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.

The science behind slumber

It’s been a long day. You’re convinced this lecture was supposed to end hours ago. As your eyelids get heavier, your thoughts start losing focus. You’re drifting in and out of consciousness, and before long, you can’t help it anymore. You’ve fallen asleep.

Sleep is a natural part of human biological rhythms, so it’s quite accurate when people say they can’t live without it. But for many of us, sleep remains something of an enigma. What exactly is this thing that we spend one third of our lives doing?

In an attempt to answer this question, scientists use a number of instruments to measure activity in the brain and body while we sleep. The most important of these is the electroencephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain over time.

Based on these brainwave measurements, sleep is divided into five stages. Before the onset of sleep, a period of drowsiness serves as a prelude to the typical sequence of slumber. Electrical activity in the brain during this brief period is dominated by alpha waves, which are also characteristic of meditative states or what athletes experience when they’re “in the zone.”

Sleep begins at Stage One, which usually only lasts a few minutes, and is characterized by theta waves. Stage One is the transition period between sleep and wakefulness, and the experience is similar to that of relaxation. Stage Two lasts slightly longer, and contains a mix of EEG activity. Both Stages One and Two are ‘light sleep,’ so if someone was awoken during these stages they would probably not recall falling asleep at all. Stages Three and Four consist of slow-wave sleep, which is a period of deep sleep dominated by delta waves. These stages are very similar, and correspond with deep sleep.

The fifth stage of sleep is called the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, and that’s where things start getting interesting. REM sleep is the dream stage, where brain waves resemble the electrical activity of someone who is awake. However, the body is virtually paralyzed during the REM stage, which is why we don’t physically act out our dreams.

Research on sleep disorders investigates all the things that can go wrong in and around the sleep period. Insomnia is a chronic problem that involves difficulty getting to sleep, while narcolepsy is a condition marked by sudden and uncontrollable onsets of sleep during normal waking periods. Another unusual condition is somnambulism, or sleepwalking, in which sleepers are up and wandering around while remaining in slow-wave sleep.

All the research being devoted to sleep patterns, mechanisms, and disorders goes to show that sleep is serious business. U of T has its own Centre for Sleep Medicine and Circadian Biology, while a number of its affiliated hospitals and rehab facilities run sleep labs. When it comes to research, sleep really is a full-time job.

Toronto Star exposes unregulated security academies

The Canadian Security Academy has received a number of complaints from its graduates, prompting an investigation from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. The academy, founded by Mark Morell, offers training for security guard jobs.

The Toronto Star’s Brett Popplewell went undercover and had to spend only $80 to become a security guard, and another $80 to receive his private investigator’s license. Defending his school to the Star as doing things “quite professionally,” Morell has apparently been guaranteeing job placement to students.

After another Star reporter posing as a student graduated in as little as 15 days without any clinical training, Ken Miller’s Ontario Academy of Science and Technology has been closed down for producing unqualified health care workers. As a young Filipino nanny who attended the college told the Star, “now I have no future. I have to start all over again.”

Source: Toronto Star

Technology and tranquility: where’s our balance?

I’ve always had an easy time laughing off the half-serious complaints of older relatives that the amount of time I spend online, on my Blackberry, and on other 21st-century gadgets is a problem. It is, after all, a firmly ingrained feature of our generation—1990s babies who grew up on the Internet—and a lot of the activities that older generations cannot even begin to comprehend doing online, including many forms of socializing, reading, and personal entertainment, have made the transition to the screen.

But while fishing in Muskoka one evening this summer, I missed setting the hook on a big fish because I was too busy replying to an instant message on MSN. If someone had described such a scene to me as recently as two or three years ago, I would have been shocked and appalled by technology’s brazen invasion into what was once a sacred escape of mine, a chance to leave behind the constant communication and connectivity of city life.

I suspect I’m not the only person who has struggled with this aspect of modernity. To place myself in elite company, President Obama famously received an annoyed slap on the wrist from his wife, Michelle, for pulling out his Blackberry at one of their daughter’s soccer games while he was campaigning last summer. It’s surely a scene that is repeated every weekend, evening, and at countless family get-togethers around the world.

What, then, is the answer? Many people self-identify as Internet addicts, a concept that has been legitimized in some scientific circles. Far more are de facto addicts in denial. Jim Taylor, a PhD in psychology, recognizes “dis-connectivity anxiety” as an emerging trend that affects many people. David Gibson, a Harvard professor, identifies several factors that could help explain Internet addiction. He hypothesizes that after externalizing our thoughts online repeatedly, we have difficulty getting excited over the idea of keeping our thoughts to ourselves. Gibson also suggests that online personas become so meaningful to us that we feel compelled to continue developing and presenting them to the online world.

Others simply find the convenience of universal connectivity too much to resist, even if they don’t always appreciate the trade-offs that come with it, like missing that big fish, or focusing more on a pesky ex-girlfriend’s text message rather than the roaring bonfire in front of them.

It helps to take a clear and honest look at the pros and cons that universal Internet access brings to the table before rushing to judgment.

Constant access to the Internet and its entire means of communication is a convenience that is nearly impossible to understate. A lot of the time our professional lives neccessitate immediacy, which the net provides. What would be more deflating than returning from a nice holiday and checking the Career Centre’s job listings, only to learn that a dream part-time job had been posted the afternoon that you left and other applicants now have a head start on you?

The drawbacks of the Internet aren’t always as easy to qualify, and they’re often not as pronounced as the benefits, but they certainly exist. Think of the young-adult drama that is always a text message or MSN conversation window away.

So where do we find middle ground? It would be a shame of equal portions to completely refuse the convenience of technological progress, or to become so dependent on it that the downsides of these advances cut into what should be times of unfettered bliss.

A helpful starting point is to consider your Internet and communications needs: are you the kind of person who keeps your net and mobile device use to a bare minimum? If so, you’re a minority amongst the undergraduate demographic. But the answer here is easy: leave the “Crackberry” and laptop at home.

It can help to keep our Internet use to the things that would truly disadvantage us if neglected for a few days (like email and the occasional Facebook check). The smart phone does not need to come on every boat trip, nor does it need to even need be on all the time.

For better or for worse, every aspect of our lives is technologized. Recognizing that both the upsides and drawbacks of this unchangeable fact are entirely real is a good first step to making intelligent choices on how to best maximize their convenience without having to join Crackberries Anonymous.

Glamour honours Trinity College student

Jasmeet Sidhu, a fourth-year Peace and Conflict Studies student, has been named one of Glamour magazine’s top 10 college women. The competition, which recognizes exceptional achievement and academic excellence, brought Sidhu and the other award winners to New York City to meet with professionals in their respective fields.

Sidhu had previously been named one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 20 Under 20, and one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. She hopes to become an international journalist and will graduate this year with her bachelor’s degree in Peace and Conflict Studies, with a focus on women’s rights and international health.

Sidhu, along with the other winners, will have their profiles featured in the October issue of Glamour, now on newsstands.—TML

Source: Bulletin

Economic Inquiry

The Wall Street Journal recently published a piece about several laid-off workers from the business sector, entitled “Where They Are Going.” It told tales of high-paid financial workers converting their sudden unemployment into a chance to turn a new leaf, find themselves, and start over. One such six-figure man suffered a six-month stint as a truck driver—a job he could not bear to return to—while two others used their savings to find their calling driving another type of vehicle: a Mister Softee ice cream truck. As I read about incredibly wealthy people taking unemployment as a way to return to a simpler life, my thoughts on what was supposed to be an uplifting article shifted to only one expression: fuck off.

The reality of the recession was best reported by The New York Times last Friday in their piece on the boomers, or “Generation B.” While high-paid executives are finding a new lease on life, the economic downturn has devasted regular folk. The generation of our parents, aged 45 to 65, now has the highest suicide rate of all age groups. “It’s hard to maintain your focus that you’re a valuable member of society when you go three months and nobody really wants to employ you,” 59-year-old David O’Bryan of Barre, Vt. told Time. It’s no surprise that according to the U.S. Federal Suicide Prevention Resource Center web site, “widespread increases in unemployment” are “strongly linked with increases in suicide rates.” Even those who have work face the constant stress of looming job cuts and the fear of “Will I be next?”

Here’s a generation that grew up thinking that success came from hard work and finding a stable job. And for a while, most of them had that success. They had jobs, they had houses, and they had stability—until the summer of 2008, when it all began to fall apart.

While Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke declared last week that the recession “is over,” the jobless rate in the U.S. is still at a 26-year high. New York City now faces unemployment above 10 per cent, and the U.S. overall is at 9.7 per cent. That means roughly one in ten Americans that would like to work is unemployed. Ask around, and it won’t be hard to find students with unemployed parents. The boomers aren’t just losing their jobs, but also their houses. Two weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that foreclosure filings in the U.S. exceeded 300,000 for the sixth straight month. Sure, a lack of income can be weathered out with unemployment insurance and savings, but that can only last so long. Though the U.S. government and banks are trying to modify mortgage payments to prevent foreclosures, the climbing jobless rate is making that impossible.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, jobless rates will likely remain high for years to come. In fact, job prospects have been so bleak that the United States’ discouraged worker rate—also known as persons of legal employment age who are not actively seeking employment—reached 758,000 in August, doubling from last year. That’s not even including the PhDs who have taken on part-time jobs, or other such cases of underemployment.

Unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic growth. The OECD explains that recovery will be slow, due to how quickly and severely the recession began. As I explained in my last column, New York University prof Nouriel Roubini and Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz fear the economy will either recover very slowly, or dip back into a deeper recession, bouncing back later. Even the optimistic option is bad for morale.

Regarding the six-figure workers who “found themselves,” I feel badly about getting so enraged at their happiness. But the sentiment remains. Yes, losing your job allows you to take a look at who you are and reconsider your career options. But for far too many, losing your job is a nightmare you can’t wake up from—at least according to current economic forecasting—for several years.