New funding supports training in vaccine production at York U

test tube vaccine production

Thanks to new funding from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges & Universities, the Faculty of Science is launching a new micro-credential in Vaccine Production and Quality Assurance in Winter 2025 at York University’s Markham Campus.

The provincial funding comprises $50,000 from the Micro-credentials Challenge Fund (Round 2) and $75,000 from the Training Equipment and Renewal Fund, which will go toward the creation of the new micro-credential that will prepare trainees for jobs in vaccine biomanufacturing and processing.

Hovig Kouyoumdjian
Hovig Kouyoumdjian

“Our new programs in vaccine production and biotechnology aim to bridge talent gaps in the pharmaceutical industry in Canada and to offer students and professionals a variety of training options for upskilling for industry jobs,” says Hovig Kouyoumdjian, associate dean of curriculum and pedagogy in the Faculty of Science.

Spearheaded by Kouyoumdjian and faculty members Jade Atallah, the Markham biotechnology graduate program director, and Luz Adriana Puentes Jácome in the Department of Biology, the micro-credential in Vaccine Production and Quality Assurance will provide accelerated, experiential and industry-centred training on the fundamentals of vaccine production, including emerging technologies.

“It will be offered as an eight-week, blended program, shaped by input from a variety of industry partners,” says Jácome. “The micro-credential offers more rapid, vaccine-focused training relative to the new Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology and Master’s in Biotechnology Management programs, which are broader in scope and completed in one year or two, respectively.”

With the new funding, the Faculty of Science will also purchase new equipment that will not only benefit student training in the micro-credential but also the Master’s in Biotechnology Management and Graduate Diploma in Biotechnology programs starting this fall at Markham Campus. The equipment will include cell culture tools for various expression systems (bacterial, yeast, insect and mammalian cells) and novel vaccine platform technologies (DNA, RNA and recombinant proteins) that are highly aligned with current advancements in the vaccine industry.

“Given the focus of these biotechnology postgraduate programs on applied training, the new equipment will support a curricular delivery that is hands-on and highly experiential in nature,” says Atallah. “Our students will complete their training with the knowledge and skills they need to secure in-demand jobs in the biotechnology and vaccine production industry.”

“We are grateful to the Ontario Ministry of Colleges & Universities for supporting the creation and enhancement of these important programs at York University,” says Kouyoumdjian.

Study abroad course in Cuba breaks new ground

York International group in Cuba

By Elaine Smith

Two groups of York University students travelled to Cuba this spring as part of a new Faculty of Health course exploring human rights, Cuban culture and the country’s health-care system. The course – Experience Cuba: Enacting the human right to health and health equity, taught by Jessica Vorstermans, an associate professor in the School of Health Policy & Management – marked the first simultaneous collaboration between York U, the University of Holguin and the Medical University of Holguin. It is an offering the Faculty of Health hopes to strengthen and continue.

The 34 students in the Experience Cuba course were part of a cohort of more than 300 York University students participating in faculty-led study abroad programs this spring and summer. They received funding support through York International’s SDGs in Action Program, which is funded by the Government of Canada’s Global Skills Opportunity.

The course provided a look at how the Cuban health-care system flourishes amidst a landscape of economic crisis. The country has been under a United States trade embargo since 1962, resulting in a scarcity of many goods – including medicines and modern medical equipment. Nonetheless, many Cuban indicators of health are comparable to those in Canada, said Vorstermans.

“Cuba is an example of everything we want an equitable and universal system to look like, but in an environment of great scarcity,” Vorstermans said. “It’s a system that prioritizes preventive and primary care.”

Developed by Vorstermans and supported by Julie Hard, director of global and community partnerships in the Faculty of Health, the new course attracted so much interest that the Faculty chose to run two sessions back to back to accommodate more students.

While in Cuba, the students attended lectures about the health-care system at the partner universities and visited the neighbourhood network of clinics – the first stop for patients. They toured the medical school and learned about the curriculum, which also includes dentistry and traditional medicine.

York University students visiting the University of Holguin, listening to a talk about Cuba's history and revolutionary struggle.
York University students visiting the University of Holguin, listening to a talk about Cuba’s history and revolutionary struggle.

It was an eye-opening experience for the students, who were housed with Cuban families in a Holguin neighbourhood, took the university bus to campus, and visited many cultural sites during their visit.

“It was a two-week snapshot of Cuban life,” Hard said. “Most Canadians think of Cuban resorts and beaches, but living in a home in a country coping with scarcity was very different. It was an immersive cultural experience that went way beyond textbooks and the travel brochures.”

They learned about navigating fuel shortages and gained an appreciation for how hard people work to put food on the table. “The state makes sure there is enough,” said Hard, “but there isn’t the same selection to which we’re accustomed.”

The students were amazed by the efficiency of the Cuban health-care system, and couldn’t help but draw comparisons to Canada’s.

“The health care in Cuba is inclusive; it accommodates all types of people,” said El Salvador-born Alexa Rios, a first-year health studies student. “Everything is egalitarian, and everyone gets the same care…. If people with so few resources can create a welcoming system, why can’t we – with all of our opportunities – do the same?”

Sophia Desiri, another first-year health studies student, was very impressed by the strong emphasis on preventive care and the use of local clinics as the first line of defence against illness, rather than emergency rooms.

“This course opened my eyes to what health care really means, which is community,” she said. “The Cuban system looks at patients as people, with feelings and needs.”

Gurher Sidhu, a fourth-year global health student, noted the emphasis the Cuban system places on primary care, with integrated health-care teams that serve the local community at polyclinics.

“The system was designed logically, with common sense,” she said. “The family physicians, for example, live in their communities – so their patients are also their neighbours. If someone doesn’t show up for an appointment, they worry. I wonder how we could foster that commitment to care here.”

Sidhu hopes to take more time to reflect on what she experienced and to consider how lessons learned could be applied within the Canadian context. Looking back at her journal – which she was required to write in while abroad – might offer some insights. At a Knowledge Mobilization Fair held last month at York U, the students shared their takeaways with their families and other invited guests.

“We were very glad to partner with and support the Faculty of Health with the launch of the Experience Cuba summer abroad course this year,” said Helen Balderama, director of global engagement and partnerships at York International. “The insights and observations that were shared by the health students precisely demonstrate the whole point of global learning (and study abroad) programs: to be exposed to new ideas and experiences, reflect on them, and be moved to action or further reflection.”

As for Vorstermans and Hard, they plan to run the course again in 2025 and deepen their partnership with the two Cuban institutions.

“This was a transformative learning experience that was amazing to witness,” Vorstermans says. “We view these connections as the beginning of a long-term partnership that we co-create so it is reciprocal.”

New, renewed Canada Research Chairs advance neuroscience, disability studies at York U

innovation image

York University neuroscientist Jeffrey Schall has been appointed a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Translating Neuroscience, alongside two renewals – Gillian Parekh and Joel Zylberberg – for existing CRCs, announced by the Government of Canada on June 14.

The CRC program is a major investment by the federal government (up to $300 million+ per year) to attract and retain world-class talent at Canadian universities. The program also provides training opportunities for the next generation of highly skilled personnel through research, teaching and learning.

The new and renewed CRCs at York University are:  

Jeffrey Schall
Jeffrey Schall

Jeffrey Schall is a newly appointed Tier I CRC in Translating Neuroscience and a professor in the Faculty of Science

Schall’s research aims to further understand the complexities of the brain and how it enables decision-making processes for actions and experiences: how people decide what to do, how people control when they do it and how people know if they did what they meant to do. Insights from Schall’s research could improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions like dementia and schizophrenia.  

Gillian Parekh
Gillian Parekh

Gillian Parekh is a renewed Tier II CRC in Disability Studies in Education and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education

Parekh is examining how schools respond to disability in order to improve student success. She and her research team are gathering and analyzing new data to develop strategies that will shed light on how “ability” is used to justify student organization within schools and the inequitable distribution of in-school resources and opportunities.

Joel Zylberberg
Joel Zylberberg

Joel Zylberberg is a renewed Tier II CRC in Computational Neuroscience and an associate professor in the Faculty of Science

Zylberberg and his research team train artificial intelligence (AI) to see and respond to images in the same way as the human brain. By teaching AI to process visual information like the brain’s visual cortex, deep learning algorithms could lead to the creation of devices that help visually impaired or blind people see again, in addition to potentially advancing technology for self-driving cars. 

York’s Chairholders received $2,400,000 and are part of a $94,500,000 investment in 121 new and renewed CRCs at 39 institutions across Canada. For the full list, visit the Government of Canada’s website.

York U researchers receive CIHR funding to study dementia care

Nurse consoling her elderly patient by holding her hands

Professors Matthias Hoben, Tamara Daly and Liane Ginsburg from the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE) have been awarded $750,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) to support their study examining the impact of day programs on individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

This funding opportunity, made possible through the CIHR-IA’s Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging: Implementation Science Team Grants, is supporting 10 projects that plan to evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs, services and models of care for those impacted by cognitive impairment and dementia, and to improve access to care and support.

According to the York U research team, most individuals with dementia and their caregivers want the person in need of care to remain at home for as long as possible; however, doing so safely and well may become challenging as the affected person’s needs increase. Adult day programs aim to maintain or improve older adults’ health and well-being, while also providing respite to caregivers.

The researchers are setting out to address what they identify as a lack of robust Canadian research on the effects of day programs on older adults living with dementia and their caregivers, especially those of equity-deserving groups with multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities.

“Health systems have increasingly shifted care for people with dementia from institutions to the community,” says Hoben, the Helen Carswell Chair in Dementia Care. “While care in the community is the preference of persons with dementia and their family/friend caregivers, most of the care is provided by caregivers who, in turn, receive little support.”

The team believes supports are important for both the person needing care and their caregivers, so they are examining the effectiveness of adult day programs as a method of support.

“Adult day programs are among the few community supports that aim to meet these simultaneous needs,” Hoben explains, “but we lack research on their effectiveness and on how and why they do or do not work.”

By partnering with key experts across Canada – those in need of care, their caregivers, advocates, day program staff and health system policymakers – this project aims to reveal how and why day programs have positive, negative or no effects on people with dementia and their caregivers, uncovering important avenues for improving their effectiveness.

With the help of the CIHR-IA funding, and in collaboration with health systems and regional Alzheimer societies, the team will recruit individuals with dementia who have recently been admitted to day programs and their primary caregivers. The researchers will compare them to a group that is not using day programs. They will also assess how program characteristics and the social identities of participants are associated with study outcomes. To further contextualize the data, they will conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups.

“I am passionate about supporting persons with dementia and their caregivers,” says Hoben, “and this research will be an important step to build these supports.”

For more information about the funding, visit the Canadian Institutes of Health Research website.

Y-EMERGE partnership to combat climate change by advancing mathematical modelling

climate crisis dry desert BANNER

By Elaine Smith

The York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) has established a partnership with the Research & Innovation Centre at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS-RIC) in Rwanda that will bring AIMS PhD students to York University to pursue their research in mathematical modelling as a tool for addressing climate change.

The project, called Human Capacity Building in Climate Change and Health in Africa, is being jointly funded by York International (YI) and Global Affairs Canada’s Canadian International Development Scholarships 2030 program, marking the first external grant to Y-EMERGE. It is also the first time York International has matched funds on this scale in support of an international research endeavour.

“York International is delighted that our researchers were able to leverage C$25,000 in matching funds to secure a significantly larger external grant for an impactful international research collaboration,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president of global engagement at YI. “The money will be used to top up scholarships for up to six female PhD students coming to York, as well as to provide emergency bursaries for any PhD student travelling to York for this program.” 

As part of the project, 10 PhD students from the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre will each spend a year at York between 2025 and 2028 to advance their work with mathematical modelling and climate change. Y-EMERGE will be hosting the program, with York International assisting in helping the students to feel at home. Participating students will have the opportunity to develop their research by working with experts in their areas of interest. 

Pictured, from left to right: Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president, global engagement at Y-EMERGE; faculty member Jianhong Wu; Sam Yala, president of AIMS Rwanda; York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton; Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation; Y-EMERGE faculty member Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima 
Pictured, from left to right: Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president of global engagement at Y-EMERGE; York University Professor Jianhong Wu; Sam Yala, president of AIMS Rwanda; York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton; Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation at York U; and York U Professor Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima. 

AIMS is no stranger to York U; the institutions have previously collaborated on infectious disease modelling for influenza and COVID-19.

For Professor Jude Kong, founder and director of the University’s Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence & Data Innovation Consortium (ACADIC) and a native of Cameroon, this collaboration is a passion project. He believes a focus on climate change and health is imperative, as the African continent is already feeling the effects of climate change.

“We’ll take the modelling experience present at York’s Y-EMERGE, as well as ACADIC and AIMS, to ensure we build the capacity to model climate change in Africa,” said Kong. “Climate change is coming and the situation is worsening in Africa. It will affect health in a way that has never happened before, and we’ll be able to build responsible models with an understanding of the local dynamics. … We’ll be using local expertise, so the results will be locally relevant, decolonized and intersectional.”

Professor Jianhong Wu, director of Y-EMERGE, is equally committed to the project.

“We consider this to not just be the beginning of an intensive collaboration with the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre in particular, but AIMS in general,” he said.

Professor Wilfred Ndifon, president of the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre, added, “For us at the institutional level, we have achieved our successes thanks to partnerships like the one we have with York.”

To help facilitate this long-term partnership, Y-EMERGE is forming a college of mentors to work with the AIMS students and establishing an advisory board to guide the growing Africa-Canada collaboration in mathematical modelling.

“We want the students to not only get excellent training but to grow their careers and begin to build up their own networks,” Wu said. “The students who come to York to train will be ambassadors for collaboration between the African continent and Canada in mathematical sciences.”

Kong is excited by the opportunity to build capacity on his home continent through a “train-the-trainers” model.

“When these students return home, they will be sent to other AIMS centres to make data actionable,” he said. “We need homegrown talent, rather than people from the Global North, to teach others [in Africa]. York is one of the many institutions that have reached out to help AIMS change the paradigm, and it is committing funding because they don’t view this as a one-off.”

York U study examines immigrant families’ experiences with autism stigma, caregiver stress

Woman and child hands holding together colorful puzzle heart on light blue background

A study by York University Faculty of Health Professor Farah Ahmad and her students Fariha Shafi and Amirtha Karunakaran, titled “Autism, Stigma, and South Asian Immigrant Families in Canada,” was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

While existing evidence suggests early autism diagnosis and support results in positive outcomes for children and youth on the spectrum and their families, Ahmad believed the same might not be true for children of racialized families, who are often diagnosed at later ages and are more likely to be misdiagnosed and experience barriers to service access. She also identified a lack of research examining the experiences of parents in Canada from specific immigrant groups – many from racialized communities – who are caring for their children on the spectrum.

With funding from York University’s Faculty of Health, through a Collaborative & Community-based Research Seed Grant, the York U researchers set out to address this knowledge gap by looking at South Asian Canadian immigrant parents with children on the autism spectrum and examining their experiences with available care programs and supports, as well as their perceptions of social stigma.

“Disability should not hinder people’s opportunities to reach their full potential,” said Ahmad, “so it’s a matter of human rights to bring forth hardship experienced by families caring for their children or adult family members on the autism spectrum. This is particularly relevant for racialized immigrant families, given the dearth of scholarly knowledge in Canada on their experiences.”

The team worked with community collaborators, including the SAAAC Autism Centre and Health Access Thorncliffe Park, to find suitable study participants. Nine South Asian parents living in the Greater Toronto Area were selected and interviewed individually.

The study’s findings confirmed barriers to an autism diagnosis and to service access. Additionally, parent participants reported that the stigma surrounding autism kept them from receiving a timely diagnosis, access to support services and guidance on health-promoting behaviours. The findings also revealed considerable caregiver stress and psychological distress.

“I believe in a proactive strategy,” said Ahmad, “where we as researchers examine the ‘ground reality’ of caregivers’ challenges and ways to cope, with the aim to enhance equity in practice and policymaking for improving structural supports for them, including efforts to reduce societal negative attitudes towards disabilities.”

Ahmad and her team expect the evidence revealed by their study to have wide-ranging impacts, including helping to inform equitable policy, programming, and practices that better support the needs of children on the spectrum and their immigrant families.

Lassonde prof tackles AI in health care with support from tech giant

hand holding heart near stethoscope BANNER

Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, recently received a monetary gift from Google as part of the company’s Research Scholar Program.

Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari
Laleh Seyyed-Kalantari

Google’s Research Scholar Program aims to support early-career professors by providing generous funding and encouraging the formation of long-term partnerships. The funding is considered an unrestricted gift to help professors advance their cutting-edge work, ranging from quantum computing to health research.

Seyyed-Kalantari’s research focuses on investigating and improving the fairness of artificial intelligence (AI) models used in medical practice, aiming to ensure they benefit all users regardless of race, age, sex and socioeconomic status. Her laboratory, the Responsible AI Lab, is currently working on many projects, including one tackling the fairness of AI in medical imaging and large language models, as well as AI applications in drug discovery. She is one of many Lassonde researchers working on York University’s multimillion-dollar project Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society.

“After receiving the award, my research group and I met with Google to share research ideas and plan collaborative projects,” says Seyyed-Kalantari. “This will be a great opportunity for my students to work closely with an industry leader and advance our research.”

With a budding partnership and vote of confidence from Google, Seyyed-Kalantari is ready to help to right the future by addressing the challenges of AI in health-care settings through her research.

Bike Month kicks off with Transportation Services

Keele campus bikes trees Lassonde

Join York University’s Transportation Services Department to kick off Bike Month – a month-long celebration of cycling across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – on June 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of Vari Hall (VH Plaza) on the Keele Campus. 

During the month of June, Transportation Services is partnering with Bike Share Toronto, Cycle York and Smart Commute to celebrate Bike Month by offering York University community members a range of bike-friendly resources, including Toronto cycling maps, quick bike repairs and safety handbooks. At the June 5 event, attendees can ask questions to event partners, compete for prizes, and learn about local cycling infrastructure, related services and the benefits of bikes as a form of sustainable travel.

The annual celebration of Bike Month at York University highlights the institution’s commitment to ensuring sustainable travel options are available across its multi-campus network.  

York University was the first institution in the Greater Toronto Area to partner with Bike Share Toronto in 2021, eventually leading to three Bike Share stations being established on the Keele and Glendon campuses. This strategic partnership helped strengthen the cycling culture across university campuses and helped promote sustainable transportation.

These efforts, among others, led York University to be named a Best University for Commuters – the first institution in Canada to receive this designation. Among many reasons for the recognition, the University’s cycling infrastructure and resources – including secured bike enclosures and four do-it-yourself repair stations – were an important factor, providing cyclists with peace of mind and flexibility while navigating York’s campuses on two wheels. The designation reflects York’s commitment to providing a variety of sustainable commuting options aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of students, faculty, instructors and staff.  

Over the years, the expansion of York University’s cycling infrastructure has been equally matched by community adoption, contributing to the University’s mission to reach its new accelerated target of net-zero emissions by 2040

For more information, visit the official Bike Month website or the Transportation Services website throughout the month of June.

New Schulich program receives industry accreditation

Group of multicultural medical professionals

The new Master of Health Industry Administration (MHIA) program at York University’s Schulich School of Business been accredited by the Canadian College of Health Leaders, allowing graduates to work toward obtaining the Canadian health executive (CHE) designation.

Being accredited by the Canadian College of Health Leaders reflects the MHIA program’s commitment to excellence and alignment with health industry standards. It also solidifies Schulich’s position as a leading institution in health-care leadership education, providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in their careers and make meaningful contributions to the industry.

Amin Mawani
Amin Mawani

“This accreditation signifies the quality and rigour of our MHIA program,” says Amin Mawani, the program director. “We’re proud to offer our graduates the opportunity to attain the valued CHE designation and further advance their careers in health-care leadership.”

After a meticulous review of the MHIA program’s curriculum, the Canadian College of Health Leaders confirmed its alignment with the Leadership for Evidence-Based Decision Making (LEADS) framework – a nationally recognized leadership development model in health care. This means Schulich’s MHIA graduates will have advanced standing in the CHE designation process.

Beyond helping health-care leaders stand out among their peers, the CHE designation includes support for lifelong learning and assistance with career advancement.

Schulich has been developing health industry leaders for the past two decades, through the health industry specialization in its Master of Business Administration program and through innovative executive development programs offered by Schulich ExecEd and the school’s new MHIA degree.

For more information, visit the Master of Health Industry Administration website.

Muscle Health Awareness Day event expands its scope

Man's back muscle and body structure. Human body view from behind isolated on white background.

The annual Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD) event hosted at York University on Friday, May 17, looks to advance its research reputation in the field with an emphasis on introducing attending researchers to a lived experience session.

Sponsored by York’s Muscle Health Research Centre (funded by the Faculty of Health), the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, each year MHAD brings together doctors, scientists and trainees from across Canada and the United States. It aims to help advance understanding of the physiology and adaptation of muscles, vasculature and the heart during exercise and aging.

Among the nine speakers and 60 trainee presentations that will be featured at this year’s 15th annual event, something new will be introduced: a special lived experience session.

In recent years, among pre-clinical and clinical researchers in the field, there has been a growing movement to connect directly with individuals struggling with muscle-related health issues to better inform research.

“How can we truly understand what we’re studying if we don’t have any experience with that situation?” says Professor Christopher Perry, director of the Muscle Health Research Centre (MHRC). “What options are remaining? To listen to people who have it.”

Perry has experienced this first-hand at other conferences where, during sessions on particular diseases or conditions, people who were affected by them were involved in the discussion – putting a human face to what attendees spend their time researching. He still remembers the impact that can have. “The first thing I felt was not knowledge. The first thing I felt was inspiration,” he says. “‘This is why we’re doing and this,’” he thought.

He has found, too, that when listening to lived experiences, sometimes those who are affected by a condition will bring up feelings, pain or sensations that researchers hadn’t thought to ask about or were aware of through literature. That, in turn, can lead to new understanding and avenues for research.

When Perry became director of the MHRC, he pushed for the MHAD event to not only follow suit but demonstrate innovation – it is among the first conferences with pre-clinical researchers in attendance to include a lived experience session.

The MHAD event has invited Julia Creet, a filmmaker and English professor in the Department of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who will share her experiences as a mature athlete and the process of how she maintains – even improves – her fitness. In her discussion she will cover how incorporating strength training becomes more important to build muscle, how it may take longer to warm up and recover, and how people can remain highly competitive even as they age. To help accentuate the talk, Creet aims to also share a five-minute documentary about her experience as a cyclist.

The session will also include an athletic therapist providing a professional perspective on the challenges faced by aging athletes.

The organizers’ hope is that the session will help provide information to many researchers focusing on aging, while also being relevant to anyone studying how aging affects fitness in all populations.

In its aim to underscore the impact attending researchers can have – especially when considering the lived experiences of those they study – the MHAD event will also feature a session with the CEO of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, who will share how scientific discovery in exercise physiology can be translated into professional practice by front-line certified exercise physiologists.

The intent is for scientists and trainees attending MHAD to see how their roles as researchers can impact society, and how their research efforts can support a continuum of knowledge generation and dissemination towards health solutions for society.

For more information, to register and to submit abstracts or posters for consideration, visit the Muscle Health Awareness Day web page.