Author Archives: brian-lawrence-owensgmail-com

Federal government getting pressed on many sides to adopt Naylor report

Researchers, university administrators, students and others across Canada rally in an unprecedented effort to ensure the government doesn’t ignore the report’s recommendations.

Canada’s academic community has launched a full court press to encourage the government to adopt the recommendations of the report of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review panel, also known as the Naylor report.

The report, requested by Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in June 2016, was drawn up by a panel led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor and released this past April. It found that Canada has been falling behind its international peers in science in recent years, and recommended a major increase in funding for basic, investigator-led research. The panel’s recommendations, if fully implemented, would see annual federal spending on research-related activities increase from approximately $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion over four years. Read more in University Affairs.

How Are We Now? Inuit Health Survey Returns to Nunavik

A health survey of Inuit communities in northern Quebec found widespread food insecurity and other problems 13 years ago. A follow-up now underway will see how much things have changed.

THE CCGS AMUNDSEN, Canada’s Arctic research icebreaker, has begun a unique portion of its summer research schedule – visiting 14 remote Inuit communities along the shore of Hudson Bay and the Hudson Strait in northern Quebec as part of a large-scale survey of the population’s health and well-being. Read more in Arctic Deeply.

Genome editing in human embryos inches closer to the clinic

On Aug 2Nature published a study in which US-based researchers successfully edited the genome of a human embryo using the CRISPR-Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats-CRISPR-associated protein 9) system to correct a genetic defect implicated in a potentially fatal heart condition. Although this is not the first time CRISPR has been used for genome editing in embryos, the introduction of the editing molecules at an earlier stage led to a much higher targeting efficiency than that in previous studies (72% vs 14–25%). The researchers also managed to avoid mosaicism, in which some cells in the embryo have the corrected version of the gene but others still have the mutation.

The work has raised hopes for new treatments based on genome editing, as well as fears over so-called designer babies. But both are still a long way off. Read more in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

CMA adopts patient focus

The Canadian Medical Association’s new three-year strategy, CMA 2020, aims to make the organization more outward-facing and patient-focused.

The changes came after a period of soul-searching on what the purpose of the CMA was, and how it could best serve its members and the public, said Dr. Brian Brodie, chairman of the board of directors. “We recognize that there are a lot of associations doctors belong to, and why would they pay to belong to different ones that do the same thing?” he said. “So it was important to look for opportunities for us to do something different.” Read more in CMAJ.

Cybersecurity for the travelling scientist

Virtual private networks, tracking apps and ‘burner’ laptops: how to protect sensitive data when you take your research on the road.

Mark Gerstein has had his fair share of scares when it comes to losing track of his electronic devices — and, along with them, access to his private information and research data.

“I’m very security conscious, but also a bit of an absent-minded professor,” says Gerstein, a bioinformatician at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Read more in Nature.

Free certification for US cannabis labs to help fight opioid epidemic

Ensuring that America’s medical marijuana is reliable and of high quality will help patients and drive down opioid use in the country, according to Americans for Safe Access.

A group dedicated to improving access to and the safety of medicinal cannabis in the US is offering its certification programme free of charge to cannabis testing labs to help fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

The Americans for Safe Access (ASA)’s Patient Focused Certification (PFC) programme is intended to be a mark of quality for cannabis testing labs, and to help them prepare for ISO 17025 accreditation – the main international standard for demonstrating the technical competence and accuracy of testing and calibration labs, says Jahan Marcu, director of the certification programme. Read more in Chemistry World.

The Climate Bomb Lurking Under Arctic Permafrost

New research aims to better understand how much methane – a potent greenhouse gas – is burbling to the surface of the Mackenzie Valley in Canada’s Northwest Territories as the permafrost melts.

Hidden beneath the frozen ground of the Arctic could be a ticking time bomb. Vast reservoirs of methane – a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide – lie beneath the permafrost, and as global temperatures rise and the permafrost thaws, it could leak out and speed up the pace of climate change in an ever-faster vicious circle.

A team of researchers from Germany spent two years measuring the release of methane from the Mackenzie River Delta in northern Canada. They were trying to figure out how much of the gas was the normal “biogenic” emissions produced each summer by decomposing organic matter in Arctic wetlands, and how much is coming from ancient underground “geologic” sources leaking through gaps in the permafrost year-round. Read more in Arctic Deeply.

Cyclists’ Pacing Strategies Should Consider the Wind

Both Tour de France racers and recreational cyclists can improve performance by riding hardest into the wind.

As the elite riders of the Tour de France race towards the finish line of the grueling, 21-stage race this weekend, they are looking for any little tactical advantage they can gain over their rivals. New research from a team of sports scientists in Sweden could help them find that edge.

Road cyclists need to adapt their speed and energy expenditure during a race to account for changing conditions such as wind. Previous studies have shown that a cyclist who maintains an even power output, slowing down into a headwind and speeding up with a tailwind while working at the same effort throughout, will lose more time in the headwind segments than they will gain back in the tailwind segments. So the best strategy is to go a bit harder into the wind and then recover at an easier pace when riding with the wind. Read more in Inside Science.

Faster, deeper, smaller—the rise of antibody-like scaffolds

In early May the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca completed a deal with Boston-based Pieris Pharmaceuticals worth up to $2.1 billion to bring Pieris’ anticalin asthma drug PRS-060, an engineered protein that mimics antibodies, to the clinic. And on June 1, Bicycle Therapeutics in Cambridge, UK, pulled in $52 million in a series B funding round with several high-profile investors to continue developing its bicycle peptides for a variety of cancer types.

Those are just two of the wide variety of protein scaffold drugs currently in development. “There’s a whole zoo of non-antibody scaffolds out there,” says Daniel Christ, an immunologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. Read more in Nature Biotechnology.