Getting to the root of colds

To borrow one of her company’s slogans, Dr. Jacqueline Shan “trusts the science” behind the popular cold and flu treatment Cold-FX, which she coinvented as president, CEO, and chief scientific officer for Edmonton-based CV Technologies, Inc.

In a presentation given at University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy last Thursday, Dr. Shan described Cold-FX’s development process, highlighting some of the clinical trials demonstrating its ability to enhance the immune system.

Some scientists question the science behind Cold-FX, as they claim the data supporting the product is open to interpretation. The original study sponsored by the company has not been independently confirmed or critically analyzed in peer-reviewed journals.

Cold-FX is a proprietary extract from North American ginseng, a plant native to East Asia. It has widespread use as an antioxidant, aphrodisiac, and natural stimulant, classified as an adaptogen to increase the body’s resistance to stress and anxiety. Cold-FX is the first natural health product to be approved by Health Canada to make a specific scientific claim. According to its makers, Cold-FX “helps reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of cold and flu symptoms by boosting the immune system.”

Due to the fact that Cold-FX is a patented product, the “natural product number” assigned by Health Canada was in the non-traditional category—a category that requires a level of scientific support typically associated with pharmaceutical products.

“We spent a couple of years with the Edmonton Oilers and got some pretty good results,” commented Shan with reference to their first human subjects.

In addition to demonstrating enhanced immune function in these professional athletes, Cold-FX has been put to the test in six additional clinical trials, involving a variety of populations during its 12 years of development. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Canadian adults lasting four months, Cold-FX led to a 26 per cent reduction in the number of colds, a 31 per cent decrease in their severity, and a 35 per cent decrease in their duration. Cold- FX has no known side effects.

The backbone of CV Technologies, Inc., which was originally a spin-off company founded within University of Alberta’s Department of Physiology, is known as ChemBioPrint. Chem- BioPrint is the patented method used by CV Technologies to identify the chemical components responsible for the health effects of ginseng extracts, ultimately used to isolate CVT-E002 (the “active ingredient” in Cold-FX). This technology has also been used to isolate Remember-FX from the same source extracts as Cold-FX, and Cell- FX from shark cartilage extracts.

ChemBioPrint has allowed CV Technologies to avoid the batch-to-batch variability in composition and effect, common in many natural health products. It is common to standardize the amount of product, contained in each dose of a given natural health product to a very limited number of chemicals within the original extract. St. John’s Wort, used as a natural antidepressant, is commonly standardized to hypericin— a substance no longer believed to be involved in the purported health benefits of the product. The consistent isolation of CVT-E002 has played a major role in Dr. Shan’s ability to scientifically validate CV Technology’s claims.

When asked about future prospects for Cold-FX, Shan responded, “We just finished a clinical study on children to prove that [Cold-FX] is safe, and eventually we want to develop a children formulation.”

“In three years our products have gone all the way from $1 million to $45 million, which has totally outsold [cold and flu] products like Advil and Tylenol. Of course we’re happy from a business point of view but what this also tells you is that, like it or not, people like it. Investing in the science evidence and clinical study, although it is challenging, is totally worth it,” said Shan.

The power of marketing-driven science is not a new phenomenon, as many biologists, immunologists, and biochemists wish to see reasonsed debate over the claims made by the makers of Cold-FX. Considering the lack of solid evidence and a lack of understanding for how it works, it seems that more research is required

Nifty nanomagnets

A group of researchers, led by Dr. Sarah Staniland from the University of Edinburgh, have developed an innovative approach to create stronger nanomagnets that could be used to treat lethal cancer cells.

Nanomagnets are tiny, magnetically tailored particles measured in nanometres—one billionth of a metre. These intriguing bacteriaproduced magnets are identical in size and shape to each other, which distinguish them from less effective human-made nanomagnets.

“For nanoparticles to be used in medicine you need them to be a very uniform size and shape, and bacteria are very good for that,” said Staniland.

Bacteria usually extract iron from their surroundings to synthesize long chains of magnetic nanoparticles. These nanoparticles guide bacteria to oxygen-rich environments—a useful tool for survival.

Staniland, alongside scientists from Daresbury Laboratory and the Institut Laue-Langevin, sought a new method to create these miniscule magnets. By harvesting strains of the Magnetospirillum bacteria in a high-cobalt, lowiron mixture, the newly-synthesized nanomagnets were 36 to 45 per cent stronger. As well, when removed from their magnetic field, they remained magnetic for a longer period of time.

“The ability of the nanomagnets to remain magnetized opens the way for their use in killing tumour cells,” said researchers from the study published in Nature Nanotechnology.

But don’t let these microscopic magnets fool you: though invisible to the naked eye, they might be strong enough to wipe out cancerous cells. Researchers reveal that nanomagnets can be guided to cancerous regions magnetically.

“You would move them with a normal magnetic field, and then heat them with the opposing field,” said Staniland.

In a nutshell, when an opposing magnetic field increases the core temperature of the nanomagnets at a specific tumour site, they will heat and destroy the cancer cells in their area.

Realistically, this treatment is far from becoming a reality. Cancer Research UK’s science information officer, Liz Baker, explained that “targeting treatments specifically to cancer cells is an exciting area of research, but in this case work is still at a very early stage.”

When asked for their opinion on this new finding, many were excited at the prospect of fighting cancer with miniscule magnets. Michael Jamieson, a firefighting student at Seneca College, expressed interest in the idea.

“It’s awesome. Cancer is becoming more common these days and if we can find a way to treat it, we’d be saving a lot of people. I’m a smoker myself and I have to admit, cancer is something I worry about. If this kind of medical nanotechnology can help save lives then sign me up, just in case!” said Jamieson.

These versatile nanoparticles might be able to administer drug treatments directly to cancer cells to help manage their negative effects and aid in the healing process. This discovery opens up endless possibilities to create a whirlwind effect in the field of medicine.

“It will be interesting to see if further research into nanomagnets will provide us with a new and effective anti-cancer therapy,” said Baker.

Smokin’ Aces

As far as general managers go, Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi has been accused of being too much like poker player. Not that you’re likely to see the 38 year old Boston native frequenting Casino Rama any time soon, but critics of Ricciardi say he’s notorious for keeping his cards close to the vest.

Secretive, sly, evasive: these are just some of the names he’s been called by local scribes over his seven years with the Blue Jays. Still, you have to respect a man who, after lying about B.J. Ryan’s injury in 2007, kept a straight face as he pronounced,

“It’s not a lie, if we know the truth.” If the game was Texas Hold ‘em rather than baseball, Ricciardi’s poker face would be a virtue. In the high-stakes game of the American League East, where the team is constantly undermined by big spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, perhaps that’s the kind of competitive advantage he needs.

“We’ve been backseat to Boston and New York the last couple of years,” said Toronto bench boss John Gibbons during spring training, “Sooner or later, we have to get over the hump. With the team we’ve put together this year, we think we have a chance to do that.” The Blue Jays haven’t won the AL East crown since 1993, the year they won the world series, but there is reason for optimism. While Ricciardi is cautious to make predictions, it’s clear he might have a few aces up his sleeve.

The top three of the Jays rotation have the potential to be the best in a tough East division. Led by 2003 Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay, flame-thrower A.J. Burnett, and young gun Dustin McGowan, the Jays have arguably assembled their finest rotation since Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, and Juan Guzman donned the Toronto Blue together in 1998.

But beyond Halladay, who posted a 16- 7 record to go with a 3.71 ERA in 2007, perhaps ‘ace’ is a stretch in describing the 30-year-old career Blue Jay’s other running mates. After all, Burnett, now in the third year of a five-year contract signed in 2005, has yet to win 12 games in a single season over his entire career. In 2007, Burnett posted solid peripherals with a 3.75 ERA, and 176 strikeouts in 165.2 innings, but made only 25 starts, going 10-8 over all.

McGowan offers even more of a mixed bag. The 25-year-old, only in his second full season, had an impressive 2007 campaign, setting a career-high with 12 wins, while ranking second on the staff in innings pitched behind Halladay. It would be unfair to compare either of them to Halladay, a four-time all-star and perennial Cy Young candidate, yet they share much in common.

All three are power pitchers, who throw in the mid-nineties with excellent secondary stuff. They all have an ideal pitcher’s frame, Halladay stands tallest at 6’6”, while Burnett and McGowan are 6’4” and 6’3” respectively. Finally, all three were high school picks, struggling early in their careers.

Burnett and McGowan may not be aces in the traditional sense like Halladay, but it’s hard to dispute, when looking at their similarities, that they aren’t three of a kind, even if they seem to be wild cards at this point.

“You have to pitch to win our division,” said Ricciardi bluntly during the off-season. To that end, the GM spent the winter meetings trying to land one more big-time starter to line up with his current top three. Deals were discussed, which would have sent the Blue Jays’ best hitter Alex Rios to San Francisco for starters Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum, and later to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels or Brett Myers. The logic is simple: good pitching beats good hitting, a tried-and-true baseball adage.

Pitching has always been a priority, as it’s more cost effective to assemble a strong 3 or 4 rotation than to put together a dominant nine-man batting order like the Yankees or Red Sox; teams operating on an unlimited budgets.

Even though they were not able to landed another top flight starter, Halladay, Burnett, and McGowan should still form a devastating top three of a rotation. If the chips fall Ricciardi’s way this season and the team is able to capture their first AL East title in fifteen years, we can expect to see that familiar poker face of his soften into a smile.

Do you think there’s too much incriminating evidence on Facebook?

Clockwise from top-left

Alex, 3rd-year History

As for right now I don’t care, but getting older it might be a problem. Let’s just say I’m glad neither of my parents are on Facebook. Some buddies of mine at Western had a party pre-emptively shut down by the cops ’cause they saw the event on Facebook.

Aaron, 4th-year Political Science

There is. Drunk pictures, embarrassing pictures, it’s all too dangerous. Some people are totally careless, they even have pictures of themselves with drugs. That’s the type of stuff that gets used in court.

Selam, 3rd-year Political Science

No. You know what you’re putting on there, you send it out. Everybody knows the rules of the web.

Mabel, 3rd-year Human Bio

People put their phone numbers, emails, pictures of their homes, really their whole lives. The format makes you so vulnerable, you’re giving people access to yourself.

Governing Council— an ‘exercise in futility?’

Discussion was brief and confused at the March 4 Governing Council meeting that approved a new policy dictating how U of T disposes of unethical stocks. Although the meeting was the third hearing of the hotly-debated policy, representatives of both students and staff on U of T’s highest governing body were misinformed about what the policy actually says. One governor has since said that student and staff representatives on the body have so little voting power that it may not be worth their time to keep up to date on board affairs.

The divestment policy was a revision of one the University Affairs Board rejected last November. On Feb. 2, UAB approved a modified version, which requires the president’s committee to be approved by the GC. The modified proposal also contained a preamble stating that divestment from social and political issues must reflect the neutrality of the university on most matters.

“You know what? I must confess my ignorance on that issue,” said governor P.C. Choo after the meeting. Choo abstained from voting on the policy.

“My other concern is this: I am one of two governors representing staff. There are eight students. Combined, we will still lose, because there are 40 other governors,” said Choo.

The recently approved divestment policy does away with a committee of five governors, replacing them with an advisory committee of financial experts selected by the president to make divestment recommendations.

Ken Davy, a part-time student representative on GC, asked a question presuming that the advisory committee would consist primarily or wholly of social justice experts rather than financial ones.

U of T’s VP business affairs Catherine Riggall fielded that question. Without stating that the advisory committee would not consist of any social justice experts, she noted that “There’s also no reason that other people can’t be consulted.”

“In past committees where we’ve looked at [divestment] issues […] we have in fact consulted outside to get other people’s expertise when necessary,” said Riggall.

“I did not have a solid understanding of the advisory committee,” said Davy after the meeting. “I’ve been very involved with trying to get some essays done.”

Susan Eng, the other governor who posed questions to council about the policy, seemed to be under the impression that the university gave its investments ethical prescreening. President Naylor corrected her at the meeting.

Thomas Felix, co-chair of the Responsible Investment Committee, told The Varsity that he had hoped to give governors a briefing on the policy’s background before the vote, but RIC received no speaking time at the GC meeting because it apparently gave too short notice.

“There was clearly an inability to inform the governors as we’d hoped before the meeting,” Felix said. “Having not been able to get on the agenda, for lack of sufficient notice, we had nonetheless prepared [a] document and a Powerpoint to briefly summarize and clarify such misconceptions.”

RIC was not allowed to show their Powerpoint presentation at the meeting, for procedural reasons.

It’s Prime time

Despite the Victoria University president’s opening protestations that the talk would be on small-L liberal values, the speaker would have none of it. As Jean Chrétien told a packed Bader Theatre, he’s still the biggest of big-L Liberals. “I’m a proud Liberal, and I’m here because I wanted to honour a proud Liberal,” said the former prime minister during the 12th annual Keith Davey Lecture, held at Vic on March 6. His audience might as well have said the same thing.

“The only thing I’m missing in life is to not have Question Period!” he exclaimed, opening up the question and answer session after his speech. As a former prime minister, Chrétien has the luxury of choosing his questioners, and he enjoys the wiggle room on topics he would prefer to avoid—which amounts to most of current politics.

“I’m not in political life anymore. It’s a hard problem, to shut up, but I do.” An inveterate politician, he still knows how to work a crowd,addressing criticisms from his reign with a jovial attitude. After all, his critics weren’t on stage with him.

“Remember, people were telling me all the time, ‘Why don’t you tell China what to do?’ […] I said, ‘Wait a minute, guys. You want me to go to the Chinese, 1.3 billion people, and tell them what to do, but you don’t want me to tell the Premier of Saskatchewan what to do?’”

That’s another of his traits: weaving in rhetorical questions like a storyteller with a good yarn. On “the difficulties” in the former Yugoslavia: “Do you remember how delicate it was?” On the Clarity Act: “Do you remember the controversy that I survived because I said ‘No, you can’t break up the country with a one-vote majority?’” His speech was also a lesson, however, in just how experienced Chrétien is.

“There isn’t a public policy problem he hasn’t grappled with,” said David Peterson, U of T chancellor and former (Liberal) premier of Ontario. Aside from being Prime Minister, during his 41-minus-eight years as an MP, Chrétien headed six ministries.

The crowd, with its cheers for Chrétien’s decision keep Canada out of Iraq, reserved boos for Conrad Black and refrained from mentioning pepper spray and other unsavoury scandals. With the Honourable Frank Iacobucci (the eighth Keith Davey Lecturer) rumoured to be in attendance, and senators and former ambassadors scattered about the theatre for good measure, the event was decidedly elite.

“I want you to think about public service,” he said in his concluding remarks. “Don’t think it’s terrible to be in politics. We have a lot of fun in politics.” The advice he would give student politicians? “To run. If you don’t try, you will regret that.”

Chrétien held up as an example the Liberal senator after whom the lecture series is named. “Keith Davey is a good example of public service.” Davey, who graduated from Vic in 1949, became national organizer of the Liberal Party in 1961 and served as senator for 30 years, most notably in chairing the Senate Committee on Mass Media. Past Keith Davey Lecturers have included John Kenneth Galbraith, Michael Ignatieff, Louise Arbour, and David Miller.

Ryerson student facing expulsion over Facebook group

When Chris Avenir helped set up a Facebook study group for a chemistry class at Ryerson he had no idea that it could get him expelled. Ryerson has charged the first-year engineering student with 147 counts of academic misconduct—one for each student in the study group—accusing him of cheating.

The charges came when Avenir’s professor, Andrew McWilliams, heard about the Facebook group after marks for the class had already been issued.

Avenir said the administration is mishandling the situation because they don’t have a clear Internet use policy. “I don’t really see how it’s justified. I can understand how the original creator, when he put in the group’s description, might have brought in some questionable thoughts, but I don’t think that jumping to conclusions and assumptions and hiding behind a very vague policy really justifies any of what’s going on right now,” he said.

The group’s main page bore the message: “If you request to join, please use the forms [sic.] to discuss/post solutions to the chemistry assignments. Please input your solutions if they are not already posted.”

Despite this, no evidence exists that anyone actually provided solutions, which would constitute an academic offense. “I myself didn’t post any solutions […] It’s just a whole bunch of assumptions right now,” said Avenir of the administration’s charges.

Avenir joined the group after it was well established. Students had to wait up to two weeks to be accepted to the group by its creator, so Avenir volunteered to become a co-administrator. The other administrator’s identity is unknown because he used an alias.

On Tuesday, Avenir faces an expulsion hearing with the engineering faculty appeals committee. Kim Neale, advocacy co-ordinator for the Ryerson Students’ Union will represent him at the hearing.

“All these students are scared shitless now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it’s no different than any study group working together on homework in a library,” Neale told the Toronto Star.

“People might just be sneakier about it and there shouldn’t be any reason to be sneaky about something as honest as a study group,” said Avenir.

He has prepared a 10-minute presentation for Tuesday and is planning to seek “clarification” of the decision from his professor, who will be at the hearing.

Should Avenir lose his appeal, he said he plans to take his case directly to the university’s senate. Nora Loreto, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union said that the odds of complete exoneration at appeal hearings are “stacked against students,” but she nonetheless remains optimistic.

James Norrie, director of Ryerson’s School of Information and Technology, has defended the school’s decision to expel Avenir. “This is being painted as a generational issue and it’s not,” Norrie told the CanWest news service. “We are not a bunch of old farts who are afraid of technology.”

When asked whether he would create another online study group given all that has happened, Avenir said “definitely” without hesitation. He added, however, that he would create the group himself and would make sure there was no questionable wording in the group’s title or description.

Avenir has not received support from the Ryerson Engineering Student Society.

Very few schools address online behavior in their academic code. Ryerson is one of the few schools in the process of rewriting their code to handle the Internet. The student group “Stop the NADS [non-academic disciplinary suspensions],” headed by Loreto, is fighting the proposed changes to Policies 60 and 61. At press time, “Stop the NADS” had 179 members on its Facebook group.

All students would benefit from the greater transit use the U-Pass would provide, says hunky TTC Chair ADAM GIAMBRONE

Working with students to develop a program that meets their needs, the TTC has proposed a $60-per-month “U-Pass,” now under consideration by students at UTSC, and potentially on campuses across the city in coming months. Whether or not to participate would be up to students in a referendum.

With a U-Pass, students will simply not have to worry about transportation for the entire academic year they’re in school. It means never having to calculate whether or not you can afford to visit friends and family, shop for groceries, see a movie or play, travel to work or classes, or access the entire city in any way.

For students who ride transit, the U-Pass represents a savings of between $288 and more than $368 over the course of the academic year, depending on how they usually pay—and it means no more monthly lineups for transit passes.

As with any student levy, the pass would be added to students’ tuition. The levy—at $240 per semester, or $480 for the academic year—is certainly not a small amount of money, but it’s a big savings for students who use transit even 15 times a month, after the tax credit for which it’s eligible. At that level, even students who don’t currently buy passes, such as pedestrians, cyclists and rainy-day riders, benefit.

As in other cities, the beauty of the program is that it leverages students’ collective buying power to achieve a better pass price. As a further incentive last fall, when other fares were increased, the TTC froze the price of the U-Pass offer for schools that opt in this year. The result is a program that will cost the TTC money, but will aid it and the City of Toronto, to achieve their policy objective of increasing ridership. It is not a TTC money-maker because the increases in ridership are more than offset by the reduced price, as well as the cost of increased service for more riders, part of the proposal. That’s precisely how the program is designed to work.

The lower price is achieved by making the pass universal and mandatory for all full-time undergraduate students, with no opt-outs. Allowing opt-outs would reduce the discount basically to the level of the current VIP program, which is $96 at U of T.

The U-Pass proposal is a result of many years of advocacy on the part of students, who have repeatedly requested a U-Pass program like those currently in place in cities across Canada. In response to student requests, the TTC has successfully negotiated with GO and York Region Transit to include an option for passes on their systems for those students who don’t use the TTC. It has also added access to TTC commuter parking lots.

For U of T students, staff and faculty not covered by the U-Pass program, the TTC will continue to offer the current VIP discount transit pass.

Although the program will actually cost the TTC, the benefits of increased transit use for the City of Toronto and its residents are clear: clean air, less congestion and greater mobility. Everyone benefits from greater transit use in one way or another.

Whether or not to participate and take the TTC up on its offer is up to students. We certainly hope they will vote Yes.

Adam Giambrone is the Toronto City Councillor for Ward 18—Davenport and the Chair of the TTC