U of T marks World AIDS Day

With artistic performances, displays, lectures, and panel discussions, U of T’s three campuses will observe World AIDS Day.

“It’s a very meaningful opportunity for the university community to come together to address this pandemic,” said Judy Kopelow, director of strategic initiatives with the Centre for International Health today.

A giant red ribbon will be installed on the front of Sid Smith, adorned with white balloons. As the day progresses, the balloons will be popped, symbolizing the breakdown of white blood cells in a person with AIDS.

At sundown, the bells of Soldiers’ Tower will toll in honour of those battling the epidemic, as a slideshow projects faces of people affected by AIDS onto the walls of Hart House. The event’s main ceremony is at Hart House, organized by the Centre for International Health. The ceremony, which starts at 4:30pm, will include a speech by world-renowned HIV prevention expert Dr. Solomon Benatar, and a number of artistic performances including an African dance and a classical music concerto.

The Med Sci building hosts a number of information tables staffed by U of T student groups. Other events at Med Sci include a screening of A Closer Walk, a film about AIDS’ impact throughout the world. The Leslie Dan Pharmacy building hosts a seminar in which U of T students who took part in overseas humanitarian projects this summer will promote further student engagement in humanitarian projects. The Pharmacy building will also hold an NGO fair.

“The program reflects the strength and commitment of our university in addressing this pandemic,” said Ms. Kopelow. “What we are trying to do is come together, have a voice, raise awareness, and let students know that they can make an impact.”

Where great minds study the New Biology

Night has fallen on St. George campus. The exodus from the last Convocation Hall lecture swamps the darkened street with students. As they pace past College Street’s historic buildings, they encounter one striking anomaly: the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. The Donnelly CCBR is a glowing vision in glass and steel, a Rubik’s Cube for the gods. It’s hard to believe this towering structure was once a parking lot. But what goes on inside?

As one of Canada’s leading genomics research centres, the DCCBR brings together investigators from a wide range of disciplines. It was established to foster collaborations among the Faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Applied Science & Engineering and Arts & Science at U of T. From its vantage point overlooking College Street, the DCCBR is a scientific and architectural landmark, and according to Director of Communications, Cynthia Colby, “The open concept was literally designed so that the best and brightest will bump into each other in the hallways.”

The centre is the brainchild of professors Cecil Yip and James Freisen from the Faculty of Medicine, and the DCCBR’s first director Brenda Andrews, a leading yeast genomics researcher. Completed in November 2005 at the cost of $105 million dollars, the center has received architectural acclaim from the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 2008 NOW Magazine named it the “best new building to render science visible to the world”—and for good reason. Always abuzz with students and staff, this is the kind of place where even the bathrooms are inspiring.

So far, the DCCBR has attracted 40 world-renowned Principal Investigators and approximately 600 students, postdoctoral fellows, and research technicians. With a broad mandate, the centre focuses its research on three platforms: integrative biology, bioengineering and functional imaging, and models of disease.

“It’s amazing to think that a single-celled organism could unlock the secrets to the complexity of human health and disease,” says Colby. “If we can understand how viruses, bacteria, and our bodies are programmed and how they can be re-programmed, the treatment of disease will shift from emergency interventions to deliberate and personalized prevention. Our impact on the average person is largely indirect; however, the research is tightly linked to science education, and it is medically relevant with the potential to discover therapeutic targets and drug leads.”

The DCCBR collaborates with its neighbouring teaching hospitals, government, and industry, and has joined forces with MaRS and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine. It also plans to launch public outreach programs, giving high school students and interested members of the public the chance to witness the cutting edge biomedical research done at the centre.

With such a stimulating approach to scientific research, it seems that the key to the DCCBR is its interdisciplinary focus.

“Consider that the cost of sequencing a single genome has collapsed from $150,000,000 to $1,000,” says Colby. “To accelerate scientific progress, the DCCBR fosters the development of bold, cutting-edge research by uniting diverse areas of expertise. Combining multiple disciplines (cell biology, genetics, biochemistry, bioinformatics and engineering) expands research speed, capacity and sparks technological innovation.”

One of the goals of the DCCBR is to shape and define the “New Biology,” a science that thrives on multi-discipline collaboration in a communal setting. With its exciting new attitude toward research and interdisciplinary interaction, it seems they are well on the way to heralding a new age of scientific development. Will kids of the future stop dreaming of being astronauts, in favour of careers in biomolecular research? Only time will tell.

University of Ottawa dismisses report of systemic racism

The University of Ottawa has issued a denial of a report by its Student Appeal Centre, which alleges systemic racism in the university’s academic fraud cases. An independent report, commissioned by U of O, found that SAC’s conclusions were drawn from a sample size too small to show evidence of racism in its academic policies.

“In many places, the content [of the report] can only be described as totally unsubstantiated, inconclusive and inflammatory,” said U of O law professor Joanne St. Lewis, a specialist in human rights and systemic racism who was asked to evaluate the SAC report. St. Lewis said the report represented only one per cent of the student body and relied on anecdotal evidence.

The student-run SAC is a resource for students who appeal university decisions. Its academic fraud report found that 71 per cent of students they represented were of visible minorities. SAC’s student appeal officer, Mireille Gervais, said this statistic and stories of students’ experiences of procedural discrimination set off alarm bells.

The student report documents only those students who came to the group for help. These represent a relatively small sample, and SAC does not maintain there is systemic racism in all fraud offenses at U of O. However, when asked if a wider investigation might duplicate SAC’s limited conclusions, Gervais responded, “My feeling is that the people we see are an actual reflection of what’s [happening] on campus.”

SAC alleged that students of visible minority groups are consistently presumed guilty, facing contempt and disrespect in the appeals process. Responding to St. Lewis, Gervais countered that SAC’s report was not a scientific study of the whole student body but was meant to be a testimonial of the racism some students encountered.

Both St. Lewis and SAC agreed that students need to be provided proper representation. In the past, SAC’s request for students to be informed of their counselling services has been denied by most faculties. St. Lewis recommends that SAC be allowed to advertise its services, but points out that students are allowed to go to the campus legal aid clinic for help.

SAC has maintained that the legal aid clinic clearly said it could not represent students against the university administration. The legal aid clinic could not be reached for comment.

New herbal supplement may protect against germs

Colourful posters plastered on everything from the doors to the stairs of Toronto’s Union Station are a zealous marketing strategy by the Montage Corporation. Their product is the herbal supplement Ré-zistex—previously labelled as Resistol—which claims to provide exclusive protection from unruly germs that may cause colds and the flu.

“I’ve seen the posters for [Ré-zistex] all over the subway on my way to work. I’m not sure exactly what it does, but it’s intriguing. I definitely know it’s supposed to fight germs,” said one frequent TTC user. When asked whether Ré-zistex is a supplement they would try, another TTC user answered, “Maybe, I just don’t know what the difference is between this and another herbal supplement.”

The difference between Ré-zistex and other cold and flu remedies is that it apparently starts to tackle germs before you begin to feel sick. Since most infections lay dormant before you develop any symptoms, Ré-zistex supports your immune system during the formative stages of a cold or flu. In a recent study, one group of participants took Ré-zistex in a two-weeks on, one-week off pattern for five months, while a second group did the same with a placebo. The study results showed that the placebo only reduced cold and flu incidence by 14 per cent, while Ré-zistex reduced the occurrence of the cold and flu by 67 per cent. In three subsequent studies, participants taking Ré-zistex increased their antibody generation by 81 per cent and immune system response to unwanted organisms increased by more than 30 per cent. Although a new product, mounting evidence suggests that Ré-zistex may be a promising new supplement.

The Ré-zistex website claims the supplement’s “effervescent” formula will boost your immune system, providing users with antioxidants, electrolytes, and amino acids. Each pill of Ré-zistex contains vitamins A, C, E, and B12, magnesium, zinc, selenium, manganese, and potassium. It also contains astragalus and angelica, which work synergistically to regulate the body’s immune system, and echinacea, a germ-fighting herbal supplement. Ré-zistex tablets must be dissolved in a glass of water and consumed with food either a few hours prior to or following any other medications.

Carleton fundraiser back on

The Carleton University Student Association has reversed course on its decision last week to cancel an annual fundraiser for cystic fibrosis research. The move came after intense criticism and a media firestorm. Last week, CUSA dropped the fundraiser from its frosh plans because, in their words, the disease “only affects white people, primarily men.” CUSA’s president, Brittany Smyth, issued a public apology and announced an emergency meeting on Monday, Dec. 1 to discuss reinstating the fundraiser.

Still, many students are frustrated with the association’s recent actions and its damage to Carleton’s reputation. They are calling for the impeachment of Smyth and Donnie Northrup, the council member who drafted the CF motion.

Many students have turned to Facebook to voice their opinions. At press time, the Facebook group “Students do Support Shinerama, CUSA! Because Diseases Don’t Discriminate!” had reached well over 4,000 members.

In the past two days, a petition to remove Smyth from office garnered 1,000 of the 1,250 student signatures needed. A separate petition to impeach Northrup collected about 40 of the 90 required signatures.

CF is a genetic disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system. Although Caucasians are more likely to carry the abnormal gene that causes the disease, CF is prevalent among all races and genders.

Does turkey actually make you sleepy?

When it comes to the holidays, many of us look forward to a good old-fashioned turkey dinner with stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. When the pumpkin pie makes its appearance though, we find ourselves yawning, cursing the turkey for our after-dinner lethargy. But is the poultry really the culprit behind this urge to doze off?

Turkey contains an essential amino acid called L-tryptophan, which has been recognized for its sleep-inducing effects. Tryptophan can be metabolized into serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that exert a calming effect and regulate sleep. However, you’d probably still feel tired after a big holiday meal even if you eliminated the bird. In order to make you drowsy, L-tryptophan needs to be taken on an empty stomach, without any other amino acids or proteins. Therefore, the tryptophan in turkey probably won’t cause the body to produce more serotonin, as it isn’t the only food being consumed at a big holiday feast.

So if it isn’t the turkey, what’s making you drowsy? Most likely, it’s the entire meal. They’re often quite heavy—the average Thanksgiving or Christmas meal contains 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat—and loaded with carbohydrates. To digest all that food, the body reroutes blood to the stomach. This causes sleepiness, as less blood, and therefore less oxygen, is being delivered to the brain.

That said, a midnight snack of turkey could be helpful to insomniacs. Nutritionists say that taken on an empty stomach, a serving contains enough tryptophan to induce the body to generate sleep-inducing amounts of serotonin.

Calgary bans anti-abortion posters

The University of Calgary has threatened legal action against an anti-abortion group who refused to move graphic posters that compare abortion to genocide. Since 2005, the University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life has shown posters of aborted fetuses around campus for their annual event, Genocide Awareness Project.

The labelling of abortion as genocide and the explicit images have sparked vocal counter-protests. One image compares an aborted fetus to victims of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.

After U of C received complaints, admin told the pro-lifers to hold their signs so people aren’t forced to view them involuntarily. Campus Pro-Life rejected the order.

U of C said it will take legal action against Campus Pro-Life if they display the posters. Though the university is a public institution, the campus is considered private property and the group’s protests can be considered trespassing.

The National Post reported that when pro-life protestors set up their displays this week, U of C security guards served them notice that they could face arrest, a fine of $2,000, or civil action. The guards also held up signs that read, “Caution. Campus Pro-Life has been served with a notice to vacate university property. The university is now taking appropriate legal action.”

As of Thursday, Calgary Police have not served any trespassing notices.

Don’t let the flu call the shots

Walk around campus and you will hear a symphony of coughs, sniffles, and sneezes. Yes, it’s flu season. According to Health Canada, about 10 to 25 per cent of Canadians will be affected by the influenza virus every year, costing the healthcare system millions. If you assume influenza causes nothing more than a few days of discomfort, think again. The World Health Organization notes that each year a quarter million people worldwide die from influenza.

Influenza exists in two main strains: Influenza A, which makes you seriously ill and Influenza B, the milder version that affects most of us every year. The influenza virus is highly unstable and prone to mutation. The virus you are potentially exposed to one year will be different from what you may come into contact with in the future.

There are many ways to prevent falling ill this flu season. One of the best preventative measures is the flu shot. The flu shot is a vaccine containing three strains of the virus that scientists believe will be prevalent in the coming flu season. They are used to stimulate the immune system to develop antibodies against the flu. These viruses are inactivated, meaning that you can’t get the flu from the flu shot. Keep in mind that if you’re allergic to chicken eggs, you will want to avoid taking it, as the vaccine is developed using eggs. About one in a million people vaccinated with the flu shot develop a nervous disease known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). However, most patients recover and there have been fewer deaths reported due to GBS, compared to the influenza virus.

In addition to the flu shot, the flu vaccine can also be administered through a nasal spray known as the Live Attenuated Influenza Virus (LAIV). This nasal spray is similar to the shot with only one exception. Instead of using inactivated or dead virus strains, the nasal spray contains weakened live strains. Similar to the flu shot, the LAIV assists the immune system in developing anti-bodies to combat influenza. As the LAIV is a live virus, it is only recommended for healthy individuals between the ages of five to 49. The LAIV and the flu shot do not significantly differ in terms of their effectiveness.

If you’re considering staying sniffle-free this season, you should think about getting vaccinated. It’s free and could prevent you from falling seriously and inconveniently ill, especially during exams.