protecting the fetus.

“We took all these factors into account to ensure a comprehensive differential model that mirrors real-world responses and interactions of the woman and fetus.”

As a result, the researchers were very specific in their recommendations. Slow down.

In fact, they advise slowing a vehicle to less than 45 km/h when hitting a speedbump, and preferably as low as 25km/h to reduce risk to the fetus.

“Obviously, there are other variables at play when a driver approaches a speedbump, but we hope our findings provide some evidence-based guidance to keep drivers and their occupants literally and figuratively safe,” says Mohammadi.

Furthermore, he hopes the findings can help researchers better understand how a pregnant woman and her fetus are subjected to risk caused by a vehicle passing bumpy terrain such as speed bumps. His end goal is for his research to make vehicular safety improvements for pregnant women.

The research is published in the latest edition of the Journal of Biomechanics.

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

Pulp mill waste hits the road instead of the landfill

Waste materials from the pulp and paper industry have long been seen as possible fillers for building products like cement, but for years these materials have ended up in the landfill. Now, researchers at UBC Okanagan are developing guidelines to use this waste for road construction in an environmentally friendly manner.

The researchers were particularly interested in wood-based pulp mill fly ash (PFA), which is a non-hazardous commercial waste product. The North American pulp and paper industry generates more than one million tons of ash annually by burning wood in power boiler units for energy production. When sent to a landfill, the producer shoulders the cost of about $25 to $50 per ton, so mills are looking for alternative usages of these by-products.

“Anytime we can redirect waste to a sustainable alternative, we are heading in the right direction,” says Dr. Sumi Siddiqua, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering. Dr. Siddiqua leads the Advanced Geomaterials Testing Lab, where researchers uncover different reuse options for industry byproducts.

This new research co-published with Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Chinchu Cherian investigated using untreated PFA as an economically sustainable low-carbon binder for road construction.

“The porous nature of PFA acts like a gateway for the adhesiveness of the other materials in the cement that enables the overall structure to be stronger and more resilient than materials not made with PFA,” says Dr. Cherian. “Through our material characterization and toxicology analysis, we found further environmental and societal benefits that producing this new material was more energy efficient and produced low-carbon emissions.”

But Dr. Siddiqua notes the construction industry is concerned that toxins used in pulp and paper mills may leach out of the reused material.

“Our findings indicate because the cementation bonds developed through the use of the untreated PFA are so strong, little to no release of chemicals is apparent. Therefore, it can be considered as a safe raw material for environmental applications.”

While Dr. Cherian explains that further research is required to establish guidelines for PFA modifications to ensure its consistency, she is confident their research is on the right track.

“Overall, our research affirms the use of recycled wood ash from pulp mills for construction activities such as making sustainable roads and cost-neutral buildings can derive enormous environmental and economic benefits,” she says. “And not just benefits for the industry, but to society as a whole by reducing waste going to landfills and reducing our ecological footprints.”

In the meantime, while cement producers can start incorporating PFA into their products, Dr. Cherian says they should be continually testing and evaluating the PFA properties to ensure overall quality.

The research was published in the Journal of Cleaner Production with support from the Bio-Alliance Initiative — an organization representing BC pulp and paper mills — and Mitacs.

UBCO postdoctoral research fellow Chinchu Cherian, along with Associate Professor Sumi Siddiqua, examines a road building material created partly with recycled wood ash.

UBCO postdoctoral research fellow Chinchu Cherian, along with Associate Professor Sumi Siddiqua, examines a road-building material created partly with recycled wood ash.

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