Watch: CVER in Southeast Asia

Members of UPEI’s Centre for Veterinary Epidemiological Research, or CVER, recently gave brief presentations about their research projects around the world. The UPEI Research Blog will roll out these videos over the coming weeks. We’ll start with a presentation by Dr. Jeffery Davidson, Professor of Aquatic and Ecosystem Health at UPEI's Atlantic Veterinary College. 

Dr. Davidson's presentation is titled “Building capacity for research and practice in ecosystem approaches to Southeast Asia.” 

The Philosopher

A one-act play, written by a professor of philosophy at UPEI, will have its stage debut this weekend at the PEI Community Theatre Festival.

“I suppose you could say all of my plays are informed by my experience and research as a philosopher, but then again, this one is called ‘The Philosopher,’” laughs Dr. Malcolm Murray.

Dr. Murray’s play is a satirical look at the role of philosophy in the modern world; it tells the story of a dinner party which has started to become a bit of a bore to both the host and guests.

“So the host, hoping to liven the party up a bit, calls up his resident philosopher,” says Dr. Murray. “The philosopher is brought up from the basement, wearing chains.”

The guests are encouraged by the host to ask the philosopher questions, which the philosopher duly answers.

“But his answers are ignored every time, by both the host and guests,” says Dr. Murray. “Occasionally, he is such a bother that they send him away, only to bring him back again when the party really begins to wane.”

By the end of the play, the host no longer wants to keep the philosopher, and offers him as a gift to his guests. Each is worried that if they don’t provide him a home, he won’t be able to care for himself.

“The play is pure fiction,” jokes Dr. Murray, when it’s suggested the play reflects a concern about the value of his vocation. “But, in a larger sense, it does examine our attitudes to the humanities and arts.”

‘The Philosopher’ is directed by UPEI student Yuling Chen, and is presented as part of the PEI Community Theatre Festival. Actors featured in the performance include Jim Morrisson, Michael Joslin, Robert Crossley, Olivia Barnes, and Janaya Gallant.

The festival begins at 1 pm, Saturday, March 24 at the Carrefour Theatre. Performance of ‘The Philosopher’ is scheduled for 3 pm.

Old books, new technology

On a large screen at the front of the classroom, a pair of gentle hands carefully unfold a time-weathered document. “Can anyone tell me what these are?” says a voice. The hands gesture toward two reddish discs attached to the paper by ribbon.

“Are they wax seals?” asks one of the students in class.

“That’s exactly what they are,” answers the voice. “In this case, they’re the signatures on a land deed dated from the mid-1500s.

The disembodied voice belongs to Dr. Scott Schofield in the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (CRRS) at the University of Toronto. This class represents a rare opportunity for these UPEI undergraduate history students to get up close and personal with some old and important books.

Dr. Raiswell's class examines a 16th century land deedDr. Raiswell's class examines a 16th century land deed

“It’s one thing to discuss old books, or even examine pictures of them,” says Dr. Richard Raiswell, Assistant Professor of History at UPEI and teacher of today’s class, “but it’s a very different thing to really examine them. To be able to go leaf by leaf through a book that was printed and bound half a millennium ago. I wanted to give our students the chance to really examine the very objects we’re discussing in class.”

Dr. Raiswell, himself a former fellow of the CRRS, arranged for this special video-conferencing session with the Centre’s archives.

“We talk a lot about how the printing press standardized the book,” explains Dr. Raiswell. “What we don’t talk about is that, really, each book from this time is unique. They weren’t sold as bound books as we have today, but a set of leaves. It was the responsibility of the buyer to bind the book, and we can learn a lot about the people of these times by examining how they did this.”

In one example, the students examine a 15th century book bound with the cast-away pages of a much older book from the 13th century.

“At the time,” says Dr. Raiswell, “the person binding the book probably thought they were using the useless pages of some old book. In many instances, that cast-away page is much more valuable to us today than the book itself.”

Dr. Raiswell also wanted his class to have a chance to see early techniques and attempts at censorship.

“In some cases, someone literally took a pen and drew an “X” through the text,” says Dr. Raiswell. “The offending text is still easily legible. It says a lot about the influence the editor, often the church, believed they had over people. They truly believed people wouldn’t read it simply because it was marked as censored.”

A censored page from the 1525 book "De harmonia mundi totius" by Francesco GiorgioA censored page from the 1525 book “De harmonia mundi totius” by Francesco Giorgio

The class spent more than an hour and a half examining texts, including tiny pocket-sized reference books to giant bibles with elaborate illustrations. The classroom which made this experience possible, in UPEI's Duffy Science Centre, was created under the guidance of Dr. Sheldon Opps, Associate Professor of Physics. 

“This opportunity is invaluable for the students,” says Dr. Raiswell. “As you can see from their reactions, they’re thrilled with seeing these objects first hand. It’s the sort of experience that can inspire them to further their studies and do their own research.”

Promising new stroke drug's UPEI connection

The medical world is abuzz with several high-profile reports of a promising new treatment that appears to reduce brain damage done by the most common type of stroke. The experimental drug, named NA-1, underwent some of its most important preclinical testing at UPEI by a team including Dr. Andrew Tasker, Dr. Catherine Ryan, and Dr. Tracy Doucette.

Dr. Tasker, Professor of Neuropharmacology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College, is one of six founding scientists of NoNO Inc., a Toronto-based company dedicated to the research, development, and commercialization of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of several common health disorders, including stroke. One of its most promising compounds is the drug NA-1.

Photo: The amount of permanent brain damage is dramatically reduced when the drug NA-1 (TatNR2B9c) is given 3 hours after a stroke compared to saline or non-active drug controlsPhoto: The amount of permanent brain damage is dramatically reduced when the drug NA-1 (TatNR2B9c) is given 3 hours after a stroke compared to saline or non-active drug controls

“The name NoNO Inc. refers to ‘no nitric oxide,’” says Dr. Tasker. “Nitric oxide is one of the compounds most responsible for cell death in the brain after a stroke. If we can prevent further cell death in the hours following a stroke, we can avoid a great deal of the damage associated with stroke.”

Dr. Tasker says there are currently no drugs available to prevent cell death in stroke. The only useful treatment for ischemic stroke, the clot-busting medication tPA, has some practical limitations. It must be given to patients within a relatively short amount of time after the stroke, and the type of stroke must first be confirmed by complicated testing.

“Our tests showed NA-1 proved to be effective at preventing cell death and long-term functional deficits even when administered up to three hours after the stroke,” says Dr. Tasker. “And, it only targets the cells which are destined to die because of the stroke. It has no negative impact on other cells in the body.”

Dr. Tasker, Dr. Ryan, and Dr. Doucette were brought into the project in 2002 after being teamed up by the Canadian Stroke Network with University of Toronto scientists Dr. Michael Tymianski and Dr. Michael Salter.

“Most of the pre-clinical work demonstrating the long-term efficacy of NA-1 in ischemic stroke was conducted here at UPEI, and was instrumental in establishing NoNO as a company and getting NA-1 fast-tracked into Phase 1 clinical trials,” says Dr. Tasker. “This work was done in conjunction with Dr. Ryan in Psychology and was coordinated by Dr. Doucette, who was then working as a post-doctoral fellow and is currently an Assistant Professor in Biology. Dr. Doucette’s team involved technicians, graduate students, and a small army of undergraduate volunteers.”

Favourable results from a Phase 2 human trial of NA-1 in 185 patients in Canada and the US were recently reported by Dr. Michael Hill, the principal investigator on the trial. Further clinical trials are required before the drug can be brought to market.

Is it time we elected the Governor General?

At the next Research on Tap, Dr. Don Desserud, Professor of Political Science and UPEI’s Dean of Arts, will lead a discussion about the future of Canada’s system of government.

“Our model of governance is based on the assumption that governments will respect the traditions handed to us by the Westminster system,” says Dr. Desserud. “But what if they don’t? Who or what will hold them to that tradition? We are close to a constitutional crisis, and one option we might consider is an elected Governor General.”

Dr. Desserud argues that these are not theoretical problems. These are issues seen in Ottawa under the last several governments.

“Paul Martin’s Liberals lost a confidence motion in the house, and they ignored it,” says Dr. Desserud. “Tradition says they should have resigned, but they didn’t. Stephen Harper didn't even let a scheduled vote of non-confidence go forward, and instead convinced the Governor General to prorogue Parliament.”

Dr. Desserud says it can no longer be assumed that governments will always do the so-called “right thing.”

“We cannot count on the moral virtue of the Prime Minister,” he says. “So what can we do? Do we turn the rules we take for granted into binding legislation when consecutive governments have shown how easy it is to ignore such legislation? Perhaps we should give more power to the person who is supposed to hold them to account: the Governor General. And how do we give more power to a position which is largely ceremonial? We elect that person.

“The consequences of an elected Governor General,” Dr. Desserud says, “would be major. Our system of government would be very different.

“The Governor General would start to resemble a president in a very American way. I don’t know that Canadians would take kindly to that.”

Discussion for this Research on Tap begins at 7 pm, Tuesday, March 6 at the Pourhouse (located above the Old Triangle at the corner of University Avenue and Fitzroy Street in Charlottetown).

Research on Tap is a series of public discussions with UPEI researchers. For more information, contact Dave Atkinson at 620-5117, or datkinson@upei.ca