An end to infection?
November 19, 2013
For medical microbiologist and What Matters Now London participant Ana Sanchez, the day will come when parasite infections will be found only in the history books.
Right now, some 900 million people live with roundworm infections worldwide. But a concerted global movement is underway to tackle roundworm infections and other tropical neglected diseases (TND) affecting mainly the “poorest of the poor.”
“Perhaps in a future not too far away, TNDs will be controlled or eradicated, and every time someone would be diagnosed with any of these infections, they will be on the evening news,” says Sanchez, a Community Health Sciences associate professor who studies parasitic diseases that target vulnerable populations in developing countries.
Sanchez will be sharing her insights and details of her research in a panel discussion to be presented Nov. 26 by Research Matters, an Ontario-wide campaign that connects university researchers to the broader public.
Co-ordinated by the Council of Ontario Universities, the basic premise of Research Matters is that the research that occurs at Brock and the other 20 publicly funded member universities makes a real difference in the lives of real people, here and around the world.
“There has never been a time in history when university research has been so crucial to so many pressing issues,” says the campaign’s website. “Ontario university researchers do the work that makes it possible for government, business, and community leaders to make smart, informed decisions about a huge range of issues.”
Yet, aside from the occasional headline, most people are unaware of the activities of university researchers, who “work behind the scenes, steadily progressing toward ambitious new ideas… that improve public policies and private practice, advance technology, foster a healthier, happier, more prosperous society, build communities, and generally make life more interesting.”
Each year, the campaign presents five events throughout Ontario where researchers share their work with the public. Sanchez will be speaking at the London Children’s Museum in London, Ont. Nov. 26, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Also, the Research Matters website contains stories and social media posts detailing innovative, on-the-edge research being conducted across the province in a wide range of areas.
Supporting and publicizing the Research Matters campaign at Brock University are two student ambassadors, Julia Polyck-O’Neill and Jory Korobanik.
“Universities generate the majority of research that shapes the way we live our lives,” says Polyck-O’Neill, an interdisciplinary humanities PhD student who sits on the Research and Scholarship Policy Committee.
“I’m passionate about research mainly because it promotes growth and innovation on a wide range of scales, from local to global.”
Polyck-O’Neill encourages researchers – particularly students – to plug into the bigger picture.
“Even as students, we can sometimes overlook the idea that the choices we make in our research can have an impact on our everyday surroundings,” she says.
“There is so much left to discover, and so many relevant questions our work can address that can improve our quality of life and that of others. This is why research is exciting for everyone.”
Korobanik echoes Polyck-O’Neill.
“It’s important for graduate students to break down the silos so that we’re aware of each others’ work,” says Korobanik, physics PhD student and president of the Graduate Students Association. “By raising awareness and sharing with one another, we can broaden our horizons.
“Letting undergraduates know about the good research being done here and at other universities across the province will hopefully inspire them.”
The whole package
Teresa Pitman | September 26, 2014If you’ve ever bought ready-to-eat sushi, you may have noticed a blob of wasabi on the tray. It’s a convenient way to add pungent flavour to your lunch, but it also serves another purpose: it protects your food from micro-organisms. As food science professor Loong-Tak Lim explains, wasabi contains allylisothiocyanate, (AITC) a natural and potent anti-microbial that kills yeast and bacteria. Of course, not every food is enhanced by the strong flavour of wasabi, so Lim has developed a packaging system that offers the same antimicrobial benefits . Lim derives his AITC from ground mustard powder, and uses a patented nanotechnological process to spin tiny fibres that encapsulate the naturally sourced agent in the packaging. “The conventional approach to adding preservatives has been to add them to the food,” says Lim's research colleague Suramya Mihindukulasuriya. “But processing the food may break down the preservative. By having the preservative in the packaging, we don’t need as high a concentration to enhance the shelf-life, safety and quality of the food.” So-called “active packaging,” responds to changes in the environment and the food itself, Lim says. In this case, the membrane responds to a certain level of moisture and releases a preservative to prevent spoiling. Other active packaging materials respond to heat and light. Mihindukulasuriya works with a preservative called hexanal, the volatile organic compound you smell when you cut grass or slice a cucumber. Hexanal helps preserve cell membranes of fruits and vegetables so they don’t become soft or soggy as they ripen. The preservative also has some anti-microbial properties, which are activated by heat and humidity. Mihindukulasuriya calls her technique of enclosing the preservative using ultra-high electrical forces “electrospinning.” Lim jokes that “we are like Spiderman, spinning tiny fibres.” And the fibres are tiny – about 400 times smaller than a human hair. When exposed to humidity or water, these fibres become permeable and release the hexanal. During her PhD studies, Mihindukulasuriya also developed an oxygen indicator that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. When there is little or no oxygen in the package, the indicator is white, but if the package is damaged or torn, allowing oxygen to enter, the indicator turns blue. This matters because oxygen causes rapid deterioration of some foods, and higher levels of oxygen encourage the growth of more micro-organisms. These foods are sealed in vacuum packs or in packages flushed with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, but if the package becomes damaged at some point, oxygen can get inside. That’s where Mihindukulasuriya’s product comes in: a label with a blue line would indicate that the package should not be purchased. What’s next in active and intelligent packaging? Mihindukulasuriya is planning to develop a compound that will detect the volatile compounds produced by food when it spoils and indicate to consumers that the food should not be eaten. The technique would supplement expiry dates, which are only estimates based on typical situations. Not only would such packaging warn people that food had spoiled, it could also reassure them when it was safe to eat – even if the expiry date had passed. “People throw away lots of food that has expired but is still perfectly good to eat,” says Lim. This article was originally published by the University of Guelph. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and style, and is republished here with permission.