A visualization of the IL-2 structure. Credit: Jawahar Swaminathan and MSD staff at the European Bioinformatics Institute
The most amazing machines in the world live in our bodies and they are called proteins. Proteins are responsible for many important functions in our bodies including food digestion, immune system defense, and muscle contraction. Almost everything that happens in biology, it does because of proteins.
Proteins are molecules composed of amino acids. In nature, there are 20 types of amino acids which are combined to give rise to a protein. Each of the 20 amino acids is chemically different from each other.
Let’s do a simple calculation: considering that we have 20 different types of amino acids and each one can occupy any position in a protein composed of n amino acids, then it is possible to give rise to 20 x 20…x n different possible proteins, which can also be represented as 20n. For example, if a protein is composed of five types of amino acids, it is possible to generate 20 x 20 x 20 x 20 x 20 = 3,2000,000 different combinations of five types of amino acids, or 3,2000,000 different proteins. That number is much more than the total number of proteins that we have in nature!
Scientists are now designing tens of thousands of new proteins on the computer and encoding each one of those in a synthetic gene. This technology has shown great potential to solve health problems such as cancer and infectious diseases. But how is this going to be working?
A group of researchers from The Institute for Protein Design https://www.ipd.uw.edu/at the University of Washington is redesigning an immune protein called interleukin-2 (IL-2), which has been used to treat aggressive types of cancers. They are using computer modeling to design a new IL-2 from scratch with the same immune boosting functions but without its dangerous side effects. The new version of IL-2 shares only 14% of its original amino acid sequence. Lab tests in mouse models of melanoma and colon cancer revealed that the new IL-2 has superior therapeutic activity and reduced toxicity compared to the natural IL-2.
The same group is also working on developing a universal flu vaccine that would be effective no matter the virus mutation, which means that once we are immunized with the new vaccine, we won’t have to be vaccinated every year. They are using the protein design methodology developed in their lab to create a universal vaccine. But what does a flu vaccine need to be universal? The flu virus is covered by proteins called hemagglutinin, which have a “head” and a “stem” part. The head part changes every year, while the stem part remains consistent year after year. For this reason, for a universal protection, the new vaccine will have to promote immune response towards conserved regions of the flu virus, i.e. the stem. So far, the new universal vaccine has been tested with animal models and showed protection against not only the specific flu strains used to develop the vaccine, but also against other strains in the flu family tree, which means a universal immune protection.
Indeed, computation protein design has shown to be a promising tool to solve health problems of the 21st century. This groundbreaking technology can improve not only flu vaccines, but also shed light on developing other vaccines such as HIV, malaria, and hepatitis C. Furthermore, this technology can also facilitate the development of more effective and safer cancer immunotherapies, by designing more specific proteins to boost the immune system without side effects.
Silva et al. De novo design of potent and selective mimics of IL-2 and IL-15. Nature, 2019.
Kanekiyo et al. New Vaccine Design and Delivery Technologies. The Journal of Infectious Diseases, 2019.
Alyne G. Teixeira
Alyne is a PhD Student in Biomedical Engineering and works in the Lab for Tissue Engineering and Microscale Biotechnology at Dalhousie University.
Photo: Penetangont by Squad546
In March 1967, Joan Hollobon checked herself in at the Oakridge maximum security division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre (formerly known as the Hospital for the Criminally Insane) in Penetanguishene, Ontario, where she worked and slept from a cell among the 38 inmates for four days. Joan went to see for herself firsthand how Dr. Barry Boyd and Dr. Elliott Barker were trying to revolutionise psychiatric treatment working with these 38 incarcerated patients by experimenting with an intensive type of milieu therapy. Locked into her cell at night for her own protection, she was afforded the opportunity to interview each of the patients who agreed to meet with her during the day. One of the patients, a teenage pyromaniac, thought himself a hero for rescuing his victims (eventually) from the fires he set. Many of the patients, despite their criminal records, demonstrated what would be labeled sociopathic tendencies today.
Joan Hollobon’s article, “Behind the Bars on G Ward” appeared in The Globe and Mail’s April 1968 weekend magazine supplement to the daily newspaper. It unlocked the doors to a world few Canadians were aware of, and explored a completely new and different side of healthcare that would have startled many people. Later, reflecting on her career as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, Joan stated, “The assignment that left the most lasting impression was the 4 days I spent locked in the Oakridge Maximum Security Division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre with those 38 patients. Perhaps it was unforgettable because it provided insight into people whose life experiences and lifestyle most of us rarely encounter, or because of the insight into oneself through encounters in an intense programme that stripped away the usual social superficialities.”
Perhaps that was the key to Joan Hollobon’s success as a medical reporter – not only was she able to capture the attention of her readers by her thorough hands-on medical research and reporting, but she was empathetic when it came to dealing with and recognising the human condition.
By Andy F. Visser-de Vries
This blog post, written by Claire Eamer, was originally posted to our site February 3, 2016. As we gear up for our 2019 Book Awards, we reflect on the previous years of science writing and the rewards and challenges that come with it. Let's call this the SWCC's #ThrowbackThursday!
In this 2010 photo of the Treasury, the grating covering the 2003 excavations is visible to the left of the great door. Photo by Arian Zwegers.
I spent much of the summer researching a new kids’ science book. (Sorry – can’t get specific yet.) It’s about a very hot research topic – so hot that fresh stories seemed to hit the news every other day all summer long.
If you’re writing one of those news stories, it’s exciting. You can get your story out in days, if not hours. If you’re writing for a magazine or another long-form medium, you have a problem. Your story might not appear for a couple of months or even longer. That means you have to dig deeper into the background of the story and give your readers the tools to evaluate the hot-off-the-press news stories that will continue to crop up.
But pity the poor book writer! The authors of non-fiction books can spend years researching their topics, reading the literature, interviewing experts in the field, grappling with the complexity and implications of the topic. And that’s just the beginning. The process of editing, designing, proofing, printing, and publishing usually adds at least another year to the process.
I write science books for kids, and that gives me an advantage. The books are shorter, so the turn-around time is faster. Still, the book I’ve been working on since late last spring won’t hit the shelves until next fall. And that’s a long time for a hot topic.
Still – you have to try, even if you’re writing for kids. Maybe especially if you’re writing for kids. They are the scientists and science-consumers of tomorrow, and they need the best, most accurate information writers can give them. Kids’ science writers generally try very hard to provide that.
And sometimes that relatively short lead time for kids’ books works to our advantage.
A few years ago, I spent months researching material for Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past, a book for kids aged 10 to 14 on the history of eight different buildings around the world.
(Yes, I know this blog is supposed to be about science, but we’ll get there. Promise!)
One of the doorways was the grand entrance to the Treasury, or Al Khazneh, in Petra, Jordan. You’ve probably seen it. In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy dashed up a wide stone stairway and through the imposing doorway of the Grail Temple, he was really dashing up the steps and through the entrance of the Treasury.
Of course, there’s no Grail Temple on the other side of the door – just a big empty room carved into the red-stone cliff. Both room and façade were created by the Nabateans, who controlled the desert trade routes for several centuries until the Romans took control of Petra in 106 CE.
The Nabateans built the Treasury about 2000 years ago, and the circumstances of its building and its purpose were lost in time. In 2007, when I was researching my book, the best source of information was Jane Taylor’s beautiful 2002 book, Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans. The author listed the most common speculations about the purpose of the Treasury, and the reasoning behind them. That should be enough, you’d think. After all, I was writing a single chapter in a book for kids – 20 short pages at most, with lots of pictures.
The trouble is, you have to be sure. So, I searched academic journals, trawled the Internet, and poked through proceedings from archaeology conferences.
(See – I told you we’d get back to science!)
Although the journals produced nothing new, the Internet kept throwing up tantalizing references to recent excavations. But – no journal articles, no first-hand accounts, no contact information.
Finally, I searched for email addresses under the names I’d identified and sent messages to all of the addresses in the hope that one would connect. It did. Dr. Suleiman Farajat of the University of Jordan and the Petra Archaeological Park responded and kindly sent me a draft report with the information I needed.
In the summer of 2003, with tourism in Jordan all but dead because of political tension, Jordanian archaeologists had done some long-delayed excavating in front of the Treasury, where ground-penetrating radar suggested there was something interesting. And indeed there was. The broad steps and huge entry were not, it turned out, the base of the structure. They were, in fact, one storey up. Beneath them, buried in millennia of flash-flood debris, was an entire storey – tombs, some still holding skeletons and the remains of offerings to the dead.
The 2003 excavations revealed this narrow stairway leading down to the tombs that once formed the main-floor level of the Treasury. Photo courtesy of Petra National Trust.
The mystery of the Treasury – still a mystery in the 2002 book – was a mystery no more. The Treasury was a mausoleum built to honour the royal family of Petra and to awe and impress visitors. Its grand entry had once loomed metres above the heads of visitors and worshippers, who filled the plaza beneath it with the smoke of their offerings and the murmur of their prayers.
When Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past – a book for kids – came out in 2008, it was the only publication with that new information, apart from a print-only annual report on excavations that was shelved in a library in Jordan. And that remained true for a couple of years, until the rest of the publishing world caught up.
Sometimes, all those awkward timelines just work out right.
Website of the Petra National Trust and its list of archaeology projects: http://petranationaltrust.org/UI/showcontent.aspx?ContentId=79
A guide to Petra as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World: http://www.theworldwonders.com/new-petra.html
An account by a tourism operator shortly after the 2003 excavations: http://www.diggingsonline.com/pages/rese/arts1/2004/petra.htm
A story about Petra and celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Europeans’ “rediscovery” of the city (the Bedouins knew it was there all the time): http://www.gadventures.com/blog/200-years-of-discovery-petras-re-discovery-bicentennial/
“Preserving Petra Sustainably (One Step at a Time)” in the inaugural edition of the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies (2013): http://www.psupress.org/Journals/Journal%20PDFs/JEMAHS_mockup_FINAL.pdf
A rather breathless documentary about Petra from the program, Digging for the Truth – but with some good video and an interview with Dr. Farajat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeKabIpA69A
By Claire Eamer (original post: Feb 3, 2016)
Claire Eamer is a BC-based science writer who writes popular science articles and books for both kids and adults, as well as writing and editing major scientific reports for international science-based organizations.
Over the years, Joan Hollobon touched on almost every area of clinical medicine, medical research, and medical politics in her writing as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail. In July 1962 she travelled to Saskatchewan to witness the difficult birth of Medicare – something Canadians take for granted today. Commonly referred to as the 1962 Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis, doctors went on strike against the founding of universal medicare in that province. While it is hard to imagine today, when the Saskatchewan Government introduced Medicare in 1962 after several delays, most doctors shuttered their practices or resigned their positions and left the province as a means of voicing their opposition to universal medicare. The Saskatchewan doctors' strike was a 23-day labour action taken by medical doctors from 1 July 1962, the day the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act came into effect, until 23 July 1962 as attempt to force the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government of Saskatchewan to drop its program of universal medical insurance.
Canadians living at the beginning of the 21st century CE who think of universal medical coverage as a given, if not a right, find the 1962 Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis has echoes of the ongoing fight of Obamacare in the United States of America, something Canadians are perplexed by. But it happened here in Canada as well.
And Joan Hollobon was there to report first-hand on the difficult birth of this beast called Medicare that was completely new in the minds of the Canadian public. Her reports appeared in The Globe and Mail on a daily basis during the 23-day strike, and as a result she helped to educate the Canadian public about the merits of universal health care. Joan Hollobon was well-placed as a medical journalist to cover the Saskatchewan Medicare Crisis because universal medical insurance was something she learned about first hand in England when her mother was dying of bone cancer in 1948, shortly after the Labour government of the United Kingdom introduced the National Health Service Act (NHS) in 1946, which completely changed the way people could access healthcare.
Joan Hollobon followed the progress of events in Saskatchewan closely after the dispute was settled and wrote a 10-part series on the state of affairs in that province for The Globe and Mail entitled, “Bungle, Truce and Trouble”. Her writings were later published as a small booklet distributed for free by The Globe and Mail.
Years later, Joan Hollobon reflected on those three weeks she spent in Saskatchewan in the early summer of 1962. “Research to me was the most interesting, but medical economics and politics were also part of the medical beat. (It was) another totally different experience – the three weeks of the Saskatchewan Medicare Strike beginning on 1 July 1962, working almost around the clock, 7 days a week. The rhetoric and the passions aroused! So un-Canadian. Everyone was slightly around the bend by the end of it. Everyone thought then that Saskatchewan, 1962, was an experience no political or medical group would ever risk repeating. So much for that theory.”
Within a year of the 1962 Saskatchewan Medical Crisis, 97% of doctors who were working in Saskatchewan before the strike had returned to the province or their practices and signed on to Medicare. Universal medical insurance as a concept began to spread like a prairie wildfire across Canada, and there is not a politician or a doctor today in Canada who would not be shouted down by Canadians if they voiced opposition to what many Canadians understand as a right today.
Joan Hollobon in Portland Maine August 1959
Joan Hollobon stood out among her peers and made a difference in terms of health care advocacy in Canada as a result of working as the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985. As the little girl racing through the woods in the CBC television series Kids in the Hall would say, “It’s a fact!”, (and thirty Helen’s agree). The evidence speaks for itself.
In recognition of her outstanding career, Joan Hollobon was elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) in 1985. An Honorary Member of the OMA is elected by unanimous vote by the OMA’s Board of Directors and must have attained eminence in science and/or the humanities - for contribution to public awareness of medical science, a fitting tribute to Joan Hollobon’s years of making medicine understandable to the lay public. At the time, Joan Hollobon was only the second woman to be elected an Honorary Member of the Ontario Medical Association, and only the second journalist to do so after her mentor, Kenneth W. McTaggart, who was elected an Honorary Member 20 years earlier in 1965.
The following year, in 1986, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Medical Association’s Medal of Honour. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) Medal of Honour is the highest award the CMA bestows upon a person who is not a member of the medical profession and is granted in recognition of (1) personal contributions to the advancement of medical research, medical education, health care organisation, and health education of the public; (2) service to the people of Canada in raising the standards of health care delivery in Canada; and, (3) service to the profession in the field of medical organisation.
In the Medal of Honour Citation presented to Joan Hollobon from the Canadian Medical Association at the time, Joan was recognised “for (her) contribution to public awareness of medical science” and “in recognition of your outstanding contribution to the public’s knowledge of health related issues, and the significant contribution which Joan Hollobon made to the public’s understanding of medicine through her newspaper reporting”.
“Joan Hollobon made a career of listening to doctors talk about remarkable achievements in medical research and health care practice, achievements that the public might well not have known about had it not been for this accomplished writer from Toronto. Medical reporting is an art and a science. It requires raw talent and polished skill. Joan, in her 25 years + as The Globe and Mail’s medical reporter, has become its acknowledged master. She has been one of the medical profession’s greatest allies.”
Awards recognising journalists over the years clearly demonstrate the degree to which medical practitioners and medical bodies in Canada have changed their views on the value of cooperating with the press and communicating with the Canadian public.
Joan Hollobon had learned her craft well.
So much so that on 24 August 1963, with the recommendations from no less than Dr. Charles Best (the Canadian co-discoverer of insulin), Dr Ray Farquharson, and The Globe and Mail general editor Richard Doyle, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to attend the one-year Advanced Science Writing Program at the School of Graduate Studies at Columbia University in New York for the 1963-1964 academic year – despite only having a high school education. Following in the footsteps of her colleague David Spurgeon who had received the same award in 1958, Joan Hollobon was only the second Canadian in history to be awarded the Sloan-Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in Advanced Science Writing, and the first woman to do so.
In 1973 Joan Hollobon was recipient of the 1972 Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Medical Journalism Certificate and $1000 Award for Outstanding contribution to Medical Journalism in Canada, presented by Ortho Pharmaceutical (Canada) Ltd. in recognition of a series of three articles on transsexuality and the first sex reassignment operation performed in Canada that was published in The Globe and Mail on 31 March, 1 and 3 April 1972. Nearly 50 years later, this is still a ground-breaking topic, and only taking into account the annual inflation rate, the $1000 award would be the equivalent to nearly $7500 today, which underlines the significance of the award at the time.
In 1984 Joan Hollobon was awarded a Fellowship in the Academy of Medicine of Toronto, a professional and social organisation for medical doctors founded in the 19th century, and later that year, on 24 Nov 1984, Joan Hollobon was named recipient of the Health Care Public Relations Association Award of Distinction for Excellence in External Media.
In 1990, Joan Hollobon was awarded The Sandford Fleming Medal & Citation. Since 1982, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science has awarded the Sandford Fleming Medal and Citation annually to a Canadian who has made outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science. In 1990, the Royal Canadian Institute for Science awarded the medal to both Joan Hollobon and Marilyn Dunlop, the medical reporter for The Toronto Star, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the public understanding of science.
In 2010, at the age of 90 years old, Joan Hollobon was awarded the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) Lifetime Achievement Award, presented for the first time in the history of the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (established in 1971) by then CSWA president Kathryn O’Hara to Joan Hollobon in recognition of her lifetime contributions to increasing public awareness of science and technology in Canadian culture and her pursuit of excellence in science journalism.
Joan Hollobon has not only won awards in recognition of her outstanding career as a medical journalist who helped to change the way Canadians understand health and health advocacy, but she also has an award named after her, which says volumes about her level of standing among her peers and in Canadian society, and the level of accomplishment Joan Hollobon made in her field.
The Joan Hollobon Award is presented annually by the Canadian Press Relations Society (HCPRA) “to recognize a print or broadcast story that has contributed significantly to the public's understanding of health care.” “The award, named in honour of Joan Hollobon, the esteemed medical reporter who covered health issues for The Globe and Mail for 25 years and who retired from The Globe and Mail in 1986, is offered annually to a member of the media whose work has contributed to the public’s understanding of the Canadian health care system. In a news item from The Ottawa Citizen on 30 May 2017, announcing the 2016 Joan Hollobon Award recipient, The Ottawa Citizen went on to report, “The award is named for Joan Hollobon, a medical reporter with The Globe and Mail until her retirement in 1986. During that time, she acquired a reputation as a master of the art and science of medical reporting.”
To learn more about Joan Hollobon and her outstanding work in science journalism, check out the following articles:
Joan Hollobon's Outstanding Contribution to Medical Science and Health Care in Canadian Society.
Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash
Monitoring the quality of freshwater throughout Canada is now a little easier thanks to a portable water testing kit created by Water Rangers, a non-profit conservation organization in Ottawa.
The kit includes items such as a thermometer, pH test strips, and a guide book. It was created in hopes of getting everyday citizens involved with collecting data on the health of bodies of water throughout the country.
Professional water testing equipment is expensive and often difficult to use, so this new kit plays a significant role in getting the public involved with water monitoring.
“When I looked for ways to test the water at my cottage, I wasn’t happy with the equipment that was available, ” Kat Kavanagh, founder and executive director of Water Rangers said in a press release. “ We’re making a kit available for first-time users who don’t have a science background like campers, cottagers and community groups.”
Although the portable test kits developed by Water Rangers are cheaper and easier to use than professional kits, they still provide an accurate measure of water quality according to a study conducted at Carleton University in 2018.
The kits can be purchased online at the Water Rangers website or borrowed for free from a host in various cities including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Cornwall, and Prince Edward county.
Participants collect a kit, read the field guide, or watch the online instruction videos, and start collecting data. After testing the water, participants can upload their findings to the open-data map on the Water Rangers website using a smartphone app.
This project is important because Canada is home to a vast collection of freshwater habitats and there is currently a gap in our knowledge concerning the health of water throughout the country, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Watershed Report.
The portable kits allow citizens to conduct various assessments of water, including temperature, conductivity, and pH tests. These analyses are important for determining water quality for several reasons. First, changes in temperature can lead to an increase in plant and bacteria growth in the water, which can influence oxygen levels. Second, changes in conductivity can be an indicator for pollutants in the water, and changes in pH can indicate the presence of sewage or algae blooms, according to the Water Rangers website.
Photo by Austin Censor on Unsplash
Gathering data about the quality of water in different areas is also important because every body of water has a different composition, meaning normal test levels will vary between different regions. Therefore collecting a sufficient amount of data to create baselines for different bodies of water throughout the country is imperative when it comes to discovering problems within our water systems.
The Water Rangers website currently has over 20,000 observations recorded for various bodies of water throughout the world, creating a resourceful database of information about water quality worldwide.
Funding for this project was provided by WWF’S Loblaw Water Fund which offers grants to organizations in Canada working on projects that protect our water. The fund has provided grants for over 60 projects in the past five years.
By: Nicole Babb
Nicole Babb is an aspiring journalist from St. John’s, Newfoundland. She recently graduated from Carleton University with a combined honours degree in journalism and psychology. During her time at Carleton, Nicole wrote articles for the university’s student newspaper and completed a health reporting course which sparked her interest in science journalism and communication. She is passionate about writing and photography, and she also enjoys learning about new scientific research.
Growing up near the ocean, she has always been curious about marine life and she is especially interested in research and reporting concerning the ocean, climate change, and endangered species. In her spare time, Nicole enjoys reading, canoeing, playing basketball and hiking. She also loves animals and spending time with her dog. Nicole is currently residing in Ottawa and she is looking forward to working as a volunteer for Science Writers and Communicators of Canada.
Joan Hollobon’s life and daily routine as a resident at the Kensington Gardens Long Term Health Care Centre in downtown Toronto is rather quiet and inauspicious. She likes to sit in her wheelchair by the nursing station on the fourth floor during the day in order to interact with the staff and she still reads The Week, an international news magazine that provides her with a summary of recent world news and events. While she is hard of hearing, and she can’t be bothered with ‘those damn hearing aids’, she loves to welcome visitors, and reminisce about family and friends. The walls in her private room at the nursing home where she lives are covered in a rich tapestry of photos that tell her life story – photos of her parents, her grandmother, and her aunt May, and others from Joan’s career and with her friends. And then there are the photos of Achilles and Ching and Misty, her cherished German shepherd dog and her two Siamese cats that died long ago but still brighten Joan’s expression whenever she looks at them.
But make no mistake, Joan Hollobon, who will celebrate her 100th birthday in January 2020, made an outstanding contribution to the Canadian public and the medical profession’s appreciation and understanding of importance of medical science and health care in Canadian society.
In her role as medical reporter for The Globe and Mail from 1959 until her retirement in 1985, Joan Hollobon served as a pioneer in the print media to help bridge the large gap in understanding and awareness that existed between the medical profession and the general public. In a career that spanned the founding of Medicare in Canada to the early days of the AIDS pandemic, her hands-on reporting helped to foster and establish a dynamic relationship between the medical profession and the general public that we take for granted today in an age where the patient can and will question a doctor’s diagnosis and prescribed treatment, and often obtain a second opinion, or ask Dr. Google. Joan Hollobon helped to change not only the way patients and the general public approach their doctors and interact with them, but also the way doctors approach their patients and the general public and interact with them.
When Joan Hollobon was first appointed the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail in August 1959 (on an interim basis), illustrative of the time 60 years ago, editors at The Globe and Mail were less than enthusiastic about having a woman on the medical beat. But The Globe and Mail needed to replace David Spurgeon, the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail at the time who had been awarded a one year study fellowship at Columbia University in New York. Joan Hollobon had proved herself a reliable general reporter since starting at The Globe and Mail in October 1956, and so she was asked to fill in as the medical reporter for David Spurgeon for the coming year.
Armed with her newly-purchased concise medical dictionary and a steely resolve, Joan was determined to learn her craft well, if only for the one-year assignment. But when David Spurgeon returned from New York in July 1960, he was assigned to the newly-created science beat at The Globe and Mail, and Joan Hollobon became the permanent medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, a position she held for the next 26 years until her retirement in January 1985. The move to medical reporting proved auspicious, not only for Joan Hollobon, but also for the Canadian medical profession, patients, and the general public.
Looking back now in the early part of the 21st century CE, it is difficult to appreciate the overwhelming barriers women faced in the workplace in general, much less what Joan Hollobon faced as the first female medical reporter for a national Canadian daily newspaper. Women who did find work were viewed as the weaker sex, and often treated as little more than secretaries at the beck and call of men who understood they alone called the shots. But through grit and determination, and a love for her job, Joan Hollobon gained the respect of her colleagues, her editor(s)-in-chief, the medical profession, scientists, and the general public, and helped to transform the relationship between the medical profession and the general public in Canada.
Equally illustrative of the attitudes that have changed over the years were those of many Canadian physicians. Trained in the old British traditions, where physicians spoke and were not spoken to, who were served hand and foot by nurses considered second-class at best, these same physicians viewed talking to the press as dangerous, definitely “not done”, and for many, actually unethical.
On one assignment in those early days of her medical reporting career, Joan Hollobon had an interview with a surgeon specialising in orthopedic research at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto who had only agreed, reluctantly, to meet with Joan because the Hospital was in the middle of a fund-raising campaign. Upon Joan’s arrival, he handed her a half-page list of facts and considered the interview complete!
As time passed by, this doctor, like so many others in the medical profession, came to understand the value of informing the public about health and medical science and became very generous with his time sitting down and talking to science journalists.
Journalism training for most reporters 60 years ago was about “learning on the job” and that was also true for many science and medical writers – their professors were the women and men like the orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children. The opportunity to enroll as a journalism student at a School of Journalism was a rare opportunity most journalists could not afford.
What made Joan Hollobon unique as a reporter, and a medical reporter per se, was that while she had an office desk at The Globe and Mail, she was always in the field connecting and learning hands-on in order to be able to report firsthand what was important knowledge for the general public. In this age of the Internet where many people use ‘Dr Google’ to research medical diagnosis and potential cures to equip themselves in discussions with their doctors, it is difficult to appreciate the role Joan Hollobon played when it came to equipping the general public (as potential patients) with an understanding of the medical profession and their own personal health care. As the medical reporter for The Globe and Mail, Joan Hollobon opened the door for health advocacy – patient health advocacy through increased awareness, open dialogue, and a medical profession that changed the way it talked down to people into an approach that involved talking with people.
Joan Hollobon - "It's a Fact and 30 Helen's Agree"
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Lindsay Fox / EcigaretteReviewed.com
Vaping, which involves inhaling and exhaling vapour composed of fine particles produced by e-cigarettes, was introduced in the mid-2000s as a safer alternative to smoking. However, while not as dangerous, there are still some potential risks to using it. The vapour produced by e-cigarettes contains some harmful elements such as nicotine, as well as THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), a chemical found in marijuana that induces the sensation of being high.
One of the growing concerns regarding vaping is the rising number of e-cigarette use among youths. Even though it’s been over a decade since the invention of the first modern e-cigarette, the long-term health risks of vaping remain a mystery. However, it is well-known that vaping is especially harmful to adolescents. In addition to affecting their brain development, adolescents who vape are at risk of developing addictive behaviours and are more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. Unfortunately, despite these risks, the number of youths that practice vaping continues to rise. For example, in the past year, the number of Ottawa high school students that were caught vaping is almost three timesthe number from the previous year.
It also does not help that the rise of e-cigarette use among adolescents is coinciding with a dangerous epidemic spreading across the United States. As of September 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 350 confirmed cases of people suffering from respiratory illnesses across 36 states. Since the beginning of September seven people have died as a result. While these cases have been linked to e-cigarette use, the exact cause of the illness is still being investigated. Since late August, the centres have been coordinating with state health officials, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to gather more information, as well as determine what substances were used.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, formerly FDA commissioner, states in an article from the New York Times that he suspects that those suffering from this epidemic may have consumed illegal products. “It’s probably something new that has been introduced into the market by an illegal manufacturer, either a new flavor or a new way to emulsify THC that is causing these injuries”, he said.
In response to this epidemic, the Trump administration is pushing to enact a new policy that would remove flavoured e-cigarette products from the market. Furthermore, while this outbreak has yet to reach Canada, some places, like British Columbia, are already promising to take swift action to crack down on vaping among their youth.
In light of this epidemic, it is now more important than ever to renew our efforts in not only researching the health risks of e-cigarette use, but also to protect and educate our youth about the dangers of vaping.
“Transcript of August 23, 2019, Telebriefing on Severe Pulmonary Disease Associated with Use of E-cigarettes”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2019/t0823-telebriefing-severe-pulmonary-disease-e-cigarettes.html
“Quick Facts on the Risks of E-cigarettes for Kids, Teens, and Young Adults”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html
Ben Miljure (Sept. 13 2019). “B.C. considering crackdown on vaping amid rise in U.S. hospitalizations”. CTV News. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-considering-crackdown-on-vaping-amid-rise-in-u-s-hospitalizations-1.4592948
Blair Crawford (Sept. 13 2019). “For high school students, vaping — like cigarettes — is a hard habit to break”. Ottawa Citizen. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/for-high-school-students-vaping-like-cigarettes-is-a-hard-habit-to-break
Christina Matthews (updated Apr. 5 2019). “Vaping – A Journey Through its History”. Vaping Daily. https://vapingdaily.com/what-is-vaping/vaping-history/
Jacqueline Haward (Sept. 13 2019). “CDC's case count of vaping-related lung illnesses went down, but not for reasons you might think”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/13/health/lung-disease-vaping-cdc-new-numbers-bn/index.html
Julie Mazziotta (Sept. 17 2019). “A 7th Person Has Died of Vaping-Related Lung Illness as CDC Reduces Investigation to 380 Cases”. People. https://people.com/health/a-7th-person-has-died-of-vaping-related-lung-illness-as-cdc-reduces-investigation-to-380-cases/
Linda Richter (October 2018). “RECREATIONAL VAPING 101: What is Vaping?”. Expert Views On E-Cigarettes. https://www.centeronaddiction.org/e-cigarettes/recreational-vaping/what-vaping
Marnie Willman (Sept. 14 2019). “The rise of a mysterious lung illness begins to expose the dangers of vaping”. Massive Science. https://massivesci.com/notes/vaping-mysterious-illness-lung-disease-canada-united-states/
Matthew Lavietes (Sept. 11 2019). “‘It is time to stop vaping’: 6th U.S. death linked to vaping-related illness”. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/5887815/us-vaping-death-kansas/
Maegan Vazquez and Betsy Klein (Sept. 11 2019). “Trump administration moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/11/politics/donald-trump-vape-e-cigarette-flavors/index.html
Rachel D’Amore (Sept. 13 2019). “Trump calls for ban on flavoured e-cigarettes — what is Canada’s stance on vaping?”. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/5899815/vaping-ban-canada-election/
Shiela Kaplan & Matt Richtel (Sept. 11 2019). “The Mysterious Vaping Illness That’s ‘Becoming an Epidemic’”. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/health/vaping-marijuana-ecigarettes-sickness.html
By Matthew Guida
As a native Montrealer, I graduated from Concordia University with a BA in Anthropology and a minor in Film Studies. I am currently studying for my master’s degree in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa.
My interest in journalism began while attending Concordia. I was a frequent contributor to the university’s independent newspaper, The Concordian. I further honed my skills and experience by working as a List Writer for the entertainment news website Screen Rant.
Since I started attending Carleton University, I have strived to further improve my skills as a journalist in not only print, but also in the fields of data, investigative and broadcast journalism. In the past year, I have also developed a growing appreciation for radio journalism and podcasts.
My current interests lie in studying the future of the journalism industry, writing and researching pop culture and social media trends, as well as furthering my career in the field of journalism.
Figure 1: Active learning improves student performance and engagement. But why do passive lectures still dominate? Photo by Dmitry Ratushny.
For decades, active learning has been proposed as a solution to prevalent issues in science education, including student engagement and performance. Unlike in traditional passive lectures – where an instructor lectures at students who may or may not be engaged – students in active learning contexts are invited to participate in activities such as group asssignments, in-class worksheets, and discussions. In short, in active learning classrooms, students become active participants in the learning process. The evidence for active learning is strong; a 2014 meta-analysis of 225 studies on active learning found that students performed, on average, 6% better on exams and were 1.5 times less likely to fail than students in passive lectures.
Despite the wealth of research reporting benefits due to active learning, a recent survey of American colleges found that the majority of STEM college instructors still rely on passive teaching methods. Though one can propose a variety of potential reasons why students and faculty are so resistant to active learning, researchers at Harvard devised an experiment to tackle the question.
The researchers randomly assigned students to either an active learning or passive lecture and then tested students to see (1) how much students actually learned and (2) how much students believe they learned from each teaching context. The researchers found that, in terms of actual learning, students performed better if they were exposed to an active learning setting than a passive setting. However, what was surprising was that despite learning more, students in the active learning setting believed they learned less effectively than those in the passive setting.
Figure 2: Students performed better on tests of learning if they were in an active learning setting (left, shaded), but consistently felt like they learned less effectively compared to a passive setting (right).
One concern with implementing active learning at higher levels of education is that students who have only been exposed to passive learning contexts will struggle to navigate the shift from passive to active. The results from the Harvard study may indicate evidence for that struggle, as students may simply prefer passive contexts due to students’ familiarity with them. Therefore, the researchers propose the following recommendations for faculty: (1) prepare your students early in the semester for active instruction, and (2) clearly describe the benefits of active instruction to your students.
The researchers also suggest that their findings may suggest a reason why faculty have been resistant to change. As noted earlier, faculty are resistant to active learning, and the researchers suggest this may be due in part to students believing that active instruction is less helpful than passive instruction, and then directly articulating these beliefs to faculty on teaching evaluations. If students are consistently dismissing active learning methods over passive methods, it’s unsurprising why faculty would consistently choose one over the other. However, some faculty may be resistant to active learning simply due to their own entrenched beliefs and/or attitudes towards teaching.
As research on active learning continues, one thing is clear: active learning works, and it works better than passive learning. However, in order to get both students and faculty to fully buy-in to active learning, students not only need to know what active learning is – they also need to know why it is beneficial to their learning.
(1) Deslauriers, L.; McCarty, L. S.; Miller, K.; Callaghan, K.; Kestin, G. Measuring Actual Learning versus Feeling of Learning in Response to Being Actively Engaged in the Classroom. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2019.
(2) Freeman, S.; Eddy, S. L.; McDonough, M.; Smith, M. K.; Okoroafor, N.; Jordt, H.; Wenderoth, M. P. Active Learning Increases Student Performance in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 2014, 111 (23), 8410–8415.
(3) Stains, M.; Harshman, J.; Barker, M. K.; Chasteen, S. V; Cole, R.; DeChenne-Peters, S. E.; Eagan, M. K.; Esson, J. M.; Knight, J. K.; Laski, F. A.; et al. Anatomy of STEM Teaching in North American Universities. Science (80-. ). 2018, 359 (6383), 1468–1470.
By: Jacky Deng
Jacky Deng is from Surrey, British Columbia and is currently a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. Jacky received an honours degree in Chemistry from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus (UBCO). During his time at UBCO, Jacky wrote for the university’s student newspaper The Phoenix as its Arts Editor, and eventually oversaw management of the newspaper as its Coordinating Editor. Despite not having pursued a degree or formal career in journalism, Jacky has accumulated a strong science communication portfolio consisting of both journalistic writing and video production. He is passionate about science education, as well as how data can inform decisions related to social issues, environmental issues, and, most importantly, sports. He is currently reading Pablo Escobar: My Father by Juan Pablo Escobar.
Photo: Doctor with a Stethoscope by Online Marketing on Unsplash
With a warming planet, comes a growing list of health concerns for people around the world. Time and again, scientific studies have linked climate change to increased risks of various health problems such as Lyme disease and asthma. However, information about these risks and how to protect ourselves against them is often hard to find.
That's where a new online initiative developed by the Ontario Public Health Association comes into play. The initiative called # MakeitBetter seeks to inform the public and health care workers about the risks associated with global warming and offers tips on how to protect ourselves against these health problems.
"Climate change is one of the most critical threats to human health," Pegeen Walsh, Executive Director at OPHA, said in a press release. "As health professionals, we all have a responsibility to kids and their parents to raise awareness of these risks and give people the tools and information they need to protect their families."
OPHA is a non-profit organization that provides guidance regarding public health concerns in Ontario. Their online initiative focuses on three health problems connected to climate change, including Lyme disease, asthma, and heat-related illnesses. The risk of these three health problems has increased dramatically in the past few years.
Warmer temperatures have contributed to a rise in the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease, increasing the likelihood of contracting this illness. This is evident in Ontario as the number of people with Lyme disease in the province has risen dramatically in the past decade. According to the MakeitBetter website, in 2009, there were only around 30 cases of Lyme disease per year compared to over 300 cases in 2015. Lyme disease is an inflammatory condition that causes symptoms such as a rash and fever. It's dangerous when left untreated and can result in neurological and cardiac disorders.
Climate change is also leading to warmer days. June 2019 was the hottest on record in 140 years. Extreme heat increases the risk of heatstroke and heat-related illnesses, especially in vulnerable populations such as children. Warmer weather also increases the risk of air pollution from forest fires and pollen, which leads to a higher chance of asthma attacks, according to OPHA.
The MakeitBetter online campaign provides more details about each health issue mentioned above, driving home the seriousness of climate change and offering people solutions to help mitigate growing health risks. The initiative also asks members of the public to take a pledge to protect children in the province from climate related health risks by staying informed, sharing knowledge, and supporting initiatives that fight against climate change. There are currently over 200 people who have signed the online pledge.
At a time when global warming is a bigger threat than ever before, staying informed about how to protect ourselves is important for maintaining our health . Hopefully, this new initiative will help provide people with the information needed to stay healthy in a changing climate.
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