Year in review

Posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014

001// Seeking to answer questions about how birds got their wings, HANS LARSSON (Redpath Museum) and former graduate student ALEXANDER DECECCHI performed regression analyses on two datasets of fossil measurement. They found that the ratio of limb length to body size underwent a dramatic change when dinosaurs transitioned into birds 150 million years ago. These findings shed important light on how birds came to be such a successful class of land vertebrates — the most diverse class existent on Earth today.

002// AUDREY MOORES (Chemistry) and doctoral student REUBEN HUDSON discovered a way to make hydrogenation — an important industrial reaction for pharmaceutical and petrochemical synthesis — less expensive and more environmentally friendly. Hydrogenation typically requires heavy metals such as platinum or palladium as catalysts. By using amiphilic polymers to rust-proof less toxic iron catalysts, Moores, Hudson and colleagues from partner institution RIKEN’s Center for Sustainable Resource Science demonstrated iron’s viability in an environmentally-friendly solvent: water. The study authors hope to develop the catalyst for other uses and to pave the way for more sustainable industrial processes overall.

003// Two studies by NATHALIE TUFENKJI (Chemical Engineering) uncovered new information on how cranberries help fight bacterial illnesses such as urinary tract infections. Analyzing the effect of cranberry powder on bacteria behaviour on agar plates, Tufenkji discovered that cranberries not only inhibit bacterial movement but also reduce the bacteria’s production of infectious enzymes. These findings hold potential for using cranberry derivatives to create alternatives to antibiotics and to prevent bacterial colonization in medical devices such as catheters.

004// In the first large-scale study of its kind, SABINA SARIN, a doctoral student working under the supervision of IRVING BINIK (Psychology), found that, contrary to popular belief, men differentiate between sexual arousal (changes in the genitals) and sexual desire (a state of mind) as much as women do. This study contributes to a better understanding of different types of sexual disorder: those related to desire for sexual activity, usually associated with sex drive and libido, and those, such as erectile problems, related to physical arousal.

005// Quebec has less income inequality and stronger family and social supports than the rest of Canada and boasts some of the happiest people in the country. CHRISTOPHER BARRINGTON-LEIGH (Economics, Institute of Health and Social Policy and McGill School of Environment) found that as Quebec has become less like the rest of Canada during the last 30 years, and tensions over language and sovereignty have decreased,Quebeckers have undergone a societal and cultural shift from being the least happy Canadians to the happiest.

006// Chronic pain is associated with broad epigenetic changes in the brain, LAURA STONE (Dentistry and Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain) and MOSHE SZYF (Pharmacology and Therapeutics) have found. The pioneering research opens the possibility to treating chronic pain with behavioural or drug therapies to address DNA methylation in the brain.

007// DEREK BOWIE (Pharmacology and Therapeutics) has discovered that sodium has a unique effect on a major neurotransmitter receptor in the brain known as the kainate receptor, controlling when the receptor gets turned on or off. This finding opens doors to customizing drug therapies for conditions such as epilepsy and neuropathic pain.

008// Vertex VX-809 is a common, but not very efficient, treatment for cystic fibrosis. By combining VX-809 with chemical compounds that target two other structural defects in the cystic fibrosis protein, GERGELY LUKACS (Physiology) was able to raise the drug efficiency from 15 percent to 60-80 percent in cell culture models. The discovery offers exciting new avenues for improving treatment of the disease.

009// People vulnerable to developing alcoholism show a more active dopamine response in the brain after drinking alcohol than those at lowrisk for alcohol-use problems, MARCO LEYTON (Psychiatry) has found. The study may help researchers understand the cause of addictions and possibilities for treatment and prevention.

010// In a national study including more than 25,000 adolescents aged 11 to 15, FRANK ELGAR (Psychiatry and the Institute for Health and Social Policy) found that regular family suppers contribute to good mental health in adolescents. Such suppers, the study noted, provide opportunities for open interaction and the development of positive coping behaviours while allowing adolescents to express concerns and feel valued.

011// TANJA TAIVASSALO (Kinesiology and Physical Education) is leading an ongoing study to examine the impact of fitness and physical activity on aging. Surveying 20 world-class athletes and competitors over the age of 75, including 82-year-old marathon runner Ed Whitlock and 93-year-old track and field star Olga Kotelko, the study will assess muscle repair, cardiovascular function and cognitive performance.

012// EDUARDO CHACHAMOVICH (Psychiatry) led the world’s first psychological autopsy study of suicide rates among Inuit in Nunavut. The study included 498 interviews with family and friends of 120 suicide victims, as well as reviews of medical and RCMP records. The study found that mental illness, and sexual and physical abuse are substantial suicide risk factors — knowledge that may help predict and prevent future suicides.

013// Two studies offered new findings on the importance of vitamin D in different areas: cancer prevention and infant health. JOHN WHITE (Physiology) and DAVID GOLTZMAN (Physiology and Medicine) discovered a molecular basis for how vitamin D can inhibit production and function of cMYC, a protein that drives cell division and is active at elevated levels in more than half of all cancers. HOPE WEILER (Dietetics and Human Nutrition) and CELIA RODD (Pediatrics) confirmed that 400 international units of vitamin D is sufficient for infant health. Higher doses, as sometimes recommended in different parts of the world, provide no additional benefits for helping babies grow a healthy skeleton.

014// Two studies revealed new insight into sleep and health. NAHUM SONENBERG (Biochemistry) identified a protein known as 4E-BP1 that slows recovery time following a sleep disruption, opening avenues for treating circadian clock dysfunction such as jet lag and shift work disorders. REUT GRUBER (Psychiatry) found that school-aged children who sleep 27 more minutes at night than their usual are less impulsive, less easily distracted and less likely to have temper tantrums.

015// The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre will oversee data collection for one of the most comprehensive aging studies ever conducted. The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging spans 11 locations across Canada, with 160 researchers from 26 Canadian universities, and will follow the health and quality of life of 50,000 men and women for 20 years.

016// Abnormal communication between the brain’s frontal cortexes may contribute to substance addiction, ALAIN DAGHER (the Montreal Neurological Institute) and colleagues at RIKEN’s Center for Molecular Imaging Science have found. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the team discovered that dysfunction of the frontal lobes — which can be caused by psychological stress — might impair self-control over cravings for cigarettes, drugs and other stimulants.

017// McGill and RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research instutition, signed an agreement to establish a joint research centre to strengthen opportunities for cooperation, particularly in nanotechnology, green chemistry and advanced biomedical sciences.

018// McGill entered into a three-year, $1 million dollar partnership with TELUS Health for research and teaching aimed at using technology to improve health and healthcare delivery for Canadians. The first study to receive funds through this partnership is led by ARIANE MARELLI (Medicine) and YEONA JANG (Desautels Faculty of Management) and focuses on using remote health monitoring and a patient health portal to improve the delivery of complex medical therapy for patients with chronic cardiovascular disease.

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