York University professors help shape national pandemic strategy

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Earlier this month, two York University professors – Mathieu Poirier and Susan Rogers Van Katwyk – joined Canadian experts and government representatives at the Pandemic Agreement Regional Engagement Series. Organized by the Government of Canada, this series of meetings held across the country were intended to facilitate productive discussion about Canada’s role in pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

Mathieu Poirier

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that there were real inequities that emerged, and there were issues with the International Health Regulations, which are the main international law we use to deal with pandemic threats,” said Poirier. “So when we see medical countermeasures, vaccines that were extremely inequitably distributed, it became clear that we need a new agreement – a Pandemic Agreement – to deal with these pandemic threats.”

Attendees at the meetings, which built on the Pandemic Instrument Partner and Stakeholder Engagement Forum that took place in Ottawa last March, were encouraged to share their input on and updates to the development of the Pandemic Agreement (previously referred to as the Pandemic Instrument). The agreement seeks to address policy gaps in preventing, preparing for and responding to pandemics, and is scheduled to be presented to the 77th World Health Assembly in May of this year.

Poirier, an assistant professor in York’s School of Global Health, a Tier II Research Chair in Global Health Equity and co-director of the York University- and University of Ottawa-based Global Strategy Lab (GSL), participated in a Toronto-based meeting focused on enhancing capacities to detect, understand, and act on public health threats through improved global co-operation on data standardization and interoperability.

“It’s important to remember that Canada is less than one per cent of the world’s population, and that means that there’s something like a 99 per cent chance that a future pandemic will emerge outside of Canada,” said Poirier. “And in the likelihood that occurs, we have to have strong international co-operation between countries so that we are prepared to detect, understand and act on those pandemic threats, and that other countries are as well.”

The session he attended, he said, brought widespread support for creating a committee to facilitate the adoption of international data standards and interoperable systems. Participants emphasized the importance of supporting low-and middle-income countries in strengthening their systems and advocating for a decolonized approach that learns from best practices globally while minimizing potential harms to countries that choose to participate in data sharing.

Rogers Van Katwyk, an adjunct professor at York and managing director of the AMR (Antimicrobial Resistance) Policy Accelerator at the Global Strategy Lab, participated in the Vancouver-based session, which focused on equity within the pandemic agreement.

The Global Strategy Lab’s previous research on the pandemic treaty has gained significant recognition. A comment in The Lancet, by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body spearheading negotiations on the pandemic agreement, cited GSL’s research on what makes for an effective international treaty, and a symposium issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics (JLME) on the inclusion of AMR in the Pandemic Agreement, co-edited by Rogers Van Katwyk and GSL Director and York Professor Steven J. Hoffman, has greatly contributed to the discussion. With GSL members taking part in high-level discussions like the recent Pandemic Agreement Regional Engagement Series, the lab’s international influence is sure to continue its trajectory of growth.

To hear more from Poirier about his participation in the meetings and their potential impact on our global health future, watch the video below:

Continuing Studies Building earns gold for sustainable design

School of Continuing Studies Building

Further solidifying York University’s place as an international leader in sustainability, York’s School of Continuing Studies Building has achieved LEED Gold certification from the Canadian Green Building Council. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is the global building industry’s premier benchmark for sustainability.

School of Continuing Studies Building
School of Continuing Studies Building exterior.

The six-story, 9,012-square-metre, 50-classroom building, which opened last spring at 68 The Pond Road on York’s Keele Campus, was designed by global architecture firm Perkins&Will, led by architects Safdar Abidi and Andrew Frontini. Its twisted design is said to symbolize the school’s twist on the traditional mission of continuing studies – that is, to solve Canada’s most pressing labour challenges by connecting employers to a highly skilled talent pool through innovative program offerings.

“Our stunning, architecturally twisted learning facility emphasizes sustainable practices, safeguards the environment and lowers operating costs,” said Christine Brooks-Cappadocia, assistant vice-president, Continuing Studies. “This purposeful design, with its abundant natural light and other innovative features, is welcoming and promotes a healthy atmosphere so we can focus on what matters most: excellence in programming and a vibrant community for student interactions.”

Some of the building’s most notable environmental features include: a self-generating heat recovery system; an infrastructure-ready, solar-powered water heater; a high-performing façade system for weather resistance; and daylight harvesting to offset electric lighting requirements. The building is believed to be well positioned to achieve net-zero emissions in the future due to its low energy consumption and ability to accommodate solar photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity.

But contrary to popular belief, LEED is not only about energy-efficient design. It also considers occupant wellness, an area where the School of Continuing Studies Building focused much attention. Designed with the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion in mind, the building houses a lactation room for nursing mothers and a payer room, plus guide rails, automated doors, standing desks, screens for the visually impaired, elevators and large, wheelchair accessible hallways.

“LEED is a comprehensive sustainability objective,” explained Norm Hawton, director of design and construction for Facilities Services at York, “ranging from site selection and recycling of materials to designing for energy performance, minimizing waste, encouraging wellness – from daylighting to healthy commuting, by providing bicycle racks and showers – and thinking holistically about how this building will contribute to a sustainable lifestyle.”

According to Hawton, the LEED Gold certification could not have been achieved without the contributions of the School of Continuing Studies students, instructors and staff who were instrumental to both the scoping and design phases of the project, the University administrators, consultants, and construction and design teams.

“It was the collaborative participation by all throughout the project, from the initial building concept through to successful operations supporting continuing education, that led to LEED quantify the success of the School of Continuing Studies Building in this way,” he said.

In addition to this new sustainability certification, the building has also been recognized for its interior design achievements. Last October, the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) named it one of the most vibrant, innovative and inspiring educational spaces of the year – a true testament to York’s visionary leadership in the higher-education building space.

Winter Well-being Week to focus on physical and nutritional health

Students walking near subway on Keele Campus in winter

A university cannot thrive without a healthy community of students, staff and faculty behind it. To address that need, York University’s Well-being Week is intended to keep wellness front of mind and ensure the appropriate resources are available to community members who seek them. From March 4 to 8, York’s Winter Well-being Week will feature a series of events centred around this term’s theme of “Caring for Your Physical and Nutritional Health.”

The University-wide campaign, which runs three times per calendar year, provides opportunities for York community members to explore and reflect on their personal well-being journeys. The events lined up for this Winter Well-being Week, to be held both virtually and in-person, will encourage and support them in prioritizing their physical and nutritional health this term and beyond.

The diverse range of workshops, webinars, activities and promotions will include pickleball, trauma-informed yoga, informative tabling events and more. Participants are invited to share their experiences on social media by using the hashtag #YUWellbeing.

“These well-being-focused events at York aim to increase awareness about the different dimensions of well-being, share valuable resources for personal and communal growth, and provide opportunities for social connection,” said Mary Catherine Masciangelo, assistant vice-president of human resources and chief human resources officer.

York’s Well-being Strategy update

York University is developing a comprehensive, five-year Well-being Strategy as part of its ongoing efforts to embed wellness throughout its campuses. This strategy is a collaborative effort between the Division of Students and the Division of Equity, People & Culture (EPC) at York University. As part of the University’s efforts to provide transparency into this process, updates on the Well-being Strategy’s progress will continue to be released through YFile and York’s Well-being website.

As part of the strategy’s development, the Well-being Strategy Executive Committee gathered community feedback in the Fall 2023 term from students, staff, faculty and instructors.

“We truly appreciate how many community members made time to participate,” said Laina Bay-Cheng, vice-president, EPC. “Their feedback is essential to creating a meaningful and worthwhile strategy. The strategy team is now reviewing the data gathered from this period and will integrate it into the final Well-being Strategy, which we anticipate launching in Fall 2024.”

To learn more about Well-being Week, its events and to register for sessions, visit York’s Well-being Week web page. For additional resources and support related to well-being at York University, visit York’s Well-being website.

One Fare Program to launch Feb. 26

Student walking away from subway on York University Keele Campus

The government of Ontario has partnered with Greater Toronto Area transit providers to make getting to campus more accessible and affordable by integrating fares across systems.

Starting on Feb. 26, transit customers paying with a PRESTO card, PRESTO in Google Wallet, debit or credit card (physical or in a mobile wallet) will be able to transfer for free between the TTC, Brampton Transit, Durham Region Transit, MiWay and York Region Transit, due to Ontario’s new One Fare Program. Also, TTC customers paying single-ride fares connecting to and from GO Transit will benefit from a fare discount, making their TTC fare free.

“York University commends the Ontario government for eliminating the need for double fares by creating a more integrated fare system,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “The new One Fare Program will have a significant impact on our community, as over 74 per cent of our students, and most of our faculty and staff, commute to campus via GO Transit as well as the two subway stations on our Keele Campus. An integrated fare system will not only create a more affordable, accessible and efficient transportation network but also continue to provide a sustainable transportation option that will help to reduce our community’s carbon footprint.”

Metrolinx will be on the Keele Campus for a community engagement event on Monday, Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Vari Hall to discuss the new One Fare Program and the in-progress Finch West Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.

For more information on PRESTO, the electronic fare payment system available across 11 transit agencies in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and Ottawa, and how to obtain a PRESTO card, visit PRESTOcard.ca.

World Health Organization extends Global Strategy Lab collaboration

heart and stethoscope

A World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) at York University’s Global Strategy Lab (GSL) – specializing in the global governance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – had its impact recognized with a four-year extension, and expansion, of its mandate by WHO.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses and other microbes – and the infections they cause – stop responding to the medicines designed to treat them. AMR has a profound impact on global health and development – especially in low- and middle-income countries. It contributes to an estimated five million deaths annually and rolls back progress on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), including SDG 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

GSL has emerged as a leader in addressing pressing global and public health challenges. In the area of AMR, GSL aims to use policy research to support evidence-informed decision-making by the world’s governments and public health institutions to ensure sustainable antimicrobial use.

Susan Rogers Van Katwyk
Susan Rogers Van Katwyk

As a result, in 2019, GSL was designated the WHOCC on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance. “Collaborating centres have a concentration of expertise that WHO recognizes as valuable to achieving their mandate,” explains Susan Rogers Van Katwyk, who is co-director of the WHOCC at GSL along with Steven Hoffman.

In the past four years, the WHOCC at GSL has played a critical role in supporting the WHO’s work on AMR policy and governance, resulting in its renewal for another four years. “It’s exciting to know that the WHO values our support and the work that we’ve been doing with them for the last few years,” says Rogers Van Katwyk.

While the WHOCC at York will continue its mandate of supporting evidence-informed AMR decision-making, its new mandate will include a greater focus on equity as it relates to policy and the governance of AMR. “A focus on equity is something that the Global Strategy Lab is committed to and we’re glad to have it spelled out in our mandate for the renewal term,” says Rogers Van Katwyk.

Among the additions the redesignation has brought to the WHOCC at GSL, Rogers Van Katwyk is especially excited about the greater emphasis on a “One Health” approach, which recognizes that human health, animal health and the environment are interconnected. “Most of our research at the Global Strategy Lab already includes that perspective. It’s where a lot of health research, especially around infectious diseases, is headed,” she says.

Following its redesignation, Rogers Van Katwyk believes the WHOCC ­at GSL has the potential to make a profound impact on the future of global health and sustainability. “We recently undertook a mapping exercise of how AMR impacts the United Nations SDGs. There’s almost none of them that aren’t impacted,” she says. “If we don’t address AMR, we’re not going to achieve the SDG on health and most of the other SDGs.”

Rogers Van Katwyk and her team are ready to support better AMR policymaking and governance for a healthier and more equitable future.

Bergeron Market certified York’s first gluten-free facility

hands kneeding gluten free dough BANNER

Bergeron Market, located in the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, has received a certification endorsed by the National Celiac Association that recognizes it as York University’s only certified gluten-free dining facility.

The certification means that every product available at the market is carefully sourced, prepared and processed to avoid cross-contamination risks associated with gluten. This assurance plays a vital role in promoting healthy eating habits and overall well-being for those who need to follow a gluten-free diet, allowing them the confidence to dine safely.

Dahlia Abou El Hassan
Dahlia Abou El Hassan

“This marks a significant stride towards sustainable nutrition, addressing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Good Health and Well-being,” says Dahlia Abou El Hassan, York’s registered dietitian. “This certification of Bergeron not only embraces diversity but also caters to a range of dietary needs, demonstrating the YU Eats commitment to inclusivity and actively supporting the health of our community.”

The availability of gluten-free products at Bergeron Market has significantly expanded over the years, providing a wide range of options to meet diverse dietary needs. From fresh produce and snacks to baked goods and fresh meals, diners have access to a comprehensive selection of gluten-free products right on campus.

“To enhance accessibility to freshly made gluten-free options for the wider community, Bergeron’s team has started to prepare and package gluten-free foods as convenient grab-and-go items. These are now available for sale in cafeterias across the campus” says Tom Watt, director of Food & Vending Services.

Beth Gallagher, a community member with a gluten intolerance, says she is “delighted to have a certified gluten-free food provider on campus – it’s not just a meal, it’s peace of mind. Certification ensures I can enjoy every bite without worry, making campus dining a safer and happier experience. Recognizing the importance of diverse food options, especially for those with allergies, brings inclusivity to the table.”

Come try it for yourself. The market is open Monday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m, and Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Upcoming lecture looks at practice of evidence-based hope

Two hands holding black heart

The late professor David V.J. Bell, former dean of York University’s Faculties of graduate studies and environmental studies, had a passion, commitment and dedication to sustainability and education that left a lasting imprint on policymakers, educators and youth across Canada and abroad.

David V.J. Bell
David V.J. Bell

Honouring his legacy, the Annual Dr. David V.J. Bell Memorial Lecture is intended to help bridge the gap between research and what is practised in educational institutions by identifying Canadian thought leaders to share their insights on education for sustainable development as it applies to policy, teacher education and practice, and student empowerment.  

This year, the Fifth Annual Dr. David V.J. Bell Memorial Lecture, hosted by national charity Learning for a Sustainable Future in partnership with York’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change, features keynote speaker Elin Kelsey presenting a talk titled “How to be hopeful in a world of doom: the practice of evidence-based hope.” The virtual lecture will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

Elin Kelsey
Elin Kelsey

Kelsey is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Victoria School of Environmental Studies and Western Washington University’s School of Environment. She is also an award-winning author, speaker and thought leader for the evidence-based hope and climate justice solutions movement, helping people to believe that desired change is possible. Her work focuses on the reciprocal relationship between humans and the rest of nature, particularly in relation to the emotional implications of the narrative of environmental doom and gloom on children and adults

To register for the lecture, visit lsf-lst.ca/forms/dvj-lecture-registration. Details on how to join the session will follow.

For further information about the event, email elaine@LSF-LST.ca. To learn more about the keynote speaker, visit elinkelsey.org.

Researchers share findings that could lead to better cancer care

heart and stethoscope

One of the hallmark characteristics of many cancers is a debilitating body- and muscle-wasting condition called cachexia, which affects the way the body processes food and absorbs nutrients. New research from the Faculty of Health – overseen by Professor Olasunkanmi Adegoke and PhD student Stephen Mora ­– looks to better understand the syndrome by asking the question: why do cachectic patients have impaired ability to use nutrients?

Olasunkanmi (Ola) Adegoke
Olasunkanmi (Ola) Adegoke

Cachexia is caused by cancer itself (notably, the cancers of the lung, liver, pancreas, colon) and/or by treatment like chemotherapy. It results in significant weight loss, especially loss of muscle.

The condition’s associated body wasting is linked to poor food intake and loss of appetite, but even if patients do eat – introducing more nutrients and calories – the cachexia doesn’t go away. The condition not only can lead to poor quality of life for those affected but can impede effective treatment.

Adegoke and Mora’s research, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, aimed to better understand the hows and whys of cachexia in the hopes of leading to improved treatment for cancer patients.

Stephen Mora
Stephen Mora

Their research project studied what happened to skeletal muscle cells, known as myotubes, treated with a clinically relevant chemotherapy drug cocktail. They noted profound atrophy of these cells. A link to poor levels of amino acid – the building blocks for body proteins and therefore the strengthening of muscles – in these cells led the researchers to add amino acids. There was no improvement.

In process, however, they did identify a protein whose abundance was drastically reduced in the muscle cells treated with the drugs. The function of this protein is to transport amino acids into the cell, where they can then be used to make body proteins. Adegoke and Mora then manipulated the muscle cells so they would have high amounts of this transporter. This led to a profound – and promising – rescuing of the cells treated with the chemotherapy drugs.

Adegoke and Mora hope their findings provide data that may lead to the development of interventions that can limit or prevent cancer-associated wasting syndrome.   

The research – which was funded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada – builds upon Adegoke’s ongoing work, and expertise, in molecular mechanisms regulating skeletal muscle growth and metabolism.

GNL project inspires future French-language teachers

Students working together in a workspace rom

By Elaine Smith

A French immersion high-school teacher who joined York University’s Glendon College pursued a Globally Networked Learning (GNL) project to help his students build connections and advance their academic journeys.

A frequent participant in a global scholars program with his students from elementary and middle schools, teacher Jafar Hussain has long understood the value of students building cross-cultural connections. So, when he was seconded to York’s Glendon Campus as a course director, he decided the global approach was equally important in the university classroom.

He dove right into a GNL project with students in his Teaching & Learning French in a Core French Context class. GNL is an approach to research, learning, and teaching that enables students, faculty, and non-academic researchers from different locations around the world to participate in, and collaborate on, knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects.

“I wanted to bring my students a new perspective on what learning could look like,” Hussain said of his plans for his students. “My own experience with K-12 students and such programs demonstrated that these experiences are fruitful and enriching.”

His class, taught in French, comprised bachelor of education (BEd) students in their final year of the concurrent teacher education program who will be teaching French as a second language. With assistance from York International, Hussain connected with Professor Caroline Andrade at the Universidad Desarollo in Chile and her Spanish-speaking education students who are planning to teach English as a second language.

Since all of the students were future language teachers, the professors broke them into groups with students from both universities and gave them an assignment: introduce yourselves, discuss an issue that affects language learning and create a joint podcast to explain it. They also asked each group to use artificial intelligence (AI) to create an image for their podcast as a way of teaching responsible use of AI.

“Part of developing global competency is navigating communications barriers, and we knew that here, everyone spoke some English,” Hussain said. “The real goal of the assignment was to bring them together. What was important was the experience of working together to try to accomplish the goal.”

“None of us had done an internationally focused project so far and some people were skeptical, but Jafar told us from the beginning to focus on the experience and not worry about the outcome,” said Ana Kraljevic, a student in the class, who is hoping to pursue a career in education policy and leadership.

Kraljevic’s group explored language insecurity, its root causes and solutions.

“Language [or linguistic] insecurity refers to any sort of apprehension a new learner has about speaking the language, whether that is a fear of being judged or not being competent,” said Kraljevic. “We’re learning French and our Chilean counterparts are learning English, so we have similar experiences. Language insecurity is a huge, complex phenomenon and we want to reduce it for future students.”

Rosamaria Conenna, a BEd student who majored in French studies and has a minor in Spanish, also enjoyed the project. Her group chose to discuss accentism: the way accents are perceived in society and how they affect language learners.

“It can be discouraging if you have an accent because when someone hears it, they often default to your primary language and deny you the opportunity to practise,” she said. “It can be disappointing if you have an accent, especially when you know what you’re saying is correct.

“We want our future students to know that having an accent is perfectly OK, and that it should not discourage them from practising the languages they learn.”

Conenna’s group, like the others, connected via WhatsApp to pair and discuss personal experiences to convey their own stories authentically. Each pair recorded a segment of the podcast, which was hosted by a team member who introduced the topic, the group and provided information about research on the subject.

The students presented their group work to the entire class and Hussain was “blown away. It all came together beautifully and the students all became more globally aware,” he said. He praised students for their work and shared some words of wisdom. “Remember all the obstacles you imagined beforehand and look at what you produced. When something seems insurmountable, it’s so much sweeter when you get to the end point,” he told them.

Kraljevic is already thinking about how she could do something similar with classes she will be teaching in the future, and the experience has fuelled Conenna’s dreams of teaching abroad.

For Hussain, “Now I have a solid model of what GNL could look like at a university level. There were challenges on both sides, but the learning experience is extremely rich.”

Learn more about York’s Globally Networked Learning initiative and individual faculty projects.

Professors receive CIHR grants to advance dementia research

caregiver supporting elderly person banner

Two York University professors from the Faculty of Health – Lora Appel and Matthias Hoben – have received Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grants to further their contributions to the study of individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

There’s still much about dementia – and dementia care – that remains unexplored, but Appel and Hoben are looking to change that thanks to projects that have received CIHR funding.

Lora Appel
Lora Appel

Appel’s $308,952 grant will be put toward the first study to explore how virtual reality (VR) experiences can be used to benefit both people living with dementia (PWD) and their caregivers.

With an increased interest in the therapeutic use of VR with older adults, some studies have suggested there is potential for the technology to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and promote quality of life.

For PWDs, VR can potentially reduce apathy, depression and agitation; for caregivers, as those they care for are occupied, it can be used to provide more breaks from the high levels of burden they often navigate.

Appel’s project, titled “VR&R: Providing Respite to Caregivers by Managing Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms in People with Dementia Using Immersive VR-Therapy,” is one of 13 that received a collective $8.7 million from the CIHR Operating Grant: Mechanisms in Brain Aging and Dementia – Factors and Mechanisms that Impact Cognitive Health in Aging.

The project will now pursue a six-week trial, where PWDs will be given the chance to experience immersive VR stimulations as frequently as they choose. Caregivers will then be able to engage in a desired activity at this time, remaining close by to assist only if needed. In the process, Appel’s project seeks to understand how caregivers benefit from the breaks VR gives them, especially as caregivers often describe respite as an internal experience where they can recuperate without removing themselves from a situation.

Matthias Hoben
Matthias Hoben

Hoben, the other grant recipient, received $100,000 in funding for a study of existing literature on adult day programs – part-day supervised activities for dependent adults. Adult day programs aim to maintain or improve older adults’ health, well-being, social, physical and cognitive functioning, and independence, while also providing caregivers a break or opportunity to continue working a paid job.

Because, to date, studies on the outcomes of day programs are inconclusive, Hoben’s project will look at developing program theories that explain how and why these settings lead to positive, negative, or no effects on individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

Titled “Adult Day Programs and Their effects on individuals with Dementia and their Caregivers (ADAPT-DemCare): Developing program theories on the how and why,” the project – one among 16 that received a collective $1.5 million – has been funded by the CIHR Operating Grant called Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging (BHCIA): Knowledge Synthesis and Mobilization Grants.

Its goal is to provide greater insights and theories into adult day programs with the hope that any resulting theories will be tested and further refined in future studies, and become essential in guiding future research and improvement of day programs.

Both Appel and Hoben are members of the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE), which looks to support and promote the work of researchers and graduate trainees who study changes, challenges and policies to support aging at individual, organizational and societal levels.