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.

Creative writing feedback available from writer-in-residence

female student journalist writing

No matter your profession, creative writing is a healthy way to disconnect from reality, stretch the limits of your mind and tap into your imaginative side. And regardless of your experience level, feedback is always beneficial. As part of the York University English Department’s Writer-in-Residence Program, esteemed Toronto author Emma Healey is offering appointments to York students, faculty, staff and alumni to discuss their fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction projects.

Emma Healey
Emma Healey

The Writer-in-Residence Program is aimed at supplementing the University’s creative writing courses by providing the community with access to a professional writer for personalized feedback and support, with a new individual being brought on each fall and winter term.

As the Winter 2024 writer-in-residence, Healey – whose most recent book, Best Young Woman Job Book: A Memoir (Penguin Random House Canada, 2022), was named a best book of the year by the Globe and Mail, Wired Magazine and CBC Radio – is available for four one-on-one manuscript consultations per week that might include editorial feedback or suggestions toward publication. Written submissions for review are due to her at least 10 days prior to each scheduled meeting.

In addition to the feedback sessions, Healey will serve the York community by hosting four public-facing, writing-related events throughout the term that allow her to showcase her expertise and knowledge as a working writer in Canada. Information about those events will be released as it becomes available.

For more details or to secure an appointment with Healey, visit the Writer-in-Residence Program web page.

Osgoode student lawyers save family from deportation

Statue of justice

With only 11 hours to spare, two student lawyers from Osgoode Hall Law School’s Community & Legal Aid Services Program (CLASP) saved the parents of a York University student from family breakup and deportation to Colombia, where they faced potential danger or even death.

When second-year student Brandon Jeffrey Jang and third-year student Emma Sandri learned on Dec. 18 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had ordered the parents of a fellow student to be deported on a Colombia-bound plane on Jan. 18, they worked tirelessly over the winter break to prepare about 1,000 pages of legal submissions to stop it – on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).
Osgoode students Brandon Jeffrey Jang (left) and Emma Sandri (right).

The student’s father became a target of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the early 1990s when he was a candidate for the country’s Liberal Party, actively working to prevent youth from joining the paramilitary organization. After several threats and acts of physical violence, the family fled to the United States. They returned to Colombia seven years later, but remained in danger and fled again, eventually making their way to Canada in 2009. With the Colombian peace process currently faltering and FARC still a viable force, the family believes their safety could still be threatened if they return to their home country.

The couple’s adult son is a student in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science and their daughter is set to graduate from Queen’s University and plans to study medicine. The son and daughter, who already have permanent residency status in Canada, faced being separated from their parents as well as possible academic repercussions if the deportation had gone ahead as scheduled.

The CLASP team’s request to save this family from deportation was initially denied by the CBSA, so they filed two supporting applications with the Federal Court, under the supervision of CLASP review counsel Subodh Bharati. On Jan. 17, just one day before the scheduled deportation, they appeared in person before a Federal Court judge in Toronto to make their case for the family – and they succeeded.

The parents – who have become actively involved in their Toronto community, volunteering during the pandemic, for example, to deliver food to house-bound, immune-compromised residents – expressed their gratitude to the CLASP team in an emotional email.

“Thank you very much for all the effort that you put in our case,” the mother wrote. “I don’t have enough words to express what I feel right now and to say thank you. You are the best lawyers that Toronto has.”

Their joy was shared by Jang and Sandri.

“We were just so happy,” said Jang about hearing news of the successful stay application. “We’ve built a close connection with the family and we’ve all worked extremely hard on this case.”

Jang said the experience has confirmed his desire to pursue a career in immigration law – and this summer he will work for Toronto immigration law firm Green and Spiegel LLP.

Sandri said preparing hundreds of pages of court applications in a month was a tremendous challenge, but learning that the family can stay in Canada as a result of their efforts was a huge relief and incredibly rewarding.

“It was difficult, in terms of wanting to put out our best work in such a limited time span,” she explained, “and we really felt the pressure of the fact that these people’s lives were possibly at stake.”

As they waited for the court decision, she added, “we both couldn’t sleep because we were thinking about what’s going to happen to this family and we were really stressing about that.”

In the wake of the court decision, Bharati said, the parents can now obtain work permits while they wait for the Federal Court to hear judicial reviews of previous decisions that rejected their applications for permanent residency status.

With the students’ time at CLASP nearing an end, Jang and Sandri expressed special appreciation for Bharati’s guidance and trust.

“All of our experiences at the clinic leading up to this case prepared us for the uphill battle we confronted when fighting for this family,” said Jang. “The result was a total team effort on everybody’s part and it was all worth it.”

New seminar series to advance homelessness prevention

The York University Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has launched a monthly expert panel series aiming to host engaging community discussions to advance homelessness prevention initiatives in Canada and abroad.

In recent years there has been a fundamental shift in the homelessness sector. Organizations and individuals have often been reactive to the homelessness crisis, but it has become increasingly clear that there needs to be greater focus on prevention – finding ways to eliminate homelessness altogether.

The new COH series, called Prevention Matters!, looks to further advance this approach by helping address the challenge of what prevention means and looks like. What systemic changes can reduce the likelihood that someone will become homeless? What intervention strategies can support those at high risk of homelessness or who have recently become homeless? What can ensure people who have experienced homelessness – and who are now housed – do not experience homelessness again?

The launch of this series was announced this week in a webinar hosted by Faculty of Education Professor Stephen Gaetz, who is also president and chief executive officer of COH, where he discussed “Prevention 101” by unpacking his report, “A New Direction: A Framework for Homelessness Prevention.”

Moving forward, the series will run on the last Wednesday of the month, from February to June and September to November. Expert researchers and practitioners in the sector will gather to highlight innovative and successful multi-sector prevention initiatives in Canada and beyond. Discussions will run for 60 to 70 minutes and aim to bring attendees a format different from typical webinars by making audience participation central. In an effort to create the open conversation required to explore homelessness prevention, attendees are encouraged to participate in a Q-and-A where they can engage in an open dialogue and help define each session’s discussion.

For those who can’t attend live, all sessions will be recorded and uploaded afterwards to the Homeless Hub’s YouTube channel.

Prof’s new book reveals how a tiny chip can revolutionize health care

glasses and pen resting on notebook

Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, has co-written a new book about the innovative realm of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which has the potential to revolutionize health care.

Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh
Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh

What if semiconductor chips could do more than just power our computers, smartphones and other devices? What if they could help power our bodies? Ghafar-Zadeh considers that emerging possibility with his latest book.

“The influence of semiconductor technology has extended far beyond its role in developing digital and analog electronics,” explains Ghafar-Zadeh, director of the Lassonde’s Biologically Inspired Sensors & Actuators Laboratory. “It has significantly impacted life science and health by creating sensors and actuators that interact with biological molecules like DNA and living cells.”

In CMOS-Based Sensors and Actuators for Life Science Applications (2023), which was co-authored by two of Ghafar-Zadeh’s team members – Saghi Forouhi, a former PhD student and current research associate; and Tayebeh Azadmousavi, a visiting research scholar – Ghafar-Zadeh explores the world of advanced sensors and actuators (components of a machine that produces force), with each chapter dedicated to spotlighting unique iterations of them that reflect recent breakthroughs.

“I advocate for the inclusion of CMOS sensors in graduate courses, and this book serves as the first step toward achieving this educational goal,” he says. “By recognizing the pivotal role of semiconductor technology, the book explores its contribution to shaping the future of electronic devices across diverse applications.”

The book concludes by addressing challenges and proposing future steps to harness CMOS technology for creating cutting-edge sensors, ultimately contributing to the fight against diseases and enhancing quality of life.

A heartfelt recognition: professor awarded for cardiac research

hand holding felt heart

Faculty of Health Professor Sherry Grace received the 2022 KITE Innovation and Impact Award from the University Health Network’s KITE Research Institute for the global impact of her work in the field of cardiac rehabilitation.

Sherry Grace
Sherry Grace

The Innovation and Impact Award, bestowed by the KITE Research Institute, is dedicated to rehabilitation science and counts as one of the principal research enterprises of the University Health Network (UHN), Canada’s top medical research hospital. The award is bestowed on two scientists – one senior, one not – whose research contributions have had a major impact, whether to policies, standards, best practice guidelines, regulations, dissemination of resources to the research community, intellectual property or commercialization, or collaborations with non-academic partners.

For Grace, the award served as a recognition of how, over a more than 25-year career – 19 of them at York – she has become recognized as a global authority on cardiac rehabilitation (CR) and has been credited for an ability to transform research into solutions that help reduce mortality and disability among heart patients.

Grace has published more than 320 research papers and has been cited almost 20,000 times, placing her among the top two to three per cent most-cited researchers globally across all fields of study.

Her work has also sought to promote accessible cardiovascular rehabilitation by supporting the growth of CR programs in resource-limited settings, looking to overcome barriers to cardiac rehab participation by increasing program capacity, as well as ensuring patients are better referred and engaged.

In doing so, both her past work and the work that is yet to come has created a catalogue of impactful accomplishment that helped earn her the Innovation and Impact Award.

Schulich ExecEd expands health-care training partnership in Guyana

Schulich ExecEd Guyana group photo

Schulich ExecEd, an extension of the Schulich School of Business at York University, is building upon its existing partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana by launching a new Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program and kicking off a second cohort of the Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program. Both programs are set to begin their virtual classroom sessions this month.

Representatives from Schulich ExecEd travelled to Guyana last month to celebrate the new program launch with members of Guyana’s government. The attendees from Schulich ExecEd were: Rami Mayer, executive director; Dr. Susan Lieff, program director; Jeff MacInnis, facilitator; Robert Lynn, associate director; and Ai Hokama, program co-ordinator.

“I am excited to announce the continuation of our partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana,” said Mayer. “Together, we are pioneering transformative learning programs focused on social innovation that are aimed at equipping health-care leaders with essential skills crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of health care in the Guyana region.”

The Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program focuses on fortifying the administrative skills of health-care workers, equipping them with the knowledge to effectively manage health-care facilities, resources and personnel. Its sister program, the Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program, is a direct response to the needs of physicians in the region. The goal is to build up physicians’ leadership abilities, improve their decision-making skills, and sharpen their capacity to manage health-care facilities and resources. 

“These programs have been specifically designed to empower health-care professionals in Guyana and enhance the quality of health-care services they provide to their patients,” said Frank Anthony, Guyana’s minister of health. “We are grateful for the co-operation of the Ministry of Public Service and the Government of Guyana in delivering this training to the participants free of charge.”

Schulich ExecEd’s ongoing mission with this partnership is to transform Guyana’s health-care system to deliver more equitable, accessible and enhanced health care. The shared vision of these partners is to develop better health care and physician leaders in Guyana and to provide innovative health-care solutions to improve patient outcomes across the country. Program participants hail from all 10 regions of Guyana, including the country’s Indigenous communities.

“Our programs are meticulously designed to fill critical gaps in business education, addressing skill needs not traditionally covered in medical school,” explained Mayer. “We are committed to empowering physicians and health-care leaders with the tools to manage difficult conversations, solve complex problems, foster collaboration, lead effectively and elevate the overall quality of care in the country.”

Both programs are expected to graduate their current participants in September of this year.

For a closer look at the Schulich ExecEd team’s celebratory trip to Guyana last month, visit vimeo.com/901964260/c095aa81b2?.

LA&PS prof publishes three books in one month

colorful book shelf banner

A busy 2023 has led to Hassan Qudrat-Ullah, a professor in York University’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), publishing three new books in short succession this past November, covering topics as diverse as systems thinking, supply chain management and sustainable development.

Hassan Qudrat-Ullah
Hassan Qudrat-Ullah

The first of the three, Managing Complex Tasks with Systems Thinking (Springer, 2023), is about improving human decision making and performance in complex tasks. Using a systems thinking approach, it presents innovative and insightful solutions to various managerial issues in various domains, including agriculture, education, climate change, digital transformation, health care, supply chains and sustainability.

Qudrat-Ullah’s second recently published work, a co-edited volume with York University Research Fellow Syed Imran Ali called Advanced Technologies and the Management of Disruptive Supply Chains: The Post-COVID Era (Springer, 2023), explores the cost-effective and efficient supply chain management strategies required to achieve resilience in the post-COVID environment.

“The book follows a didactic approach through which it informs global researchers and practitioners to deal with the most significant insights on future supply chains with a more in-depth analysis of post-COVID opportunities and challenges,” said Qudrat-Ullah. “In particular, it provides an in-depth assessment of disruptive supply chain management in certain industrial contexts and explores various industry 4.0 and industry 5.0 technologies to achieve resilience.”

The final book of the bunch, Exploring the Dynamics of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Africa: A Cross-Country and Interdisciplinary Approach (Springer, 2023), explores the potential of renewable energy sources to promote sustainable development in Africa, with a specific focus on Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Algeria. It delves into the challenges and opportunities presented by various renewable and clean energy technologies, including nuclear power, liquefied petroleum gas, bamboo biomass gasification and geothermal energy in addressing the energy needs of African nations. Additionally, it assesses the socio-economic and environmental impacts of renewable energy projects and evaluates their alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The book’s interdisciplinary and cross-country approach, as well as its incorporation of innovative concepts like social innovation and bamboo-based development, makes it a unique resource,” said the author.