Patty Wellborn

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


 

Collaboration brings cancer research to the community

What: Future of Health Forum on cancer care
Who:  More than 150 delegates and 30 renowned speakers
When: Friday, October 18, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: The Innovation Centre, 460 Doyle Ave., Kelowna, BC
Cost: $50 registration fee

With cancer remaining the leading cause of death in BC, the first-ever Future of Health Forum will focus on research, innovation and strides to improve outcomes for all cancer patients.

UBC Okanagan, Accelerate Okanagan, BC Cancer and Interior Health have joined forces to host an annual forum called Future of Health—an event designed to foster connection and provide an opportunity to exchange ideas around health research and innovation.

For this inaugural year, the Future of Health focuses on cancer and follows the patient journey from preventing and detecting the disease through to diagnosis and treatment and finding ways to support survivors and a patient’s quality of life.

“Our hope is that we have created an environment where clinical and academic colleagues can share their perspectives on the complex problems facing the health-care system today,” says Dr. Ross Halperin, regional medical director for BC Cancer—Kelowna. “Our strategy is to attract and engage the regional innovation community to assist in developing innovative solutions.”

Taking place at the Innovation Centre in downtown Kelowna, leaders in cancer care and research will discuss the current state of cancer care in BC and the innovative research that is shaping the future of health in this province.

“We have attracted top talent from across the country to take the stage at this event,” explains Anne-Marie Visockas, vice-president research and planning with Interior Health. “I think this speaks volumes about the collaborative nature of Canadian health care and our community's reputation for innovation.”

Dr. Connie Eaves, an international leader in stem cell research will deliver the keynote address. Eaves is the winner of the prestigious 2019 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for her pioneering discoveries and advocacy for early-career researchers and women in science.

Dr. Eaves is an extraordinarily creative and accomplished biomedical scientist at the forefront of cancer research. Her work establishing the role of cancer stem cells in breast cancer and leukemia have led to paradigm-shifting insights,” says Phil Barker, vice-principal and associate vice-president, research and innovation at UBC. “She is dedicated to training the next generation of researchers to help find cures for cancer and her research is a superb demonstration of the value of collaborating across disciplines.”

The closing reception will include a screening of The Nature of Things documentary, Cracking Cancer. This short film recounts the journey of seven cancer patients at BC Cancer as they take part in the Personalized Onco-Genomics (POG) program—a cutting-edge clinical research initiative that is changing the way oncologists view cancer treatment.

“The strength of our region lies in our ability to collaborate and innovate. This event is another example of these skills at work,” says Brea Lake, acting CEO at Accelerate Okanagan. “Our hope is that this documentary will give hope to those living with cancer and inspire our innovative and entrepreneurial community to join in building the future of health and cancer care right here in BC.”

The Future of Health Forum takes place October 18 and is open to all, including researchers, clinicians, students, innovators, entrepreneurs and the public.

For event information and registration details, visit: futureofhealth.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

A growing industrial demand for multifunctional bio-friendly raw materials is pushing researchers to develop value-added and energy-saving biocomposites and processes.

A growing industrial demand for multifunctional bio-friendly raw materials is pushing researchers to develop value-added and energy-saving biocomposites and processes.

Discarded materials mixed into a slurry for a second life

Using polymers and natural stone slurry waste, researchers at UBC Okanagan are manufacturing environmentally friendly stone composites.

These new composites are made of previously discarded materials left behind during the cutting of natural structural or ornamental stone blocks for buildings, construction supplies or monuments. While reusing the waste material of natural stone production is common in cement, tile and concrete, adding the stone slurry to polymers is a new and innovative idea, explains School of Engineering Professor Abbas Milani.

A growing industrial demand for multifunctional bio-friendly raw materials is pushing researchers to develop value-added and energy-saving biocomposites and processes, he explains.

“Because the slurry is a waste material, it comes at a lower cost for recycled composite production,” says Milani, director of UBC’s Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI)

Milani and his colleagues recently received UBC eminence funding to establish a cluster of research excellence in biocomposites. The cluster will develop novel agricultural and forestry-based bio and recycled composites to minimize the impact of conventional plastics and waste on the environment.

The powdered stone waste used in the project provides flexibility to the new particulate polymer matrix composite. It can be mixed at different ratios into the finished product through appropriate heat or pressure to meet structural requirements or aesthetic choices, defined by industry and customers.

“This green stone composite can easily be integrated into a variety of applications,” says UBC Research Associate Davoud Karimi. “These composites can be used in decorations and sanitation products ranging from aerospace to automotive applications.”

The researchers varied the amount of stone added to the composites then tested several parameters to determine strength, durability and density along with thermal conductivity. The molding and mechanical tests were conducted in the Composites Research Network Okanagan Laboratory with collaboration from the MMRI.

By adding the stone waste to the composites, researchers determined that it not only increased the virgin polymer’s strength and durability, but the composites' conductivity increased proportionally based on the amount of stone added.

“The increased strength is important, but the increased conductivity (up to 500 per cent) opens a huge door to several new potential applications, including 3D printing with recycled composites,” explains Milani.

“Any time we can divert waste from landfills and generate a product with the potential of economic benefit is a win-win,” Milani adds. “We hope that these sorts of products, that are carefully designed with the aid of multi-disciplinary researchers focused on 3R measures (repairable, reusable, and recyclable), can significantly contribute to the economy of our region and Canada as a whole.”

The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the National Research Institute for Science Policy (NRISP). It was recently published in two prestigious journals Composite Structures and Composites Part B: 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 research goes from the athletic stadium to African wildlife sanctuaries

An international research group at UBC, Harvard University, and Cardiff Metropolitan University has discovered how the human heart has adapted to support endurance physical activities.

Chimpanzee echocardiogram being performed by Aimee Drane from the International Primate Heart Project. Photo courtesy of Robert Shave.

Chimpanzee echocardiogram being performed by Aimee Drane from the International Primate Heart Project. Photo courtesy of Robert Shave.

This research examines how the human heart has evolved and how it adapts in response to different physical challenges, and will bring new ammunition to the international effort to reduce hypertensive heart disease - one of the most common causes of illness and death in the developed world.

The landmark study analyzed 160 humans, 43 chimpanzees and five gorillas to gain an understanding of how the heart manages different types of physical activity. In collaboration with Harvard University’s Daniel Lieberman and Aaron Baggish, UBC Professor Robert Shave and colleagues compared left ventricle structure and function in chimpanzees and a variety of people, including some who were sedentary but disease-free, highly active Native American subsistence farmers, resistance-trained football linemen and endurance-trained long-distance runners.

The wide variety of participants were specifically recruited to examine cardiac function in an evolutionary context. From the athletic stadium to wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, the team measured a diverse array of cardiac characteristics and responses to determine how habitual physical activity patterns, or a lack of activity, influence cardiac structure and function, explains Shave.

“While apes showed adaptations to support the pressure challenge associated with activities such as climbing and fighting, humans showed more endurance related adaptations,” says Shave, director of UBCO’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Guiding their inquiry is the well-known idea that the heart remodels itself in response to different physiological challenges, he notes.

“Moderate-intensity endurance activities such as walking and running stimulate the left ventricular chamber to become larger, longer and more elastic—making it able to handle high volumes of blood,” he says. “But pressure challenges like chronic weight-lifting or high blood pressure, stimulate thickening and stiffening of the left ventricular walls.”

Among humans, the research team showed there is a trade-off between these two types of adaptations. This trade-off means that people who have adapted to pressure cannot cope as well with volume and vice versa. Basically, the hearts of endurance runners aren’t great at dealing with a pressure challenge, and the weight lifter’s heart will not respond well to increases in volume.

This new research provides evidence that the human heart evolved for the purpose of moderate-intensity endurance activities, but adapts to different physical (in)activity patterns.

“As a result, today’s epidemic of physical inactivity in conjunction with highly processed, high-sodium diets contributes to thicker, stiffer hearts that compromise the heart’s ability to cope with endurance physical activity, and importantly this may start to occur prior to increases in resting blood pressure,” explains Shave.

This is often followed by the onset of high blood pressure and can eventually lead to hypertensive heart disease.

“We hope our research will inform those at highest risk of developing hypertensive heart disease,” says Shave. “And ensure that moderate-intensity endurance-type activities are widely encouraged in order to ultimately prevent premature deaths.”

This research was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

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 research has shown that fungal growth significantly affects the physical and mechanical properties of moisture-exposed drywall.

UBC research has shown that fungal growth significantly affects the physical and mechanical properties of moisture-exposed drywall.

Microbes are degrading infrastructure, compounding health implications

Microorganisms growing inside aging buildings and infrastructure are more than just a health issue, according to new research from UBC Okanagan.

The research, coming from the School of Engineering and biology department, examined the impact of fungal mould growth and associated microbes within structures on university campuses. The study focuses on the observed biodeteriorative capabilities of indoor fungi upon gypsum board material (drywall) and how it affects a building’s age and room functionality.

Assistant Professor Sepideh Pakpour says fungal growth significantly affected the physical (weight loss) and mechanical (tensile strength) properties of moisture-exposed gypsum board samples. In some cases, tensile strength and weight of some boards decreased by more than 80 per cent.

And she notes the issue of fungal growth, intensified by climate change, is two-fold.

“Increasing flooding and rainfall related to climate change is aiding fungi to grow more rapidly, causing degradation of the mechanical properties of buildings and infrastructure,” she says. “Not only are the fungi breaking down the integrity of our buildings, but their proliferation is increasing health hazards for the people who live and work in these buildings.”

The researchers also looked at other factors that can impact microbial growth including temperature, humidity, dustiness and occupancy levels—the more people, the quicker it can grow

According to the study, drywall experienced a significant effect on its mechanical properties when microbes were present. If the microbes were bolstered by moisture, the drywall’s ability to withstand breakage when under tension dropped 20 per cent. Older buildings, on average, exhibited higher concentrations and types of fungi in the air, leading to higher mould coverage and biodeterioration on the drywall.

“Our findings would suggest a critical need towards multi-criteria design and optimization of next-generation healthy buildings,” explains Pakpour. “Furthermore, we hope this study will enable engineers, architects and builders to develop optimal designs for highly microbial-resistant building materials that will decrease long-term economic losses and occupant health concerns.”

The inter-disciplinary research was overseen by UBCO Biology Professor John Klironomos, Professor Abbas Milani, director of the School of Engineering’s Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute, and Pakpour, who supervised the microbial and material degradation analyses conducted by their doctoral student Negin Kazemian.

The researchers plan on turning their attention next to the exposure levels of airborne microorganisms and possible remedies.

The latest study, partially funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant, was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal.

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.

Each year, UBCO organizes a number of activities during Jump Start as the first step in making international students feel at home.

Each year, UBCO organizes a number of activities during Jump Start as the first step in making international students feel at home.

Study encourages all-encompassing learning environments

It’s back to school time, and more than 580 of this year’s newest UBC Okanagan students are from various countries around the world.

In fact, UBCO is home to students who represent 106 various countries. Romi Jain, a postdoctoral fellow with UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management, has recently published research that outlines specific recommendations to ensure all students feel welcome and comfortable in a classroom

It’s not uncommon for international students to experience dissonance while at school, she explains, especially if they are faced with learning materials which might contradict their perceptions and beliefs.

“Dissonance can be described as the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, relating to behavioural decisions or attitude change,” she explains. “If not harnessed, such dissonance can be at the heart of their unresolved dilemmas, unspoken feelings, and unshared stories, facts and experiences.”

Published recently in Writing and Pedagogy, her paper encourages all-encompassing learning environments. She notes, there has long been an international emphasis on intercultural education, but it does not guarantee inclusivity in the classroom.

Jain’s research is based partially on her own first-hand experiences, but also from interviews with instructors at a university in a Midwest American city and existing literature relevant to her study.

Some unintentional examples that might create dissonance for an international student include instructors believing a student is quiet because they don’t want to participate in class discussions, or a basic struggle to understand a foreign accent. And she notes, in some cultures it’s wrong to argue with people, so some students won’t engage in any debate regardless of how they feel.

Jain also explains that a teacher’s facial expressions while engaging with international students might reflect doubt, perhaps because the student is speaking a second language. On the same hand, the instructor’s facial expressions speaking with a domestic student may reflect validation or appreciation.

“In response, teaching needs to be designed to be inclusive and intercultural with a view to encouraging, unearthing and illuminating multiple perspectives to enrich and equalize the learning environment for both international and domestic students,” she says.

On the flipside, Jain says there is an opportunity for everyone in the classroom to benefit and learn from each other. Professors should use the cultural beliefs and backgrounds of international students to enrich the learning environments for all students.

Motivated faculty, she says, will find in dissonance an opportunity to stimulate the learning environment through constructive participation of culturally-diverse students in dialogue and discourse.

“Students may be carrying rich and interesting information and knowledge from their own cultures and can really contribute to class discussions,” she says. “However, sometimes for different reasons, they do not share. If they are encouraged to share, it will lead to richer conversations.”

Her paper provides strategies for instructors to enhance the classroom environment and encourage the sharing of new knowledge:

  • Establish trust with international students, being aware how instructors interact with international students.
  • Correctly pronouncing their names to show their presence, address them by name.
  • Transition to an interactive classroom. After class, ask quieter students what they think about a topic to make them feel comfortable.
  • Reading aid questions. Provide questions in advance to help international students prepare, especially with those struggling with language issues.
  • Prepare syllabus depending on student backgrounds, to create a balanced course.
  • Allow international students to submit multiple drafts of assignment.
  • Discourage other students who laugh at mispronunciation of words.
  • Allow all students to express personal feelings or academic concerns.
  • Be conscious of body language, both the professors and students.
  • Give feedback and encourage respectful dialogue between international and domestic students and form cross-cultural teams on assignments.
  • Don’t spotlight international students as if they’re a representative of their community.
  • Assign reflection papers on class discussion using a comparative perspective.

Each September, UBC Okanagan hosts Jump Start. The multi-day enhanced orientation is designed to introduce both international and domestic students to university life, connect with faculty and to find new friends. For more details on resources available to UBC’s international students visit: students.ok.ubc.ca/international-students

Romi Jain, a postdoctoral fellow with UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management.

Romi Jain, a postdoctoral fellow with UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Management.

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 engineering students Peter Zhao and Huibing He examine the component of a tiny lithium-tellurium battery along with assistant professor Jian Liu (right).

UBCO engineering students Peter Zhao and Huibing He examine the component of a tiny lithium-tellurium battery along with assistant professor Jian Liu (right).

Fenix Advanced Materials spearheads high-tech research collaboration

Researchers at UBC Okanagan are collaborating with Fenix Advanced Materials of Trail, BC, to design and develop a battery that is smaller and more powerful than what’s currently available.

Using raw materials from BC-based companies such as Fenix, Teck Metals, Retriev Technologies, Eagle Graphite and Deer Horn Capital, the goal is to create a tellurium-based cathode—a tiny device that will be used to make all-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries. Tellurium—a rare metal byproduct of copper and lead-zinc smelting—has characteristics that will enable miniature, all-solid-state lithium-tellurium battery devices with both high energy density and a high safety rating.

Rapidly expanding use of portable electronics and the evolution of electric vehicles is driving global demand for smaller but more powerful battery technology, explains Jian Liu, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan.

“Improvements are necessary thanks to many other emerging devices such as medical implants, wireless sensors and radio-frequency identification,” says Liu. “Due to the limited space and high-reliability requirements in these new devices, researchers are exploring technologies that possess high-energy density and more stable configurations.”

One tellurium atom can store two lithium ions and two electrons—making it a potent material for storing and releasing electricity.

“Due to its high density, tellurium provides a much higher volumetric capacity than other cathode materials, such as sulfur and selenium,” explains Liu. “With the advantages of high volumetric energy density and excellent safety, all-solid-state lithium-tellurium batteries have the potential to power high-end electronic applications where a smaller size, but higher energy output is required.”

Strategic partners of this new research collaboration are all members of Metal Tech Alley—a consortium of sustainable companies that encourage and support economic development in Southern BC.

Don Freschi, CEO of Fenix Advanced Materials, says the collaboration with UBCO will result in next-generation batteries that will have an added economic benefit.

“We want to utilize and add value to the raw materials readily available in our region especially from Fenix, Teck, Retriev, Eagle Graphite and Deer Horn,” says Freschi. “This can stimulate our rural economy and advance our technological capability through circular economy.”

The project and future spin-off projects aim to integrate the supply of raw materials with the development and manufacture of next-generation lithium-tellurium batteries in the BC Interior.

Additional collaborations between UBC, Fenix and other research institutions including the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in Belgium are currently being discussed.

The research is possible through a Mitacs Accelerate Grant with partnership from Fenix Advanced Materials and Metal Tech Alley.

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 graduate students Kiana Mirshahidi and Ben Wiltshire demonstrate how small and portable the tiny ice detection senor is. The device has many ramifications, especially for the airline industry.

UBCO graduate students Kiana Mirshahidi and Ben Wiltshire demonstrate how small and portable the tiny ice detection senor is. The device has many ramifications, especially for the airline industry.

New sensor uses microwaves to determine real-time ice accumulation

A new sensor, that can detect ice accumulation in real-time, might be a game-changer when it comes to airline safety and efficiency.

Two distinctly different research teams -- one that designs microwave sensors and microelectronics systems, and the other that investigates ice-repellent materials and extreme liquid repellency -- joined forces for this latest research coming out of UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering.

The researchers aimed to develop a sensor that could detect the precise moment when ice begins to form on a surface. Due to their high sensitivity, low power, ease of fabrication, and planar profile, the team chose to use microwave resonators. The device, explains Assistant Professor Kevin Golovin, will make it easier to detect and manage ice accumulation on aircraft, noting there have been quite a few airline tragedies directly linked to icy airplane wings.

“The ice detection systems used today are quite rudimentary. For example, pilots visually detect ice on aircraft wings before de-icing in flight,” says Golovin, who runs the Okanagan Polymer Engineering Research and Applications Lab. “And on the tarmac, certifying that the aircraft is free of ice after de-icing is also done by visual inspection, which is susceptible to human error and environmental changes.”

Planar microwave resonator sensors are simple traces of metal deposited onto a plastic, and yet they are mechanically robust, sensitive and easy to fabricate explains Assistant Professor Mohammad Zarifi, head of UBCO’s Microelectronics and Advanced Sensors Laboratory.

“The sensors give a complete picture of the icing conditions on any surface, like an airplane wing. They can detect when water hits the wing, track the phase transition from water to ice, and then measure the thickness of the ice as it grows, all without altering the aerodynamic profile of the wing.”

The pair, along with graduate students Benjamin Wiltshire and Kiana Mirshahidi, have recently published their research findings in Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical. This is the first report on using microwave resonators to detect frost or ice accumulation, says Zarifi. The reverse is also possible, and the sensors can detect when ice is melted away during de-icing, he adds.

And the sensitivity and precision of the sensors means the detection occurs in real time. That could make both ground and in-flight de-icing faster, cheaper and much more efficient.

“The resonator detected frost formation within seconds after the sensor was cooled below freezing,” explains Wiltshire, the first author of the study. “It took about two minutes at -10 C for the frost to become visible on the resonator with the naked eye—and that’s in one small area in ideal lab conditions. Imagine trying to detect ice over an entire wingspan during a blizzard.”

Planar microwave resonator devices have recently demonstrated significant performance in sensing, monitoring and characterizing solid, liquid and gaseous materials. However, research on the detection of ice and frost has not been undertaken until now, says Zarifi, despite the clear benefits of real-time, sensitive and robust ice detection for transportation and safety applications.

“This is a brand-new method for detecting ice formation quickly and accurately,” says Zarifi. “The radiofrequency and microwave technology can even be made wireless and contactless. I wouldn’t be surprised if airlines start adopting the technology even for this upcoming winter.”

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.