Letter to the Editor: ‘Centre did what medication can’t do—built stamina and taught me how to help myself’

Study examines fainting caused from using blood pressure medication

Researcher Nia Lewis takes the blood pressure of a study subject in the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

UBC researcher finds trouble could arise when drug is used to treat other ailments

An international study led by a researcher at UBC’s Okanagan campus has found that a common blood-pressure drug can cause lightheadedness and possible fainting in some patients.

Nia Lewis, a Canada Heart and Stroke Foundation funded post-doctoral research fellow with the new Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health located in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, completed a study called Initial orthostatic hypotension and cerebral blood flow regulation: effect of a1-adrenorreceptor activity. The results were recently published in the prestigious American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

Nia Lewis

Nia Lewis

Lewis studied patients with normal blood pressure who took the drug prazosin, which is commonly used to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure. The drug is also used to treat other conditions, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety or prostate problems. Under these conditions, the drug shows potential negative effects.

Investigators found that all but one of 12 participants who took the medication experienced temporary dizziness or lightheadedness upon standing.

“We were able to determine that, because prazosin shuts down a pathway that is critical to regulate blood pressure, the capacity to safely control blood flow to the brain was also reduced to a level that could induce fainting,” says Lewis.

The drug essentially causes a drop in blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure, leaving them at risk of becoming lightheaded or possibly fainting.

“No scientific paper has ever looked at the mechanisms for this,” says Lewis. But identifying what is happening and possibly why is only the first step in a lengthy research process, Lewis says.

“We are trying to understand how the system regulates itself. We are still trying to define what is happening. It’s just the first step in recording and interpreting these results before getting into the clinical work.”

Part of the research shows that the actions of the sympathetic nervous system that would normally prevent the big drop in blood pressure on standing, and consequently prevents an unnecessary fall in brain blood flow, is prevented by the drug, which has sympathetic receptor-blocking properties. By thus blocking this critical pathway, the physiological response can prove dangerous for those patients with normal blood pressure who use prazosin for treating other ailments.

Fainting is quite common, says Lewis, especially when a patient rises from a lying-down position.

The senior author Philip Ainslie, co-director of the new Centre for Heart Lung and Vascular Health and Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Function in Health and Disease, says Lewis’s project plays an important role in understanding the mechanisms involved in human brain blood flow regulation during periods of low blood pressure.

“This research gives science another piece of the puzzle towards our understanding of the regulation of blood flow and how it relates to conditions of low blood pressure and loss of consciousness,” says Ainslie.

The randomized controlled study was conducted on eight male and four female patients, average age 25, with normal blood pressure, using both placebo and the blood pressure drug.

The research team included Ainslie of UBC; Greg Atkinson of Teesside University of the UK; Helen Jones of Liverpool John Moores University; and Emily J.M. Grant and Samuel J.E. Lucas of the University of Otago, New Zealand.

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UBC Health and Exercise Sciences student researchers win awards

Kurt Smith, Anthony Bain, and Jinelle Gelinas conduct tests on student volunteer Kevin Wildfong. All four graduate students conduct research through the UBC Okanagan campus Centre of Heart, Lung, and Vascular Health.

All are trainees with newly-opened Centre for Heart, Lung, and Vascular Health

While the Centre for Heart, Lung, and Vascular Health at UBC’s Okanagan campus is still fairly new, a group of graduate students are helping to put it on the map.

The Centre for Heart, Lung, and Vascular Health opened in November and is an interdisciplinary clinical research facility within the university’s Faculty of Health and Social Development. The centre is led by co-directors Phil Ainslie and Neil Eves—both associate professors with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebral vascular diseases continue to be the leading cause of death and illness in Canada, with five million people living with heart or respiratory diseases or as survivors of strokes, says Eves.

The centre at UBC’s Okanagan campus was established to help researchers investigate causes, consequences, and treatments for heart, lung, and blood vessel diseases. Last month, two PhD students and one master’s student, all of whom conduct research within the centre, came away with top prizes for their work.

Jinelle Gelinas attended Heart and Lung Fest 2013 held by the Institute of Heart and Lung Health in Vancouver and was awarded first place in the cardiovascular category for her poster presentation. She is finishing her master’s degree and, under the supervision of Eves, is investigating what role exercise has on vascular structure and function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

At Heart and Lung Fest, Gelinas presented a poster displaying her most current research findings and also gave an oral presentation. Part of her research is to determine whether the benefits of exercise can slow down, or even reverse, cardiovascular disease in patients with a chronic lung condition.

"We are looking at the effects of exercise on vascular health in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and trying to better understand how exercise can be used as an intervention to reduced cardiovascular risk in this population," she says.

The Heart and Lung Fest Scientific Symposium is an annual event that takes place in Vancouver each year and involves many of Canada’s top researchers and laboratories in respiratory and cardiac health, explains Eves.

“The standard of research at Lung Fest is very high,” he says. “Jinelle would have outdone other PhD and master’s students to win this award, so this is really impressive at this stage of her training.”

Meanwhile, PhD student Anthony Bain returned from the International Conference on Environmental Physiology in New Zealand last month where he won top prize for his oral presentation about how blood flow to the brain changes during heat stress. He had 15 minutes to present his research and explain to the panel of judges, comprised of internationally renowned leaders in thermal physiology, why it matters.

“When the body is heated just two degrees higher than resting temperature, blood flow to the brain is dangerously reduced,” he explains. “An increase in body temperature causes people to over breathe, which alters carbon dioxide in the blood and reduces brain blood flow. This occurs in concert with an increased heart rate and at times reduced blood volume which can further exacerbate reductions in brain blood flow.”

In North America alone there are thousands of cases each year where people collapse from heat stress and Bain says it’s important to relate these tragic events to his research.

“Before we are able to apply recommendations to the general public to prevent these occurrences, we need to understand the pathology of how they occur.”

Bain, who started his PhD in September, is studying under Ainslie, who is excited about the win in New Zealand.

“This is a major international conference that only happens every two years. It attracts the top students, researchers, and clinicians from around the world, so kudos to Anthony for winning the award.”

From high heat, to high altitude, the third winner associated with the UBC’s Okanagan Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health is Kurt Smith who spent time with researchers at the Pyramid Research lab at Everest Base Camp last year. Smith, a PhD student, is studying the effects of hypoxia — oxygen deprivation —on the brain.

At high altitude the brain, much like the heart and the lungs, must adapt to the reduced oxygen, and this often increases its resting energy demand. While at Everest, Smith and fellow researchers noted how the brain, under stress, reacted at 5,000 metres altitude. Smith presented these findings at the International Hypoxia Symposium in Lake Louise in February where he won second prize, top junior student for best oral presentation.

“We were studying the effects of reduced arterial oxygen availability on brain blood flow, and the brain’s ability to maintain an adequate energy supply both at rest and during exercise,” says Smith. “The novelty of the experiment is our ability to use state of the art imaging techniques and invasive arterial jugular venous differences across the brain.”

Eves says Smith’s win proves how valuable the research is that’s going on in the Centre for Heart, Lung, and Vascular Health.

“Hypoxia is a hot topic and this is the top conference in this field,” says Eves.  “Kurt out-competed medical students, post docs, and other scientific grad students. It shows that the research we are doing here is scientifically relevant and our students are doing work of a very high standard.”

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Everest expedition members to discuss health study findings

Team members of Everest 2012: UBC’s International Research Expedition, conduct one of several human health experiments at Mount Everest’s Pyramid Lab.

High altitude impacts on human cardio-vascular health

Who: Members of Everest 2012, UBC’s International Research Expedition
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, November 15,
Where: Ashnola Building Lecture Theatre, Room PL107, Okanagan College, 583 Duncan Avenue West, Penticton
Registration: Free online registration at

A pioneering UBC research expedition studying the human health effects of changes in blood flow and chronic oxygen deprivation at high altitudes put a team of global scientists on top of the world last May.

Now the scientists are ready to disclose their initial findings in a panel discussion at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus.

This will be the first opportunity for the public to listen to the experts discuss their experiments and experiences at Everest’s Pyramid laboratory to investigate the effects of chronic disease.

Expedition leader Philip Ainslie, UBC’s Okanagan campus researcher of the year and Canada Research Chair in cerebrovascular physiology, leads the discussion.

“Research at high altitude provides an excellent means to examine physiological adaptation to chronic reductions in the pressure of oxygen,” says Ainslie. “Results of the studies have the potential to substantially improve our understanding of biological adaptation to chronic hypoxia.”

Ainslie, an associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, will be joined by students and faculty members who took part in this historic venture, sharing their initial research findings from Everest for the first time at a panel discussion at Okanagan College’s Penticton campus on Thursday Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. Location is the Ashnola Building Lecture Theatre,  Room PL107, Okanagan College, 583 Duncan Avenue West, Penticton.

Greg DuManoir, Okanagan College professor of human kinesiology and member of the expedition, is moderator. Members of the panel include Nia Lewis, international student and post-doctoral fellow; Jon Smirl, PhD student; and Ryan Hoiland, undergraduate student. Expedition member Gordon Binsted, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development, will introduce the panel.

Using themselves as study subjects, Everest 2012 researchers measured their cerebrovascular, cardiopulmonary, and neurocognitive health to gauge the effects of acute mountain sickness and sleep apnea. The symptoms are characteristic of many chronic conditions, including heart attack, stroke and respiratory failure.

The event is free. Register online at:

Greg DuManoir

Greg DuManoir, a human kinetics professor at Okanagan College, is seen outside the Pyramid Laboratory near Everest base camp.

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Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health opens at UBC

Research facility is the first centre of excellence in Okanagan for health-care study

A new centre for research into the causes, consequences and treatments of heart, lung and blood vessel diseases has opened at UBC’s Okanagan campus. The Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health, which initially includes two research labs, was officially opened and dedicated today.

Cardiovascular, respiratory and cerebrovascular diseases continue to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Canada, with five million Canadians living with heart or respiratory diseases or as survivors of strokes. The prevalence of these chronic conditions costs the Canadian health-care system an estimated $35 billion a year in direct and related costs.

The Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health is an interdisciplinary clinical research facility based in the Faculty of Health and Social Development with links to other faculties and schools on campus. The centre will be led by co-directors Philip Ainslie, associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences (HES) and Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Physiology; and Neil Eves, associate professor in HES and Michael Smith Clinical Scholar in cardiorespiratory physiology.

“This is truly an exciting development for our campus,” says Wes Pue, provost of UBC’s Okanagan campus. “The Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health is dedicated to research and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of society: this is what universities are all about.

“With this centre, we are exploring the challenges of finding new discoveries to combat chronic disease," says Pue. “We have the potential in the Okanagan to be a game-changer in health, prevention and care.”

Gordon Binsted, Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development, says the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health aligns with UBC’s strategic research plan, which aims to enhance and focus research on human health and genomics, neuroscience and cognitive systems and population health.

“This is an opportune time for such a centre as there is an urgent need for research to improve the health of all Canadians,” says Binsted.

Ainslie says establishing a research centre of excellence in the Okanagan is a first for the specific study of heart, lung and vascular health through the human lifespan. Ainslie and Eves are also in the final stages of building a long-term database to facilitate funding, research and training opportunities in chronic disease research.

“Improved genetic, molecular and imaging techniques have advanced understanding of the progression and impact of these diseases,” says Ainslie. “However, there remains considerable need for fundamental, integrative and translational research to help prevent and treat these devastating conditions.”

The centre will also establish networks with Interior Health, provincial, national and international scientists and other centres focused on heart, lung and vascular health research.

Eves says the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health will provide scientific leadership through coordinated facilities and collaboration.

“Our goal is to forge new networks of researchers locally, nationally and in the international community to answer larger and more impactful questions that lead to enhanced heart, lung and vascular health,” says Eves. “We also hope to develop a unique training environment for students while providing guidance, support and mentorship to junior faculty members and trainees within the centre.”

A scientific advisory board of affiliated scientists and external members will also be struck to guide the centre’s mission.

UBC PhD student Chris Willie, right, conducts a procedure on another student using a NASA-designed lower body negative and positive pressure box in a Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health lab.

UBC PhD student Chris Willie, right, conducts a procedure on another student using a NASA-designed lower body negative and positive pressure box in a Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health lab.

Philip Ainslie, associate professor with UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences and Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Physiology, is co-director of the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health.

Neil Eves will spend the next several years looking at how exercise affects chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The exercise physiologist assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus has received a long-term grant from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.

Neil Eves, associate professor with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences and Michael Smith Clinical Scholar in cardiorespiratory physiology, is co-director of the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health.

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Global research expedition to Everest set to depart Canada

Okanagan scientists lead trek to investigate high-altitude maladies

Canada’s international scientific expedition to Mount Everest is preparing to depart for Nepal on Sunday April 22. Everest 2012, a six-week, six-country research investigation into the effects of heart and brain blood flow and oxygen deprivation at high altitudes, will settle into the Pyramid Laboratory near Everest base camp for a six-week stay through the end of May.

The acclimatization process takes two weeks including the final leg of the journey, an eight-day walk to the remote lab, 5,050 metres, or five kilometres above sea level. The 25-member expedition will be weighed down by about a tonne of gear and equipment, though the burden will be eased by use of yaks, which will carry some of the load.

The researchers’ progress during the Everest stay can be followed online, as team member and Okanagan College human kinetics professor Greg DuManoir blogs live from the lab. Follow the Everest expedition at:

Expedition leader Philip Ainslie, Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Function in Health and Disease and associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, says the scientific and medical experiments are designed to mimic the symptoms and outcomes that occur in heart and stroke victims and those suffering from sleep apnea.

The Pyramid Laboratory seen in winter.

The Pyramid Laboratory seen in winter.

“This is an opportunity to take healthy people and expose them to low levels of oxygen to see how their heart, lungs and brain adapt or maladapt to that exposure,” says Ainslie. Hypoxia can severely decrease oxygen delivery to the brain. Reduced blood flow to the vital organs is characteristic of many chronic conditions.

The comprehensive Everest research study, titled Integrative physiological adaptation to high-altitude: a scientific expedition to explore mechanisms of human adaptation, encompasses eight separate experiments ranging from cerebrovascular, cardiopulmonary, and neurocognitive health to measuring the effects of acute mountain sickness and sleep apnea.

“The research we conduct and the results we achieve have the potential to provide new insights into illness prevention and better human health,” says Ainslie.

The pioneering expedition is expected to achieve a number of firsts in terms of scientific investigation and discovery.

“Low levels of oxygen occur in many pathologies,” says Ainslie. “Lung disease and heart failure occurs when we grow older. So it forms a way to understand how low levels of oxygen affect the body at an early stage.”

Expedition members will themselves be the test subjects for the experiments. Many of these were initially conducted as baseline studies at UBC’s Kelowna Health and Exercise Sciences lab during March and April. Team members travelled from Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S. to take part in the procedures.

Some experiments, like one measuring pulmonary arterial hypertension, involves invasive minor surgery to place arteriovenous shunts in wrist and neck arteries to measure acute hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) following ascent to high altitude.

A physician and bioengineer from Duke University, North Carolina, were in Kelowna recently to conduct the baseline research and they are part of the Everest 2012 team and will supervise the experiment at Everest.

“This was the first time that these procedures have ever been done in Canada,” says Ainslie.

The international contingent includes members from UBC’s Okanagan and Vancouver campuses, Okanagan College, Duke University, University of Oregon, University of Sydney, Mount Royal University (Calgary), University of Cardiff, University of Otago (New Zealand) and University of the Netherlands.

Members of the team include researchers, sleep technicians, physicians, a bioengineer, and a hardware/software specialist.

Lauren Ray of Nelson, B.C., a third-year Health and Exercise Sciences student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, is excited to be part of the Everest excursion.

“I want to go on this expedition because I strive for success and to achieve at the highest level. Mount Everest is the best of challenges,” says Ray. “The physiology is ground-breaking work. I am stoked to be a part of it and I want to be immersed in that environment.”

The Ev-K2-CNR Pyramid Laboratory at Everest base camp in the Khumbu Valley in Nepal is one of the only facilities in the world where all eight experiments can be conducted on members of the expedition, including invasive procedures and the study of sleep apnea, a common occurrence at high altitudes.

The expedition also plans to test a number of permanent high-altitude residents of mountainous Nepal, recruited from the Periche region, which is at 4,200 metres. Some have already volunteered for earlier experiments through collaborations with local physicians and scientists.

“We will compare results with some high-altitude residents who are born and bred at high altitudes over many generations,” says Ainslie. “So we will see how people can adapt over long and short terms.”

Ainslie – an accomplished mountaineer who has been to Everest several times – says the conditions in the Himalayas offer the best and most cost-effective opportunity to conduct research.

“It is quite hard to do these experiments. It takes three or four years minimum to organize and get use of lab space up there,” says Ainslie. “There are only one or two labs at that elevation in the world. So we have use of this lab and that will maximize our productivity there.”

Canada Research Chair Philip Ainslie is seen outside the Pyramid Laboratory on a previous research mission to Everest Base Camp. (Everest photos contributed)

Canada Research Chair Philip Ainslie is seen outside the Pyramid Laboratory on a previous research mission to Everest Base Camp. (Everest photos contributed)

Canada Research Chair Philip Ainslie (centre) is seen conducting experiments at the Pyramid Laboratory on a previous research mission to Everest Base Camp.

Canada Research Chair Philip Ainslie (centre) is seen conducting experiments at the Pyramid Laboratory on a previous research mission to Everest Base Camp.

Researcher Mike Stembridge from Cardiff University, Wales, measures respiratory responses in the Health and Exercise Sciences lab in Kelowna, as UBC student Lauren Ray exercises on a specially built collapsible bike that will accompany the research expedition to Mount Everest.

Researcher Mike Stembridge from Cardiff University, Wales, measures respiratory responses in the Health and Exercise Sciences lab in Kelowna, as UBC student Lauren Ray exercises on a specially built collapsible bike that will accompany the research expedition to Mount Everest.

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Philip Ainslie named UBC’s Okanagan campus Researcher of the Year

UBC Researcher of the Year for 2012, Philip Ainslie

Physiologist instituted new lab, leads Everest health research expedition

Philip Ainslie, Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Function in Health and Disease and associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, has been named Researcher of the Year at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Ainslie is principal investigator of a research expedition that will see 25 scientists from around the globe, along with UBC students, travel to Mount Everest next month. The six-week research foray to the Pyramid Laboratory near Everest Base camp – five years in the planning – will conduct a series of experiments to measure oxygen deprivation and blood flow through the heart, lungs and brain at high altitudes.

A significant number of Canadians die from, or live with, diseases that are directly or indirectly caused by improper blood flow to the brain. Health implications range from stroke to death and Ainslie’s research aims to reduce risk and improve prevention.

“Philip Ainslie is a dedicated researcher,” says Miriam Grant, dean of research and vice provost for UBC’s Okanagan campus. “He is an acknowledged leader in cerebral vascular physiology whose research is answering fundamental questions about human physiology, and advancing our knowledge about an array of chronic health conditions.”

Since completing his PhD in 2002, Ainslie has authored a book, published more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, 10 major book chapters and has successfully supervised 27 post-graduate students. Ainslie has attracted more than $3 million in research grants, $1.6 million of that since joining UBC in 2009.

“Professor Ainslie is a respected mentor to his students and much sought-after collaborator with faculty at UBC and among colleagues around the world,” says Grant.

The focus of Ainslie’s research is directed towards the integrated mechanisms regulating human cerebral blood flow in health and disease. Basically, he studies how blood flows to the brain in a variety of clinical populations: healthy adults, children, seniors, and those affected by specific health issues like heart disease, sleep apnea, dementia and stroke.

Ainslie was presented with the award as Researcher of the Year at a special campus gala and reception Friday. The award consists of a $5,000 cash prize.

With UBC’s Celebrate Research Week drawing to a close, Provost Wesley Pue noted that more than $10 million in research grants and other funding have been awarded to faculty and students, supporting more than 300 research initiatives at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“Whether it is basic investigation in the sciences or arts, or developing applied solutions to meet the needs of society, research is a central component of UBC’s mandate as a public university,” says Pue.

Public Education Through Media award

UBC Public Education through Media Award 2012 winner Christine Schreyer

This year marks the fourth annual Provost’s Award for Public Education Through Media.

Christine Schreyer, an assistant professor of anthropology with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, was honoured with the Public Education through Media Award for outstanding service to the university and community by sharing her research expertise through innovative and creative ways via the news media. The award carries a $2,000 stipend.

Schreyer’s research gained international attention last year when she initiated a project examining the impact on society of invented languages. Her research focused on the Na’vi language created for the Hollywood blockbuster movie Avatar. Using online research techniques, Schreyer discovered a global community of Na’vi fans who, lacking a common root language, used Na’vi to communicate, blog, convey ideas and keep in touch.

The results of her research gained considerable mainstream media attention across Canada – and in the U.S. Linguist Paul Frommer, who created the Na’vi language, cited Schreyer and UBC in interviews on U.S. National Public Radio.

In another project, one of Schreyer’s classes studied dying and endangered indigenous languages, both in Canada and around the world.  Several of her students took to the Internet to talk about and raise awareness of tongues that are disappearing. Students studied some of these languages, blogged about them with others, and essentially found that their social media efforts are working to keep the dialects alive for future generations.

Schreyer also works with First Nations groups in B.C. and Canada on language issues such as language maintenance and revitalization of endangered languages.

These efforts have also gained considerable media attention.

“Part of our mission as a university is the transfer of knowledge to the broader community,” says Bud Mortenson, acting director of University Relations. “Christine Schreyer’s uses of social and mainstream media are vivid examples of how academic researchers are sharing what they learn so people can gain a better understanding of the world around us.”

Research Rodeo winners

The research gala also recognized a number of students who took part in UBC’s first-ever Research Rodeo. These were competitions for undergrad and graduate students where entrants had three minutes to deliver the best pitch about their research projects.

The winners are:

  • Undergraduate students: Ashley Yip, Science, The Effects of Exercise on the Gut Microflora and Immunity to Inflammatory Disease; Kimberly Lemky, Science, How Bugs Move Drugs; Karly Drabot, Psychology, Improving the Health of Men Who Have Sex With Men: Engaging Local Physicians.
  • Graduate students: David Kadish, Engineering, Automatic Computer Recognition of Facial Expressions; Gabriel Newman, Creative and Critical Studies, Social Potluck; Jocelyn Madeira, Biology, Gold Compounds and Your Brain: Auranofin as Neuroprotective and Anti-Neuroinflammatory Molecule.

Research Rodeo graduate student winners, from left: Jocelyn Madeira; David Kadish; Gabriel Newman

Research Rodeo undergraduate student winners, from left: Ashley Yip; Kimberly Lemky; Karly Drabot

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Benefits from academic research touch lives everywhere

UBC's Okanagan campus has $10 million worth of funded projects

In one of many examples of research underway at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, Andre Phillion, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering, uses a  scanning electron microscope to conduct an experiment.

In one of many examples of research underway at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, Andre Phillion, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering, uses a scanning electron microscope to conduct an experiment.

Without research, knowledge about our world would stagnate, but dedicated professors and students are delving into the unknown in a quest to expand understanding of the universe around us.

And many of those researchers can be found right here in the Okanagan.

The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus has numerous continuing research projects ranging from engineers working to improve construction materials, to health-care professionals investigating ways to keep people healthier. UBC’s Okanagan campus attracts about $10 million a year in research grants.

Ultimately, the public benefits from the research done in labs and classrooms. The knowledge learned on campus is transferred in many ways so it can be applied to the lives of people everywhere.

Miriam Grant, vice-provost of research and dean of the college of graduate studies, says research grants play a huge role in the continuing work at the university, and in making life better for the public.

“Research grants are absolutely pivotal for supporting researchers - including undergraduate and graduate students, for providing lab equipment and facilities and for funding field research regionally and across the globe,” says Grant.

Many are derived from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Those grants facilitate advancements in the areas of study as well as allow researchers to share their knowledge with their colleagues, which in turn benefits the public.

Graduate students are also supported through the research funds, and Grant says many of them carry on with their education once the research is complete. The grants also allow researchers and some students to travel to continue their research, or to present their findings.

Projects underway at the Okanagan campus range from using waste material in concrete, rather than clogging up landfills, to research on concussions, which will benefit athletes in all sports.

Private companies also provide research money for work on specific projects. One such project involved a graduate student who spent the summer working on algorithms for high-tech goggles and visual display hardware that provide a plethora of instant information to the user.

The pinnacle of research grants is being awarded a Canada Research Chair (CRC), of which UBC’s Okanagan campus currently has four:

  • Heinz Bauschke, professor of mathematics with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, holds the CRC in Convex Analysis and Optimization.
  • Barb Pesut, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, holds the CRC in Health, Ethics and Diversity.
  • Phil Ainslie, associate professor in Health and Exercise Sciences, is the most recent CRC, named last autumn for his research in Cerebrovascular Function in Health and Disease.
  • Susan Murch, associate professor of chemistry with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, is CRC in Natural Products Chemistry.

“Research chairs are leaders and they bring high levels of research activities to the university,” says Grant. A CRC will also attract the best and brightest students to the field of research.

The university is also home to several post-doctoral fellows.

Faculty of Health and Social Development

Gord Binsted, acting dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Development, which includes the schools of Nursing, Health and Exercise Sciences and Social Work, says there are many roles for universities to play in furthering research.

For the schools within the Health and Social Development, the goal is to help people live healthier lives, benefitting from research that ranges from advancing medical techniques to teaching people how to take better care of themselves.

Binsted says the core of research is the discovery and application of knowledge. Often research must take many baby steps before a major breakthrough can be achieved.

Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Wisdom Tettey, dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS), says professors and students are active in a variety of research initiatives.

“Research and creative scholarship in FCCS champions comparative engagement with ideas, peoples and communities which enable us to understand and to address the complex issues confronting society,” says Tettey. “We recognize the significant contributions that both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives make to the research endeavour, and so we are strongly committed to both in our individual and group projects.”

FCCS incorporates these tenets into academic programs and experiential learning opportunities for students, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

“Because we see teaching, creative scholarship and research as inextricably linked, our curricula are characterized by critical, inquiry-based learning," says Tettey. "Beyond the classroom, our students are regularly involved in faculty members’ research and creative activities.”

An important part of the faculty’s scholarly commitment is to ensure research, scholarship and creative pursuits are responsive to the fundamental questions and issues that require critical interrogation, have resonance, and are transformative.

“In response to these commitments, our faculty and students are engaged in various significant scholarly activities,” says Tettey. Among these are projects examining:

  • the role of art and creative writing in environmental conservation and sustainable livelihoods
  • the re-shaping of human society through new media and other forms of technology
  • the intersection of various forms of identity and material culture with politics and economics in the era of globalization
  • the relationships among the mass media, popular culture, representation and civic engagement
  • how language, literature and intercultural communications shape, and are shaped by, particular historical contexts.

School of Engineering

The School of Engineering, part of UBC's Faculty of Applied Science, has successfully competed for nearly $14 million in research funding for current and growing research endeavours. This has enabled purchases of new equipment to create world-class facilities, to support research assistants, and to attend conferences to disseminate research results and foster collaboration with various research groups and industry.

The majority of funding has come from NSERC through competitive programs including Discovery, Strategic Project, Idea to Innovation, Research Tools, and Instruments and Engage. Funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund totalling nearly $5 million was instrumental in helping the school acquire the equipment necessary to establish leading-edge facilities for experimentalists.

An allotment of $550,000 from Genome BC and Western Economic Development has funded the establishment of the Integrated Research and Machining Centre.

“Our faculty has also established relationships with various private companies and public organizations based on their funded research," says Richard Klukas, associate professor of engineering. "These collaborations have resulted in direct research funding and support letters for research activities, typically including in kind contributions or donations of equipment.”

The School of Engineering is an integrated multidisciplinary faculty with many projects that involve more than one of the traditional engineering disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical.

The Composites Research Network (CRN) is being created by the federal government to assist Western Canadian manufacturing businesses in developing the necessary skills and expertise to compete for opportunities in the rapidly expanding global composites industry.

Abbas Milani, assistant professor with the School of Engineering, will work with local companies and employ research tools for CRN projects at the Okanagan node in a range of applications in transportation, construction, sports and leisure, and other industries.

The activities of the Okanagan node under Milani’s co-ordination will be part of CRN’s higher mandate to create knowledge-based, best-practice documents, training facilities, materials and events for its participants, as well as links to key national and international organizations and institutions.

Don Tamaki, production manager for Campion boats, says the partnership with the CRN will help the company make a better product.

“The CRN is going to give us the opportunity to work with the university and to be able to test our methods and materials we are using to help us built better-quality boats,” says Tamaki.

Faculty of Management

Business is everyone’s concern and the Faculty of Management research focuses on areas where business interacts with ethics, sustainability, stewardship, branding, innovative human resource practices, the globalization of consumerism, e-commerce, fair trade and organizational behaviour in a changing workplace.  Management research is developing models, tools, and systems of quantification that are critical to understanding the modern business world.

Faculty and student research produces results of direct benefit to the local community. Through a variety of projects, synergy is developing between the Faculty and area businesses, allowing for free exchange of ideas and innovative solutions.

The “What Makes a Great Employer?” tradeshow was hosted by Assistant Professor Luc Audebrand and his class at the Coast Capri last fall. Local businesses and human resources specialists were presented with in-depth studies of a variety of employer-related issues by the students, and were asked to evaluate their research and ideas.

“Road to Change:  Moving beyond Growth” was another of Audebrand’s class offerings to area companies, providing research-based proposals for corporate development in a post-growth economy.

Annamma Joy, professor of marketing, sent her students into the community to research local marketing strategies and brought business leaders into the classroom to share their practical knowledge. .

Faculty of Education

The Faculty of Education is an interdisciplinary community that includes researchers with expertise in diverse areas such as policy, historical imagination, literacy and culture education, inclusion, pedagogies of critical and creative thinking, appropriate technology, teacher professional development, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.

“Research within the Faculty of Education focuses on innovations in teaching and learning in both formal and informal settings, with particular attention paid to engaging learners through transformative experiences, and inquiry into effective and socially sustainable education,” says Lynn Bosetti, dean of the Faculty of Education. “Our research is typically collaborative involving partners that are local, regional, national and international.”

This includes inter-professional research with engineering, social work and health professions within the UBC community; research involving regional and national colleagues focused on leading-edge initiatives including 21 Century and personalized learning; and local initiatives related to equity and diversity that collaboratively transform educational practices and outcomes in classrooms, schools and communities.

Much of this work is international. For example, Associate Professor Susan Crichton’s research takes into consideration that ‘less is more’ in her focus on sustainable development and uses of technology in remote places such as rural East Africa.

Assistant Professor and director of the Centre for Research on Mindful Engagement Philip Balcaen’s study on how students influence their parents’ ‘thinking about thinking’ is central to an inquiry into educational change in India that is providing new insights into how we might approach change in North American education=.

A key focus of Assistant Professor and director of Undergraduate Programs Carol Scarff’s research with colleagues in New Zealand is the long-term impact of environmental education experiences on young people.

The Faculty of Education is currently developing research initiatives to study and advance understandings about place-based and practical-wisdom oriented programs, both within a range of formal educational settings and by engaging with the broader community.

For instance, Assistant Professor Leyton Schnellert is partnering with Okanagan school districts to re-imagine educational practice and conceptions of teaching, learning and learners using strength-based and interdisciplinary approaches to literacy learning, inclusion and middle years education.

Assistant Professor Scott Douglas’ program of research supports English as an Additional Language curriculum and materials design for both domestic and international English language learners.

Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences

Research is a key element of the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, forming an integral component of the undergraduate and graduate student experience and of faculty scholarly activity within eight distinctive units.

The school has more than 50 academic programs encompassing humanities, social sciences and sciences. The Irving K.  Barber School Undergraduate Research Awards program is an example of the importance placed on enhancing the research experience for undergraduates.

It offers a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to become involved in research via student-driven summer research projects guided by faculty mentors.

The faculty supports more than 200 graduate students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees, providing opportunities for disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning and research. Arts and Sciences researchers attract more than $4.5 million annually in grants which support a diverse portfolio of research, two Canada Research Chairs, two research chairs in watershed management and research collaborations with community, industry and government partners.

A number of emerging clusters of research strength address key aspects of UBC’s strategic plan, Place and Promise, in the areas of global citizenship, sustainability, Aboriginal engagement, and civil society.

In February, the Centre for Advancement of Psychological Science and Law (CAPSL) officially opened at the university. CAPSL researchers include Assistant Professor Zach Walsh, Associate Professor Mike Woodworth, and Professor Stephen Porter.

“Our ultimate end will be to facilitate a better understanding of crime,” says Walsh. A fundamental goal is to “provide world-class research on human behaviour in forensic contexts with both basic scientific and applied relevance.”

The types of research conducted at CAPSL, which is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the BC government, is relevant to the basic understanding of the psychology of crime and victimization, and to the types of biases that can influence decisions about suspects and defendants in the legal system, sometimes leading to wrongful convictions. This could help to improve the criminal justice system.

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UBC to study brain blood flow during concussion recovery

Volunteer subjects sought for leading research into athletic head injuries

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus are launching a ground-breaking study examining how blood flow to the brain is altered in athletes recovering from sports concussions.

The Integrative Sports Concussion Research Group (ISCRG) will focus on young athletes, whose involvement in their respective sports has been curtailed due to head injury. Over the next year, faculty and students from UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences will conduct an examination of up to 90 recently concussed athletes aged 14 to 25, in conjunction with Lifemark Health Sports Medicine Clinic in Kelowna.

Graduate student Kurt Smith keeps an eye on the data while UBC athlete Ryan Simair is put through a series of exercises to test the impact physical activity has on a concussion.

Graduate student Kurt Smith keeps an eye on the data while UBC athlete Ryan Simair is put through a series of exercises to test the impact physical activity has on a concussion.

“Concussion is a very common condition that is treated by many sport physicians. Yet there are many aspects about this condition that are poorly understood,” says Paul van Donkelaar, principal investigator of the research project called Exercise following concussion: do disruptions to cerebral autoregulation underlie executive function deficits.

Currently, concussed athletes are assessed and their recovery is often based on exacerbation of symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue as measured on a graded exercise protocol on a stationary bike. Traditionally, once a patient remains symptom free for a period, they will be cleared for contact at practices and, in time, for a full return to sport following clinical assessments.

UBC’s research will challenge how the results of those assessments are achieved. The aim of the study is to generate data needed to identify physiological and cognitive markers associated with post-concussion syndrome.

Specifically, one of the main dilemmas facing physicians is determining when it is safe for an athlete to return to their sport.

“Clinical recommendations are based on subjective symptoms,” says van Donkelaar, who is acting director of the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “We intend to employ objective neurological measures observed at rest or during a common ‘stress’ following a concussion while exercising at a similar intensity to an actual game.”

Researchers will have test subjects complete a series of moderate to intense exercises in two-hour sessions at regular intervals over a 12-month period. Cognitive function, cardiovascular performance, cerebral blood flow and other procedures will be measured and recorded, with subjects also completing a symptom evaluation questionnaire to document specific symptoms and their severity.

Co-investigators include Dr. Bradley Monteleone, of Lifemark Health Sports Medicine Centre and UBC’s Faculty of Medicine; Phil Ainslie, associate professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences; and UBC Okanagan campus graduate students Kurt J. Smith and Katelyn R. Marsden. Marsden is basing her Master’s thesis on the research. The project provides a hands-on opportunity to investigate the progression of post-concussion symptoms on cognitive and cerebro-vascular functioning before, during and after exercise.

“This is a new research area that has the potential to generate positive health and economic benefits to all individuals afflicted with concussion,” says Marsden. Ultimately, the research may provide further information on the clinical implications and potential screening ability for people who have had a concussion.

“This will be attractive to all family and sports physicians across Canada who are currently limited in their ability to objectively diagnose concussion, and to prescribe a safe and valid return to sport or physical activity,” says Marsden.

Investigators plan to recruit two groups of subjects to participate. The concussion group will be recruited from athletes, both male and female, who have recently suffered a concussion. In addition, a control group will include athletes with no history of concussion and matched for age, gender, activity and education level.

The ISCRG requests that potential test subjects enlist by contacting Katelyn Marsden at 250-938-0273 or by emailing Subjects will visit the testing lab four times over the course of one month, with each session lasting about two hours in duration.

UBC athlete Ryan Simair is put through a series of exercises to test the impact physical activity has on a concussion.

UBC athlete Ryan Simair is put through a series of exercises to test the impact physical activity has on a concussion.

Concussion facts:

  • The Hockey Concussion Education Project, conducted in 2009-2010 by the Brain Injury Association of Canada, showed an incidence rate of game-related concussions seven times higher than previously reported in medical literature. The study reported 21.52 concussions per 1,000 athlete exposures. The project focused on 67 male Junior hockey players from two teams.
  • Of 986 participating players from minor hockey in Calgary in 2004-2005, 216 players sustained a total of 296 injuries, for an overall injury rate of 30.02 injuries per 100 players per season. Findings were reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occurring in sports and recreational activities annually, with an estimated 44 million children and adolescents participating in organized sports in the U.S.

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