UTM breakthrough could reduce chemo side effects

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in North America today. The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that in 2009 alone, 171,000 Canadians will be diagnosed. While there is no cure yet, a recent discovery at U of T Mississauga may give chemotherapy an added edge in the ongoing battle with this disease.

Patrick T. Gunning, professor in the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences at UTM, is currently working with scientists at the University of Central Florida and Princess Margaret Hospital to improve the treatment of human cancers.

STAT3 (Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3), a protein present in cancer cells, causes drug therapy resistance when it pairs up with another copy of itself. Gunning and his team have developed a way to break apart this cancer protein pair, to possibly increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy. His research team has successfully developed inhibitor molecules that work to stop STAT3 protein activity.

“We have managed to develop small molecules that target STAT3–STAT3 protein complexes” said Gunning. Targeting the protein-protein interactions of STAT3 disrupts the protein’s biological function.

Increased STAT3 activity is observed in multiple human cancers and plays a key role in cancer progression. In healthy individuals, STAT3 activity is transitory and highly regulated, lasting only a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. However, in cancer cells STAT3 is for some reason permanently activated, resulting in the expression of genes that promote cancer growth, survival, and differentiation.

Gunning’s research team is currently working to increase the stability and effectiveness of the STAT3 inhibitor molecules. “Our global objective is to develop novel molecular therapeutics to target human cancers. In particular, our research has focused on targeting protein-protein interactions—a particularly difficult medicinal challenge,” Gunning explained.

Traditional chemotherapy induces cell death in both healthy and cancerous cells, resulting in devastating side effects. Gunning’s preliminary STAT3 inhibitors display impressive selectivity for cancer cells over healthy cells, and hold promise for improving the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic techniques.

The team’s discovery highlights the importance and targetablity of protein-protein interactions. Gunning explained, “Despite the important role STAT3 plays in biological function, targeting protein–protein interactions is still regarded as high-risk. We want to illustrate through our molecular therapeutics that these important interactions are targetable and that a greater effort should be made on investigating them. STAT3 protein-protein interactions should be targeted because, if successful, the potential benefits are huge.”

Lead inhibitor compounds are now in pre-clinical trials. Gunning hopes that knocking out STAT3 will make cancer cells more susceptible to antineoplastics, thus reducing the dosage required and subsequently lowering the adverse side-effects associated with aggressive chemotherapy.

The results of this study can be found in the September issue of ChemBioChem: A European Journal of Chemical Biology.

Zero Heroes

As the afternoon closed on Varsity Stadium, Saturday had an unjustly indecisive air for both men’s and women’s Varsity Blues soccer as they came out of what was supposed to be a double-header against the Carleton Ravens.

“Unjust” because both teams are looking strong in the early season.

With the women’s team now 3-0-2 to Carleton’s 2-4-2, it would be reasonable to expect the Blues were anticipating their early-afternoon game until it was cancelled. As was later reported, Carleton suspended the women’s team the day before the game after the team broke the university athletics department’s code of conduct by holding a rookie initiation party where drinking was so excessive that one player was taken to hospital by ambulance. At game time, however, no explanation had been given to Varsity Athletics.

The men’s game, which did go ahead, was a more even match. It’s early going still, but the Blues are ranked second in the OUA East, and the Ravens, third. However, the reality on the field—that the Blues dominated for the majority of the play—didn’t translate to the board, with the game ending in a scoreless draw.

That it did end nil-all speaks to the strength of the Ravens defence, and especially goalie Samuel Hincks, who often had to step into the front-of-net maelstrom, smother the ball, and launch it midfield, only to have it returned to him shortly after. But Carleton showed trouble throughout the game with ball control. As one Blues fan and Ravens heckler noted, you’re supposed to keep the ball off the blue track that surrounds the field.

The Blues, by comparison, were all offense. Fourth-year striker Nordo Gooden’s fancy footwork set the game’s tone—and the fans’ hopes—early on as he showed the Ravens how it’s done, practically dancing the ball down the touchline. Gooden was a clear fan favourite of the game along with second-year midfielder Geoffrey Borgmann, who showed ease turning around an opposing play even while in a crowd.

The Ravens did bring their game back in the second half, though with the play waning on, it was clear the offense became increasingly frustrated. By the end of the second, Carleton had been issued three yellow cards to Toronto’s one, all of which were earned as players lost control in what were otherwise good aggressive maneuvers.

This isn’t to say that the Blues didn’t make their own mistakes. Their offensive strength didn’t count where it had to: on the scoreboard. Sloppiness at points showed a lack of focus and drive. Early in the second, Toronto narrowly avoided what could have become a heartbreaking own-goal as what appeared to be a daydreaming Scott Nesbitt passed to goaltender John Smits, who, caught unawares, was left scrambling to keep the ball on the right side of the goal line. The clearly shaken Smits didn’t appreciate the lack of communication from his teammate, as everyone in the stands heard.

The payback in sports usually comes only after a lot of legwork. On Saturday, the Blues did a lot of legwork, but once they got to the decisive moment, pulled back. With five minutes to go, the game could have been theirs after Gooden was scuffed by a Carleton defender in the penalty area, earning Toronto a penalty kick. But midfielder Vlejko Lukovic’s attempt soared so high over the cross bar, you had to wonder, did the Blues want it after all?

Blues lose, but remain optimistic

The Varsity Blues women’s rugby team hosted the McMaster Marauders at the University of Toronto’s Back Campus last Saturday. The Blues put up a strong defensive front, but were defeated 27-0. The Blues were able to demonstrate their skills in the second half, however, revealing that they boast many talented players on their roster.

The game got off to a decisive start when the Marauders scored their first try in the opening minutes. They quickly followed it up with four more tries and one conversion, bringing the score to 22-0 in only 40 minutes. The Marauders dominated the scrums thanks to strong forwards, and were quick to get the ball out to their wing line, who fed it down in a series of clean passes.

As the game progressed, U of T remained resilient. “We really gave it to them in the second half,” said Blues co-captain and hooker Sonya Kuwiz. The Blues tightened up their defence and began to react faster to the Marauders’ attempts to score. They caught onto Marauders’ eight-man Natasha Turner, and her repeated efforts to pick the ball from the scrum.

The Blues’ backs reorganized so that co-captain Hannah Ehrhardt remained at fly half, followed by centres Silvana Skoko and Charlotte Cooper, and Jana Davis moved to the wing. Gwen Kern continued to play strong as the Blues’ fullback. Although it was only a slight reconfiguration of the field, it proved incredibly advantageous. The backs worked well together to move the ball fluidly when they received it from scrum half Sarah Stainton, and were aggressive in their attempts to take advantage of the play.

The entire team was determined to stave off attempted tries by McMaster. The Marauders scored only one more try in the second half of the game—the result of an unexpected breakaway during the last five minutes of play.

Last season the Marauders played a close semi-final game against the 2008 OUA Champions Guelph Gryphons, losing by only 16 points. More recently, on Sept. 12, they blanked the York Lions 43-0. McMaster is recognized as a strong team and consequently the small margin of victory they had over the Blues is viewed with optimism. Head coach Shannon Smith was in positive spirits post-game and admitted that she was very proud.

The roster this season is composed primarily of new players—only 15 out of the 33 are returning from 2008. Although mostly rookies, the team demonstrates a lot of potential: they may just need a little bit more time to feel each other out. “[The women are working] to start playing as a team and get the cohesion up,” said co-captain Ehrhardt.

The season is short, but Ehrhardt has faith. One thing she hopes the team can accomplish this year is to make the playoffs.

The game against the Marauders proved that the Blues are more than capable of becoming a top-ranked team in the future. They displayed an abundance of talent from both the returning players and the newer members. Veteran Kern produced some near impossible catches as fullback, in addition to the fantastic tackles she made to stunt the Marauders mid-breakaway. Stainton, who was not on last year’s team, was aggressive and quick to react. She entered the game near the end of the first half, and within seconds had intercepted the ball, giving the Blues the advantage.

With the help of fan support, the team will be able to step it up a notch and reach their full potential.

Hazing party won’t ground Carleton women’s soccer

The women’s soccer team at Carleton University will only suffer a two-game suspension for a party that resulted in one player being hospitalized for excessive alcohol consumption. The hazing party allegedly took place over a week ago, on Sept. 13. The team missed games against U of T and Ryerson last weekend.

“The university has concluded that the two-game suspension by the team was an appropriate penalty and the team will resume regular play this Wednesday against the University of Ottawa,” reads a press release from the Carleton administration.

Carleton suspended the whole team, rather than individuals, to send a stern warning that they will not tolerate hazing. Admin said that all other disciplinary measures would be handled internally.

Before the suspension, the women’s soccer team had a record of 2-2-1.

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Concert Review: Meligrove Band, The Acorn, and Born Ruffians

Under the hazy lighting of the Opera House, a crowd of excited fans pushes ever closer towards the stage, each vying for that perfect spot. The air is redolent with sweat and spilled alcohol, and tangible anticipation runs through the crowd. As a guitar is strummed and a clarion chord sings through the air, the fans respond with appreciative whoops and cheers.

The Opera House was filled to capacity last Saturday, as eager fans swarmed in for a performance by homegrown heroes Born Ruffians. After touring North America and Europe extensively for their debut album, Red, Yellow & Blue, the trio is home again and currently recording their second full-length album, the majority of which they performed for the first time on Saturday.

Fellow Ontarians Meligrove Band kicked off the show, powering through popular numbers like “Everyone’s A Winner,” “Ages and Stages,” and “Our Love Will Make the World Go Round.” Their driving rhythms and catchy melodies were enough to elicit some admiring applause from the crowd, but the set was far too long for an opening band, especially considering that they were only the first of two acts of the night.

Indie folk-rockers The Acorn graced the stage next, surrounded by a tangled rope of luminous white Christmas lights that added an unexpected ethereality to their set. The Ottawa natives rarely receive the attention and acclaim that their music deserves, so it was refreshing to see the overwhelmingly positive reception given to them by the Opera House crowd—some of whom, judging by the wild screams, came to see The Acorn first, and Born Ruffians second. Their set mixed slow, melancholy ballads with powerful rock numbers featuring original instrumentation: two drummers created a polyrhythmic pulse over which the lyrical melodies and harmonies were woven. The band started off with more familiar tunes including “Hold Your Breath” and “Crooked Legs” off their most recent album, Glory Hope Mountain, and then introduced the crowd to new songs “Misplaced” and “I Made the Law,” which were equally well received.

Finally, after a brief set change (and with the venue now packed to capacity) Born Ruffians appeared on stage to an outburst of adoring clamour. The trio of Luke Lalonde (looking like an erstwhile Bob Dylan), Mitch Derosier, and Steve Hamelin jumped right into a set list that included old favourites interspersed with a bevy of new tracks. The Ruffians declared that they would be performing “about 80 per cent” of the promised upcoming album.

Creating an extraordinarily loud sound for such a sparsely populated stage, the boys opened the set with songs like “Barnacle Goose” and “Sole Brother,” playing with a somewhat spastic energy that was befitting of the yelping and hollering that pervades much of their repertoire. But it wasn’t until the opening notes of the single “Hummingbird,” the band’s most popular song, that the already excited crowd went absolutely wild. Feeding off the insatiable intensity of the crowd, the Ruffians, who evidently had a lot of pent-up energy after their prolonged studio stretch, wisely introduced some tunes off their new album at this point. Upon first listen, the new songs are much in the same vein as those off their last album (ridiculously catchy yet highly original) without sounding too repetitive of their previous tracks.

The set drew to a close as the band played “Little Garçon” and ended off with another fan favourite, “I Need A Life.” They returned with encore “Badonkadonkey” and the non-album track “Merry Little Fancy Things.” Before the boys left the stage for the final time, they lingered briefly to high-five members of the audience.

Despite the obvious adoration of their fans, Born Ruffians seemed genuinely surprised at the impressive turnout of the night. Perhaps even more exciting for the band, though, was the overwhelmingly positive response that their new songs received. At one point during a new number, Lalonde crooned, “I just wanna set the world on fire”—a daunting task for any young band. But with their loyal fans, original music, and electrifying live performances, give Born Ruffians a few more years and they’ll be well on their way to doing just that.

Corporate donors fund new mining centre

U of T announced on Monday plans to build a $20-million mining and innovation centre. A combined $9 million comes from mining entrepreneur Pierre Lassonde and Goldcorp Inc., a gold mining company. Federal and provincial governments will cover the rest of the funding.

The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry will create space for more than 100 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers within the next few years.

The centre will occupy the vacant top floor of the Mining Building, to be renamed the Lassonde Mining Building, on 170 College Street. Lassonde’s $5-million donation will see $1 million go towards funding scholarships. The remaining dollars will go towards construction costs.

Goldcorp’s $4-million gift ensures that an academic and research facility in the centre will be called the Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite.

“This is another example of corporations trying to buy the prestige of the university,” said Paul York, a representative for Students Against Climate Change.

The university has had similar deals with the private sector before. The Scotiabank Information Commons and the Jack Kay Apotex Meeting Room are among some of the corporate labels found on campus.

“It is not the role of the university to be a technical school or training facility for such industries,” said York. “If the engineering department has been hijacked for this purpose, those who run that department need to question their integrity as academics, and ask if their academic freedom to pursue the truth of their science is not compromised by vested financial interests.”

Goldcorp runs several mining operations overseas, including an open pit gold mine in Honduras and Marlin Mine in Guatemala.

In March, the BBC reported that anti-mining activists accused Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine of contaminating their water and causing locals to get rashes, blisters, and welts.

Critics accused Goldcorp of “unfair land purchase practices, human rights violations, and environmental damage to the area surrounding the mine,” the BBC reported.

The university insists its donors understand that academic directors have full authority over any issue regarding academic content, research, teaching, and direction.

“The university needs and values philanthropy for a whole lot of reasons,” wrote spokesperson Laurie Stephens in an email, “because no amount of government or tuition support could cover all the costs of all our research and academic programming. And, just as importantly, because gifts let us build important relations with knowledgeable leaders in certain fields, whose ideas can help us advance education and research.”

Construction is expected to finish by March 2011. A number of green features are planned, including photovoltaic cells on the roof, a water conservation system, and energy-efficient lights.

Gallery review: Same, Same

Candice Breitz is fascinated by identity, popular culture, television, consumerism, the entertainment industry, and identical twins.

The Power Plant is currently host to Candice Breitz: Same Same, the first major North American installation of Breitz’s critical investigation into the world of outward impressions and self-made identity, and the shambolic union of all things contemporary culture. Breitz does this through four visual installations.

One part of the gallery space is dedicated to “Him and Her” (2008), a brilliant depiction of the male-female dichotomy seen through Hollywood’s hyper-critical eyes. The installation is in two parts: one room dedicated to Jack Nicholson, the other to Meryl Streep. The budding actor and actress lead in their respective gender categories as having the most Oscar nominations (Nicholson with 12 nominations and three wins, Streep with 15 nominations and two wins). Nicholson and Streep, perhaps for this reason, have come to represent the archetypes of the male and female form.

The screening room shows numerous Meryl Streeps engaged in a conversation, at times by herself, and at other times, with herself. This is a deliciously confusing, thought-provoking image, constructing and deconstructing the notion of “self” in a world of ever-globalizing media culture.

“Becoming” (2003) is another installation that tugs at the question of self and identity. Clips from various romantic comedies from teenage years past—images of Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts—play looped with microphones attached to the screen. The dialogues (or monologues) are trite and easy. On another screen, Breitz herself mimics the Hollywood actresses in what she affectionately calls, “body karaoke.” Breitz mimes and mimics the Barrymores and the Robertses. Their dialogues, divorced from the familiar faces and props, are rendered comical.

Walk back into the main gallery space and four rooms to the left showcase “Four Duets” (2000). These mini-studios house two television sets facing each other, playing a tersely edited video of Whitney Houston performing the famous score of “I Will Always Love You,” and Olivia Newton-John in select scenes from Grease. These looped images of Houston and Newton-John are played against the backdrop of painfully bright neon-coloured walls. What was intended as a musical declaration on everlasting love, is reduced to monosyllabic reruns of sappy love songs.

But what has to be the highlight of this refreshing study of culture and identity is “Factum” (2009), three pairs of two-part video portraits of monozygotic twins discussing their autonomous (and shared) struggle of defining themselves in a society that places insurmountable value on the individual. The title, “Factum,” is an homage to Robert Rauschenberg’s infamous near-identical paintings. The work lives up to the allusion: as the studies of these three sets of twins reveal, no matter the twins’ apparent sameness, they will never be exactly alike.

It is an interesting exercise sitting in front of the two screens showing seemingly the same image (the twins are dressed the same and interviewed in the same location, often their home) and to watch as the identity of each twin betrays the camouflage. Whether it is the tone in their voice, the subtle mannerism, or the diverging character traits, something will inevitably give away the individual’s true colour.

Posed the same set of questions, the answers the twins give often overlap, and sometimes collide. The exercise of recollecting the past reveals that the presence of this other half-self seems to both threaten and affirm how each interviewee thinks of him or herself. They show genuine curiosity towards the non-twin life (or “singletons” as the twins would call it). “It would be so liberating, but I would also be completely lost,” says Hanna Kang, one of the twins interviewed. Duality is what seems to fascinate Breitz, and this curiosity is manifest as a recurring theme in her works.

Through her liberal use of pop music, television, and Hollywood, Breitz playfully explores heavier discussions of self. By capturing candid moments in which identity, in its various forms, engages in dialogue with popular culture, Breitz urges us to be critical of the all-too familiar terrains of mass culture and consumerism. Breitz is critical of what it means to nurture the notion of the self in this all-too-invasive world. She achieves this by dissecting the interplay between art and popular culture, and the ambiguous line that runs through them.

Same, Same runs at The Power Plant (231 Queens Quay W.) through November 15.

Latin lives!

This September, an unusually high demand for third-year Latin led the department to raise the enrolment cap for the first time to accommodate extra students. In 2008, a fourth section in the first-year introductory Latin course was added. The Classical Association of Canada says more college and university students across the country are taking Latin, reported the Globe and Mail last week.

According to professor Alison Keith, chair of the U of T Classics department, most students are first-timers to the language, but some took it in high school and can skip to intermediate classes.

While the numbers are modest, they are steadily increasing. Keith attributes this increase to several factors.

Latin was traditionally taught as a language that builds critical reading, writing, and analytical skills, which can be applied to the study of literature, law, medicine, and other professional areas. Keith said she has taught students from various areas of study, from chemistry to political science to women’s studies.

She also noted Latin is relevant to the study of any romantic languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian, since these are all derived from vulgar Latin. (Vulgar Latin means “spoken Latin,” used by the masses, as opposed to “written Latin,” which is what is now studied. The difference had a profound effect on the evolution of the romance languages.)

Romance languages are not only based on the syntax of vulgar Latin, but also on the morphology, phonology, and lexicon. Latin gives birth to the sounds used to impart meaning in words, the words themselves, and how they are used in sentences to express ideas.

“I’d say the Romans have never gone out of fashion, but the convergence of all these media on ancient Rome is particularly terrific for generating student interest in Latin,” Keith said, citing pop culture as a potential influence. Media ranging from movies and novels to comic books and video games have established a greater awareness and interest in learning the language and culture surrounding ancient Rome.

As interest increases, Latin still faces difficulties in recognition.

“I wanted to enroll in introductory Latin, however, I thought Spanish would be more useful than Latin since more people speak it,” said Alan Wu, a Master’s engineering student who had considered taking Latin as an elective during the last two years of his undergraduate degree.

Echoing this sentiment, U of T’s Classics department has struggled to place Latin back on as a “teachable” at the Faculty of Education, which removed it several years ago. Aspiring education students must have two “teachables,” or subjects of expertise.

Starting next year, York University will be adding Latin as an accepted teachable for its own teacher’s college.