UPEI researchers in the news, part twelve

Good news for UPEI researchers means good coverage. Here’s a roundup of recent articles about UPEI researchers.

Exciting news last week for UPEI and the Atlantic Veterinary College when  the Hon. Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, announced the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology at the AVC. Dr. Ian Gardner has been appointed one of only 19 CERCs, at 13 universities in Canada. He joins the AVC’s Centre for Veterinary Epidemiological Research (CVER) – one of the foremost centres for animal-health research in the world.

The Globe and Mail’s story on the announcement included a photo of Dr. Gardner, and quotes from him and Dr. Ian Dohoo, the Director of CVER.

“’It’s really a huge vindication for all the small universities in Canada,’ said Ian Dohoo, a fellow epidemiologist who has known Prof. Gardner for two decades and was key in recruiting him.”

Read the whole story here.

The Globe also mentioned UPEI/AVC’s CERC in an editorial and a column by national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson.

The Chronicle of Higher Education quoted UPEI President Wade MacLauchlan in its coverage:

"’Ian Gardner, who comes from the University of California at Davis, will concentrate on research that responds to the growing demand for healthy fish from healthy waters,’” he said. “‘It's all about high-quality protein for a hungry planet.’"

CBC News spoke to Dr. Gardner about the team he’s joining:

"I'm excited to be a part of this team. This is a new frontier of science that will make a difference in people's lives. This research deals with the health of our oceans, but is also about what goes on our plate at dinnertime."

Read the full story here.

Dr. Gardner also received mentions in coverage by Maclean’s Paul Wells, and Radio-Canada. More background can be found in this ORD Blog post.

In other exciting news, The Kidney Foundation of Canada just announced $350 000 in research funding to AVC’s Dr. Sunny Hartwig. The funding includes the Krescent New Investigator Award, a competition in which Hartwig placed first in Canada.

Tim Fox, Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada NB and PEI Branch; Dr. Sunny Hartwig; Dr. Don Reynolds, Dean of the AVC: photo: the GuradianTim Fox, Executive Director of The Kidney Foundation of Canada NB and PEI Branch; Dr. Sunny Hartwig; Dr. Don Reynolds, Dean of the AVC: photo: the Guradian

The Charlottetown Guardian spoke with Dr. Hartwig about her motivation in her research:

“’I think that dialysis patients are very brave people but childhood dialysis patients are probably the bravest kids in the world,’” Hartwig said, choking back tears. “‘Those kids will probably not be able to play baseball or go to ballet class. They probably won’t be able to play tennis or soccer because they’re hooked up to this machine that filters their blood and if they’re in the hospital three or four times a week, their parents are there as well so there’s a huge quality of life issue for the whole family.’”

Read the full story here.

CBC News quoted Dr. Hartwig:

"’I believe we will see a cure for kidney disease within our lifetime,’” Hartwig said. “‘And not just a tool to prevent the disease from developing before birth, but regeneration.

“‘I believe we'll find a way to help diseased kidneys repair themselves. It's an exciting time to be involved in this research.’"

For more information on Dr. Hartwig’s research, read this past ORD Blog post

"No machine can do what the kidneys do."

“Kidney disease is hard enough for adults,” says Dr. Sunny Hartwig, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College. “But for a kid, it means not being able to play soccer. Or baseball. Instead, you spend your after-school hours sitting in a hospital room hooked up to a dialysis machine that manually filters your blood.”

Hartwig says children with end-stage renal (kidney) failure have two unpleasant options: transplant or dialysis.

“And dialysis has some real drawbacks. No machine can do what the kidneys do,” she explains. “Kids on dialysis may struggle with obesity, bad skin, and are also more likely to develop diabetes. As a result, many really struggle with self esteem. It’s a quality of life issue for the patient, and their families.”

Hartwig uses this knowledge as motivation for her work in the lab. She and her team are studying the genetics behind kidney disease.

“But before we can understand what genes contribute to kidney disease, we have to first understand normal gene development – we need to know how kidneys form in utero.”

Many research labs around the world are working on this same problem using a technique called knocked-down approach, which works subtractively to demonstrate what role specific genes play in normal development.

“Researchers have identified a gene known as WT1,” says Hartwig. “And what we know now is, if WT1 is faulty, the kidney develops a cancer known as nephroblastoma. If WT1 is removed all together, the kidney doesn’t develop at all. WT1 is now obviously a very important piece of the puzzle.”

Hartwig says there are still many years of research ahead, but she remains hopeful for the future.

“I believe we will see a cure for this within our lifetime,” she says. “And not just a tool to prevent the disease from developing before birth, but regeneration. I believe we’ll find a way to help diseased kidneys repair themselves. It’s an exciting time to be involved in this research.”

Hartwig recently received significant funding for her research from the Kidney Foundation of Canada

Healthy Fish. Healthy Environment. Healthy Food.

“This is a new frontier of science that will make a difference in people's lives,” says Dr. Ian Gardner, UPEI and AVC’s Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology. “This research deals with the health of our oceans, but is also about what goes on our plate at dinnertime."

UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College is known as an international leader in fish-health and animal- population research. These two areas of expertise come together in UPEI’s newest research chair.

Schooled in the United States and his native Australia, Dr. Gardner comes to UPEI/AVC from the University of California at Davis. He joins the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology (CVER)—one of the foremost centres of research in its field in the world, now home to six funded research chairs.

“I’m excited to be part of this team,” says Gardner. “This is research with real impact. Consumers are looking for affordable sources of protein—and aquaculture can provide that. Government is looking for economic development, and aquaculture is a growing industry in the world. We can help balance the world’s growing need for fish with the oceans’ need for environmentally sustainable farming techniques.”

As the world’s stock of wild fish dwindles, aquaculture becomes an increasingly important source of quality protein for a hungry planet. The current global value of aquaculture is estimated at more than $70 billion, with an annual growth rate of 10 per cent—making it the world’s fastest-growing food-production sector. Fish and lobster sales in Canada alone are valued at $2 billion per year.

“And yet,” says Gardner, “aquaculture has an unfortunately poor reputation among some members of the public. Our research at CVER will assure sustainable techniques for farming fish, so that when people come asking pointed questions about the environmental impact, we can answer using sound, peer-reviewed science.”

Gardner is internationally recognized for developing tests to assess disease risk in terrestrial- and aquatic-food organisms. These tests have been used in global veterinary and public-health activities, and have influenced policies at the US Department of Agriculture and the World Organization for Animal Health.

Gardner is among the most cited researchers in his field, with over 200 peer-reviewed scientific publications in leading journals, such as Preventive Veterinary Medicine, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Veterinary Pathology.

His research interests include risk analysis of livestock health and food safety, and the epidemiology of musculoskeletal injuries in racehorses. Though most of his research has involved land-based species, Gardner will shift his focus to aquatic species. 

Build a better battery

“There is nothing wrong with the current technology used in batteries,” says Dr. Rabin Bissessur, Professor of Chemistry at UPEI. “But there is always demand for more power in a smaller package. And if you can do it with less expensive, non-toxic material, well, you’ve made things better, haven’t you?”

Bissessur’s research looks to improve the current technology in Lithium ion batteries—the same batteries found in your computer, mobile device, and thousands of other products.

“Lithium is the one part of the battery we’ll leave alone,” explains Bissessur. “Lithium gives up electrons very easily. It’s also very lightweight, which makes it a good choice of material for an anode—the part of the battery that supplies electrons.”

A battery also requires a material to accept electrons once they’ve flowed through the load, or powered device. This is called the cathode, and is commonly made of expensive materials such as cobalt dioxide.

“We’re experimenting with layered materials containing iron metal,” says Bissessur. “Iron is much less expensive, and is readily available. We are working to create sandwiched compounds of layered structures containing iron with solid polymer electrolytes.

 “In order to have a complete circuit, there must be an electrical connection and yet a physical separation between the anode and cathode, and this is usually achieved by using a liquid electrolyte material. In our case, we’re using a solid polymer electrolyte, and we’re increasing its mechanical strength by layering it with iron.”

Bissessur recently received funding for this research under the Innovation PEI Pilot Fund. Future steps in the research involve measuring how well the new materials conduct ions, as well as battery performance.

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